Besides all the other enjoyable aspects of returning to the Wortham Center (the comfortable seats! the acoustics! the length and width of stage!), a special note has to be made of the return of Principal dancer Karina Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, who took time out to have a baby, will be taking on the premier role of the Sugar Plum fairy once again (she'll dance two other roles in alternate productions throughout the run) and says she's back better than ever, especially after all the extra exercises she's been doing to get back in shape.
"I just feel like my body is completely different. I'm a different dancer just because I understand my body a little better," she says. "I think all the exercise has helped me to find the strength and the control and the power that I feel like even before pregnancy I was missing. So it has been a whole new journey but I feel like I’m actually a better dancer now just because I have more understanding of my body."
Set to the wonderful Tchaikovsky music, The Nutcracker is a two-act magical story about a Christmas Eve celebration and toys coming to life at night. At the center is Clara, a young girl who has been given the gift of a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a man by the mysterious Drosselmeyer. In a tug of war with her brother Fritz the nutcracker is broken. Later that night when Clara goes to check on it and find the living room is filled with rats. A battle ensues between the Rat King's troops and the Nutcracker who becomes a prince leading an army of gingerbread soldiers.
The dance of the Sugar Plum fairy comes in the second act when the Nutcracker Prince and Clara travel to the Land of the Sweets. The version of The Nutcracker that Houston Ballet will be dancing this year is the one by Artistic Director Stanton Welch that debuted two years ago. Gonzalez says it that this will be the first time since the first year that dancers will once again be able to dance it as completely envisioned by Welch.
Displaced by the Hurricane Harvey flood waters that closed down the Wortham for months, the Houston Ballet just like the Houston Grand Opera had to find other places to mount its productions, trips both in and out of town throughout the year.
"Last year we were performing in different theaters. We had to change a couple of things because the sets were smaller in the other venues. Now we're back to the original."
Asked why some people come back to The Nutcracker year after year, Gonzalez says: "I think it’s just because it’s a tradition. It’s part of the Christmas spirit. I've had a couple of audience members tell me this is the best Christmas gift they have ever received. We have people who have come for 20 years and they still think it's very special."
Also audience members get the chance to see new dancers doing the roles as well as returning older dancers, she says. "No matter how many years you come, there's always something special to see."
One thing Gonzalez says she especially loves about this version of The Nutcracker is the number of kids who get to come on stage, members of the ballet academy who get to spend a lot of time with the professional dancers on stage.
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The good part about coming back to a role she's danced before, is muscle memory, Gonzalez says. "It’s in your body already. You can grow as an actress more and more every year. I look forward to getting better every year.
"We’re excited to be back home again. On Saturday we had our first scene in the Wortham. The feeling was so big because we were so excited to be back and see the house again and perform in our home which is one of the most beautiful theaters that Houston has."
Performances are scheduled for November 23 through December 29 at 2 p.m. on November 24, and 25 and December 22, 23 and 27 and 7:30 p.m. on December 7, 9, 16, 22,and 23 at the Wortham Center, 500 Texas.
For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $30 - $140.