Lovely family-friendly ballet classic
|Joffrey Ballet Chicago presents|
|Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker|
Review by Lauren Whalen
It’s a special time of year: when the holidays roll around, The Nutcracker will march with pride through almost every ballet school and company in the nation. Here in Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker has always been a popular choice for family-friendly entertainment, as well as an introduction to a lovely and challenging art form. Robert Joffrey’s version of the Tchaikovsky ballet premiered in 1987, and this year it’s time to say good-bye. The 2016 Joffrey Nutcracker will be a brand-new interpretation, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and set in old Chicago. With choreography athletic and sweet, fantastic set pieces and puppetry, and delightful effects, Robert Joffrey’s Nutcracker is a holiday classic that will be missed.
It’s Christmas Eve, and the Stahlbaums are hosting their annual party for family and friends. There’s a tree with presents underneath, but the party’s biggest draw is the mysterious Drosselmeyer, who brings dancing dolls and a very special gift for his goddaughter Clara: a nutcracker. But when the party ends and Clara falls asleep, she awakens to a battle of good versus evil, or more specifically, her noble, now life-size nutcracker and his army of toy soldiers versus the evil Mouse King and his battalion of creepy critters. Because of Clara’s heroics, she’s transported to a magical land with heavenly snowfalls, flowers and dancing sweets.
Next year’s Nutcracker will certainly dazzle: Wheeldon’s established himself an innovative dancemaker for the ages, and we Chicagoans will relish seeing a vintage version of our own city on stage. It’s necessary, however, to pay proper tribute to Joffrey’s Nutcracker. Every detail from the grandfather clock to the Sugar Plum Fairy’s tutu is meticulous and thoughtful, created and maintained for maximum audience enjoyment. The dancers move with assured grace, their smiles genuine and welcoming. Children, both onstage and in the audience, display an almost hushed reverence at the substantial spectacle, but for all The Nutcracker’s grandeur, it possesses an equal dose of gentleness. In today’s harsh and unpredictable world, there’s comfort in the annual consistency of the ballet, and though Joffrey’s production is far from boring, it projects an aura of safety that’s impossible to resist. Tchaikovsky’s score never gets old: sweet but never hokey, it possesses a gravitas and intelligence that’s atypical of most modern family entertainment. The Nutcracker’s choreography, executed with the Joffrey Ballet’s unique combination of athleticism and artistry, matches this mix of innocence and intelligence note for note and, well, step for step.
The Nutcracker is a Christmas classic for a reason. The ballet has all the right ingredients: emphasis on family, epic triumphs and a plethora of beautiful rewards. Heroic behavior is reinforced and surprises appear around every corner. With a poignant score, magnificent production values and gorgeous dancing, The Nutcracker truly has something for everyone. Every Nutcracker is different, but what’s lovely about Robert Joffrey’s interpretation is his emphasis on the story’s magic, with a sense of wide-eyed wonder. Where else can a toy become a hero and flowers and candies come to life? With vibrant effervescence in every tree, note and step, The Nutcracker brings out the child in all of us.
The Nutcracker continues through December 27th at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map).. Tickets are $35-$136, and are available by phone (312-386-8905) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More info and a complete performance schedule can be found at Joffrey.org. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Cheryl Mann
Note: casting and children’s casting vary according to performance.
Matthew Adamczyk, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai, Amanda Assucena, Artur Babajanyan, Edson Barbosa, Miguel Angel Blanco, Anais Bueno, Valeriia Chaykina, Fabrice Calmels, Raul Casasola, Nicole Ciapponi, April Daly, Fernando Duarte, Camila Ferrara, Cara Marie Gary, Anna Gerberich, Stefan Goncalvez, Luis Eduardo Gonzalez, Dylan Gutierrez, Rory Hohenstein, Anastacia Holden, Dara Holmes, Victoria Jaiani, Hansol Jeong, Gayeon Jung, Brooke Linford, Graham Maverick, Caitlin Meighan, Jeraldine Mendoza, Jacqueline Moscicke, Amber Neumann, Christine Rocas, Paulo Rodrigues, Lucas Segovia, Temur Suluashvili, Elivelton Tomazi, Alberto Velazquez, Mahallia Ward, Joanna Wozniak, Joan Sebastian Zamora
Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra (live accompaniment)
behind the scenes
Robert Joffrey (concept, director), Gerald Arpino (choreography inspiration, “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and “Waltz of the Flowers”), George Verdak, Scott Barnard (original staging), Oliver Smith (scenery), Kermit Love (creative design for the Mice, Mother Ginger and Clara’s Horse), Jack Mahler (lighting design), Thomas Skelton (original lighting designs), Suzanne Lopez and Michael Smith (children’s ballet masters), Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (composer), Cheryl Mann (photos)
For Joffrey Ballet Chicago:
Ashley Wheater (artistic director), Greg Cameron (executive director), Robert Joffrey, Gerald Arpino (co-founders), Scott Speck (music director), Gerard Charles (director of artistic operations, ballet master), Nicolas Blanc (ballet master, principal coach), Suzanne Lopez (guest ballet mistress)