Houston Chronicle
Montgomery County, This Week December 9, 1998 by Jackie Barker

Christmas tradition continues: Festival Ballet and "The Nutcracker"

A time honored Christmas tradition continues when Festival Ballet presents The Nutcracker for three performances at The Montgomery College Theater on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 19 at 2 & 7 p.m.

Deborah Rayburn, company director, said the ballet has Tchaikovsky's renowned score, elaborate costumes, on-stage snowfall and special guest artists. A toy cannon will boom out in the fight scene with the Mouse King.

Festival Ballet members and students from The Woodlands Dance Academy appear with professional guest artists in the story of a young girl named Clara, who receives a handsome nutcracker as a Christmas gift. In her dreams she has a series of adventures with the Nutcracker escorting her.

After Clara helps the nutcracker vanquish the Mouse King and his followers, he turns into a prince and takes her to the Land of Snow where she is welcomed by dancing snowflakes. In the Land of the Sweets, Clara receives a celebration of dances, the Spanish Dance, the Arabian Dance, the Chinese Dance, the Mirliton Dance and the Waltz of the Flowers. As a finale the sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier dance a pas de deux.

When Clara awakes from her dream she finds herself by the tree with her beloved nutcracker.

"This holiday favorite is fashioned after the concept of Lev Ivanov the Great Russian, who choreographed the very first Nutcracker over 100 years ago," Rayburn said. "His choreography in the classical purity of its symphonic form influenced later choreographers like George Balanchine."

Scott Parsons, who has danced with City Ballet of Houston, is the Nutcracker Prince. John Brinkman, a former principal with the Tulsa Ballet Theater, appears as the Sugar Cavalier.

Barbara LeGualt, former principal with the Tennessee Festival Ballet, dances as the Sugar Plum Fairy for the Dec. 18 performance. Mary Beth Arrington, former principal ballerina with the Tulsa Ballet Theater, appears as the Sugar Plum Fairy for two performances on Dec. 19.

Costumes were designed by Rayburn.  The set was designed by Rayburn and constructed by a stage design firm in Chicago.

Festival Ballet is the performing pre-professional Ballet Company in residence at the Woodlands Dance Academy. Founded by Deborah Rayburn in 1995, the mission is to provide the best training and dance experience possible while grooming young dancers for places in professional companies nationwide.

"Opportunities are provided for dance students to obtain experience through public performances on a consistent and frequent basis, " Rayburn said. "The performance experience includes working with guest artists such as those appearing in The Nutcracker. It provides entertainment to the public and also helps the dancers gain valuable experience from professionals."

She said many of the audience members enjoy watching the development of the dancers as they mature in their art.

This year Festival Ballet members earned placement and scholarships with major ballet schools and companies. Joel Paulus was accepted to the Joffrey Ballet in New York City, and Heather Brand was accepted to the Ballet Austin summer workshop.

Festival Ballet is a non-profit organization, and depends on corporate as well as public support.

Tickets are $7 for orchestra seats and $6 for Grand Tier, and are available at the Woodlands Dance Academy, 27326 Robinson Road, Suite 119. For more information call 979-292-0117 or visit the ballet's website at www.festivalballet.info