Conceived and Directed by Robert Joffrey
Sparkling holiday tradition still shines
|Joffrey Ballet presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
A few days ago, one of my coworkers who had just seen The Nutcracker for the first time approached me with a question: “what’s your interpretation of the plot?” While I struggled to answer, my boss chimed in: “I always saw it as a memory of a childhood Christmas.” Her answer not only serves as a good interpretation of the ballet, but the reason why it’s a Christmas tradition almost 200 years after E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” was published. Some may argue The Nutcracker doesn’t have much of a plot, others will call it politically incorrect or worse, yet it’s the backbone of any ballet company from sheer demand alone. For me, The Nutcracker represents childhood memories of seeing the ballet with my grandmother, and one stint in the ballet in my early twenties, playing a party guest. Joffrey Ballet’s production, as usual, does not disappoint, with a stellar orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s iconic score and the legendary company’s beatific dancing.
The ballet begins with a Christmas party in the Stahlbaum home, where children Clara and Fritz frolic with toys and friends as their parents proudly look on. An appearance by Clara and Fritz’s godfather Dr. Drosselmeyer and his dashing nephew yields the titular nutcracker doll, which leads to a midnight battle, a poetic snowfall, and a trip to the Land of the Sweets, where the Sugar Plum Fairy and a parade of candies, flowers, and larger-than-life Mother Ginger present a sparkling, dreamlike atmosphere. Tchaikovsky’s score is equal turns whimsical and sweeping, a melodic backdrop for the ultimate fantasy-adventure.
The Nutcracker has many different interpretations, resulting in nuances and details that can vary widely depending on who presents it. Robert Joffrey’s concept and direction doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of the story, especially the menacing mice who fight with toy soldiers. Even the Nutcracker itself is a little frightening, the opposite of what modern little girls might put on their wish lists. Joffrey also granted Drosselmeyer a constant presence in the ballet (in some productions, he has little more than a cameo), portraying the mysterious gentleman as enigmatic (why exactly does he bring toys to life and magnify rodents to giant size?), maybe a little creepy, but ultimately lonely. He’s devoted to his goddaughter Clara and wants to give her a holiday she’ll never forget.
Music director Scott Speck leads a stunning orchestra, whose enthusiasm never wavers. Though Oliver Smith’s painted scenery could use an update, it serves its purpose as the backdrop for a magical journey. As is the case each year, however, the main draw is the Joffrey Ballet itself. The Nutcracker can be trying for dancers, as it’s a huge moneymaker and thus an annual necessary evil, but each cast member from the smallest mouse to the Snow Queen appear positively joyous. In the performance I reviewed, Lucas Segovia was a perfect Drosselmeyer, equal parts terrifying and tender. Alexis Polito and Matthew Adamczyk were lovely to watch as Clara’s parents, and then as the Snow Queen and King (the double casting of dancers in the “real” and dreamworlds give this Nutcracker a winning Wizard of Oz feel). Elizabeth Hansen was a pretty, graceful Clara and Aaron Rogers an appropriately bratty Fritz and breathtaking Snow soloist. Fabrice Calmels brought his signature star power and sensuality to the male Arabian Coffee, and Ogulcun Borova made a handsome, courtly Nutcracker Prince. Yumelia Garcia’s delicate, fluid strength was an ideal fit for the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her gorgeous facial expressions icing on the cake.
The Nutcracker’s reasons for success are as varied as its interpretations. For some, it’s a fun family tradition; for others, an introduction to ballet. For many, it’s about the nostalgia and the memories: an experience with an individual who’s no longer living, a performance long past. More than any other ballet, The Nutcracker is uniquely personal to each audience member. The Joffrey Ballet’s always-stellar production is an ideal place to celebrate old traditions, and to create new ones.
The Nutcracker continues through December 28th at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map), with performances Thursdays/Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays/Sundays at 2pm and 7pm. Tickets are $31-$140 (discounts available), and are available by phone (800-982-2787) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at Joffrey.org. (Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Cheryl Mann
Note: Cast varies according to performance.
Matthew Adamczyk, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai, Amanda Assucena, Guillaume Basso, Miguel Angel Blanco, Ogulcan Borova, Anais Bueno, Fabrice Calmels, Raul Casasola, April Daly, Erica Lynette Edwards, Yumelia Garcia, Cara Marie Gary, John Mark Giragosian, Dylan Guitierrez, Elizabeth Hansen, Rory Hohenstein, Anastacia Holden, Dara Holmes, Victoria Jaiani, Graham Maverick, Caitlin Meighan, Jeraldine Mendoza, Jacqueline Moscicke, Amber Neumann, Alexis Polito, Christine Rocas, Aaron Rogers, Lucas Segovia, Aaron Smyth, Temur Suluashvili, Shane Urton, Alberto Velazquez, Mahallia Ward, Jenny Winton, Joanna Wozniak, Kara Zimmerman
behind the scenes
For The Nutcracker:
Scott Speck (conductor), Robert Joffrey (Concept/Direction), Gerald Arpino (Choreography, “Waltz of the Flowers” & “Waltz of the Snowflakes”), George Verdak and Scott Barnard (Original Staging), Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Music), Oliver Smith (Scenery), Kermit Love (Creative Design for the Mice, Mother Ginger and Clara’s Horse), Jack Mehler (Lighting), Thomas Skelton (Original Lighting Design), Katie Kerwan (Children’s Ballet Master), Michael Smith (Assistant Children’s Ballet Master)
For The Joffrey Ballet:
Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino (Founders), Ashley Wheater (Artistic Director), Greg Cameron (Executive Director), Scott Speck (Music Director), Nicolas Blanc (Ballet Master), Gerard Charles (Ballet Master), Graca Sales (Ballet Master/Principal Coach), Amanda Heuermann (stage manager), Laurie Garwood (general manager), Andy Brown (director of productions), Katherine Selig (principal stage manager), Marianne Marks (head of wardrobe), Gregg Benkovich (shoe manager), Alicja Klosek (hair and make-up), Brady Jarvis (head electrician), Bryan Schoettle (head carpenter), Gregg Moeller (head props), Brian Stream (master sound engineer), Marybeth Cave (asst. electrician), Steven Lange (flyman)