Ballet Arkansas’ The Nutcracker Shines in Return to Robinson

Twirls, twinkle toes, and Sugar Plum Fairies. Ballet Arkansas premiered its holiday classic fairy tale “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 9, now back on its home stage at Robinson Center.

This longtime central Arkansas holiday tradition features a 200-plus cast with Ballet Arkansas’ 13 professional company members and hundreds of local child and adults dancers. The performance is accompanied by Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.

The story follows young Clara, danced alternately by Geneva Millikan and Izzi Rhodes, at her family’s home on Christmas Eve, when her godfather Herr Drosselmeyer, performed by Stephen K. Stone, gives her a Nutcracker doll. Things quickly become magical, as the Nutcracker comes to life. Armies of toy soldiers and giant mice duel it out, while the Rat King and Queen ride onto stage on a giant wedge of cheese.

Clara and the Nutcracker encounter the enchanting Snow Queen and King, and then embark on a sleigh ride to the Land of Sweets. There, they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy and a host of other characters, like Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, and the Dew Drop Fairy in the Waltz of the Flowers. Clara is later returned home, under the Christmas tree, with the magical events filling her dreams.

Roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are danced by alternately by Ballet Arkansas veterans Amanda Sewell and Paul Tillman and Megan Hustel and newcomer Zeek Wright. The Nutcracker Prince will be performed by Toby Lewellen and Tillman, and the Dew Drop Fairy will be danced by Hustel and Little Rock native Meredith Short Loy.

A show standout is the Arabian Coffee scene, performed by Deanna Karlheim and Wright. And, the grand pas de deux featuring the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier at the end of the show is always memorable.

The Nutcracker was composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The classic music is performed by ASO, led by ASO associate conductor Geoffrey Robson.

This year’s production brings a few new things as the company is back at Robinson, which reopened last month after a two-year renovation. The Waltz of the Flowers scene has been reworked by Laura Hood Babcock, Ballet Arkansas artistic associate and director of the show.

It’s been a big year for Ballet Arkansas. In addition to moving back into Robinson, the company recently moved into its new rehearsal space in downtown Little Rock’s Creative Corridor.

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