In regards to "The Nutcracker," Act 2 is almost always more gratifying than Act 1.
The first act introduces a holiday party with a good deal of traditional miming and social dancing, followed by squabbling among the children and stern warnings from the adults. A fantasy battle and Clara's trip to winter wonderland precede the intermission. No matter the company, usually during Act 1, the stage is too crowded and story is too muddled.
Austin Metamorphosis Dance Ensemble's creative version, staged at the Boyd Vance Theater, follows this pattern, while replacing the battle with snowy street scenes. In this edition, Clara is young woman old enough to leave home, and she is lured away by a worldly aunt and her handsome friend. All well and good, but if you are there for the dancing, by the end of Act 1, you can only be certain that one performer, Ashley Garcia-Rameau as Clara, can dance seriously, especially as partnered by Kevin Murdock-Waters. Her Clara is definitely not a girl, but rather an independent, athletic woman.
But wait! We still have the divertissements of Act 2. All of a sudden, all the teen and adult performers can dance. And well! Heather Meeboer and Loren Walton wowed us during the Spanish section, then Isabelle Burnetta and Morgan Stillman dazzled us in the Arabian segment. The Chinese foursome was beautifully staged and the Russian scene included some clever comedy. As the Dew Drop Fairy, Danielle Ehoff led an absolutely stunning Waltz of the Flowers ensemble, then Katrina Kutsch and Orlando Julius Canova topped everything off with a pas de deux that almost any ballet company of this size would have been proud to present.
So clearly, this is a company of serious dancers! A few bobbles and bumbles here and there, but impressive stuff.
A few things might help. A new, shorter company name for the internet age? Perhaps MetaDance? New scenery? Maybe the same images, but not presented on wrinkled drops? Also, a tighter first act? There are ways to give the younger performers stage time without taking away from the narrative and visual flow.
I'm booked to see at least two more "Nutcracker" stagings this season, but I walked away from the first with a full sense of its potential power.