Good Nut to Crack

Regulars at TITAS Command Performances are well-acquainted with the husband-and-wife dance team of Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre. On two occasions the former San Francisco Ballet principals glided through specially choreographed adagio routines at State Fair Music Hall, inspiring standing ovations. And if Lacarra weren't such a fine dancer, she might hire out as a contortionist. Among other tricks, the ballerina can lean backward on pointe, supported by her partner's arm at the small of the back, and touch the back of her head to her calf.

More recently the world-renowned Spanish ballerina and her French spouse appeared in George Balanchine's Bugaku, a sensuous evocation of an ancient Japanese wedding and its consummation created 40 years ago for the New York City Ballet. Exquisitely feminine, Lacarra's lyrical phrasing held both vulnerability and strength as she married and surrendered to her groom in this ritualistic fantasy. The lovemaking was poetic rather than erotic, in keeping with the fairy-tale atmosphere. For all of his warrior posture, Pierre partnered his bride with sympathetic ardor. Scenery, lighting and supporting dancers all contributed to what became a special evening.

Surprisingly, they weren't appearing with a national company that night but dancing in their new American home, Ballet Arlington, which is making a name for itself in Texas as an oasis of first-class dancing. Eleven other dancers, mostly Russian-trained, have 32-week contracts to work in the land of amusement parks and chain restaurants, and this week they will stage The Nutcracker of choice in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The operative word in Ballet Arlington is Russian, a more intensive discipline than other classical schooling, with a tough regimen that creates strong, muscled dancers of remarkable stamina. It also yields that elusive thing called style; how the body is held, how space is filled getting from one position to another, is absorbed by watching instructors steeped in the tradition, as well as witnessing, and dancing, countless performances of the classics. Russian men labor without the "boys don't dance ballet" stigma, starting their training early, and by age 20 can be fully developed alongside the women.

Most of the Arlington Ballet company will be on hand Friday through Sunday in their new Nutcracker production at Texas Theater on the UT-Arlington campus--all except Lacarra and Pierre, who are in Europe for the holidays. Staged by co-artistic director Alexander Vetrov, a decorated People's Artist of Russia and former principal with the Bolshoi Ballet, the choreography will be after Yuri Grigorovich, for years a dominant presence in Soviet ballet. Vetrov once studied with him, and at 42, on a good day, can still blow your shirt off with his Bolshoi-style athletics. In this Nutcracker, however, he contents himself with the character role of the wizard, Drosselmeyer.

Opening night's Cavalier will be Mindaugas Bauszy, an impressive Kirov-looking dancer from Lithuania, where he was a principal with the Vilnius National Ballet. The dazzling Marina Goshko, who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy last year, will reprise the role partnered by Andre Prikhodko. Maria Kudyakova, one of the original Russian dancers to join the 5-year-old company, will also have a turn supported by her husband, Alexander Krivonos, a Ukrainian native.

The Tchaikovsky ballet is accompanied by the Texas Chamber Orchestra, which beefs up from 35 to 55 musicians for pit duty, under the direction of James Reves-Jones.

Ballet Arlington's concentration of Russian dancers developed almost by default. With the breakdown of the Russian economy, foreign jobs have become more attractive--even the modest salaries paid in Arlington. Vetrov's reputation in Russia as a dancer and teacher was another pull, assuring dancers from the former Eastern Bloc that they'd be comfortable here. Vetrov runs daily class in the familiar Russian idiom. And there's no denying the allure this country still generates. "I always wanted to come to American, even as a little girl," Kudyakova said recently. "This company seemed ideal. With Vetrov and other Russians here, I can live my dream." She also met her husband in Arlington, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian dancer whom she married "in church," as she is pleased to point out.

As one would expect, the dancers vary in ability from world-class to the typical young professional, but all have something to offer, some bit of personality that shows through. While the programs can be skimpy on scenery and amenities, Ballet Arlington's investment in its dancers pays off, and they clearly carry the show. Their local audience, which now benefits from a season-ticket program, is growing each year in appreciation of the company's quality.

Its success can also be attributed to Paul Mejia, Ballet Arlington's executive director. Mejia, a former principal with the New York City Ballet who worked and danced for Balanchine and staged the Bugaku, was married at one time to Suzanne Farrell, who now runs the Balanchine Trust. A longtime artistic director of Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, the company became a Balanchine stronghold during his tenure, which ended when a sexual harassment brouhaha blew up in everyone's face and he resigned. Ballet Arlington was forming right around the same time, and Mejia came aboard first in an advisory capacity, then contributed some of his own ballets. Eventually he was setting one of his own works as well as a Balanchine ballet for each program. This year he was named co-artistic director with Vetrov, working with the Balanchine tradition he loves.

Asked when Dallas might see the company, Mejia shook his head and said, "We'd love to dance there, but there just isn't the money. Someone would have to present us, and that doesn't seem likely right now." A presenting group pays the company, hires the hall, takes care of advertising and sells the tickets. Whatever comes in at the box office it keeps, unless a percentage deal is cut. TITAS could handle this, or a university with funds for importing culture. But until a sponsor of some sort shows up, the Dallas dance public will have to trek to Arlington or Fort Worth when the company performs there next May and June in Bass Performance Hall.

If Arlington seems too far, Fort Worth Dallas Ballet is offering its Nutcracker at State Fair Music Hall on Monday and Tuesday, and again Thursday and Friday after Christmas. It's the same production seen last year, a handsome show with solid if unspectacular dancing. So far it's the company's only production scheduled in Dallas this season. Not a good sign.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Leonard Eureka