“The Nutcracker” : Joffrey Ballet

Author: Alan Bresloff
Category: Theatre Reviews

Highly Recommended ***** As the Holiday season, grows even nearer, visions of things from our past awake in us. One of the things that has remained with me for over 20 years. Two years ago, I brought my granddaughter, Sarah with a friend, to the Auditorium in order to see the very last year of the original Joffrey ballet, “The Nutcracker”. She was seven at the time, and is a dance student and a talented young actress, who adores performance. She loved what she saw. Last year, when the brand new version of the classic “The Nutcracker” was unveiled, none of us could attend the premiere and so I sent one of my young writers to cover the event. After years, the Joffrey people had opted to make some changes. They did not change the music of composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as it is brilliant and on its own, gives the listener a feeling of triumph over evil and lifting of the spirit.

The story, however, has been altered and the new choreography by Christopher Wheeldon is amazing. This edition is the second year for the NEW “The Nutcracker” and this year, Sarah was able to joing Jane and I, and once again, she brought a friend with- Smantha ( who is also a young actress, preparing to be in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” with Sarah). The major change in the story is the bringing of the story to America. Not only America, but in the state of Illinois. Not only Illinois, but Chicago!

The year is now 1892. It is the year of the coming of the World’s Columbian Exposition ( the subject of Eric Larson’s “The Devil in the White City”. They have set the time just before the fair opens its gates. Preparation is in progress. Buildings and tents are being erected and acts are coming to the South Side Washington Park area. In this version, the family involved is not upper or even middle-call. Rather they are working class-immigrants. Let’s face it- much of Chicago has always been made up of this type of person. Even today, people leave their countries in order to come to America for a better life. Chicago has always been the hub that attracted them, and stillis!

We no longer have a fancy family gathering where a well-t-do uncle brings the children the very special gifts that become real to them ( and th audience over the two-hours-ten-minutes of magnificent ballet. Instead , we have the  Great Impresario of the Fair ( Fabrice Calmels, who is probably the tallest ballet dancer I have ever witnessed on a stage), who comes by the small cabin lived in by our Heroine, Marie ( Cara Marie Gary) and her little brother, Franz ( adorable played by Bennett Parker) along with their mother (a glorious performance by April Daly), who is a sculptor making the statue that will greet the visitors as they enter to gates of the Fair.

Gifts are brought to all of the people who are enjoying the holidays with Marie and her family. Her gift, is a special Nutcracker that is a doll in the image of a wooden soldier and whose mouth opens, the walnut placed within and then “chop” the shell is broken and the walnut pieces become available. Franz breaks the Nutcracker, but Marie takes it to bed with her. By the way, The Great Impresario has an assistant/apprentice named Peter ( GrahamMaverick ). During the night’s sleep, we the audience are taken away by the proceedings that are more than likely the dreams of one Marie, who during the balance of the production dreams of what the fair will looki like and be for those who can afford to participate. Chicagoans have heard the name Daniel Burnham ( think Burnham Harbor) who gave the city a lot through his concepts anf vivid imagination. The Impresario, in many ways represents this man.

Marie’s dream sequence is magical and the new choreography is uplifting and despite having a different story at its base, never loses touch with the sounds and textures that Tchaikovsky created years ago. The Joffrey, in changing the story to a more modern and very local area has not changed the feeling of the production, so I am asking you to give it a try instead of staying away because it is “different”. There are times, that different may be better! The moral of the story is still about the value of love, the need for hope and of course the comfort of family. It does not matter where your family comes from or what your social status may be, but in face that your family cares for one another.

Do not be afraid to try this amazing and very new version of an expressive bit of story-telling. The new version, thanks to the wonderful world of computers offers some great graphics ( 59 Productions) and projections. Julian Crouch’s sets and costume designs are of the highest quality and design and the puppetry (Basil Twist) is amazing! One of the highlights of The Joffrey is the use of local area children in this production. They come from the city and the surrounding suburbs and give of their time and energy to help make this performance a memory for each audience member as well as for themselves. Because of the play within the play concept, we get some special feature numbers from some of the talents that would be appearing at the Fair:

Spanish dancer: Armanda Assucena, Christine Rocas, Edson Barbosa and Stefan Goncalvez.

The Arabian Dancers ( a uniquely different type of choreography): Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez ( who also plays the Rat Cacher and The Rat King, to perfection).

Chinese Dancer: Elivelton Tomazi (seems to be triple jointed)

Buffalo Bill (Rory Hohenstein) and his Wild West Show Girls (Brooke Linford, Chloe Sherman and Olivia Tang- Mifsud.

The Venetian Masked dancers: Varia Chaykina, Gayeon Jung and Yumi Kanazawa.

The Mother nutcracker: Fernando Duarte

There are so many others to name…every character in this production is as beautiful to watch as the music is to hear.

This is a DO NOT MISS-  suggestion: children under 5 probably should wait until they are ready to sit for two-hours-five minutes (including one intermission)

The girls loved the production. Sarah, it seems enjoyed the original choreography and story-line better than this, but after thinking about it understood that it was time for change and the fact that it now tells some history of our city, it is probably for the best. Both Sarah and Samantha loved the snowflakes in the final scene of the first act. A marvelously bright dance numbers with snow falling on the dancers.

“The Nutcracker will continue at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University located at 50 East Congress Parkway ( between Wabash Avenue and Michigan Avenue thru December 30th with performances as follows:

Thursdays  7 p.m.

Fridays  7 p.m.

Saturdays  2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Sundays  2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

There are Wednesdays performances 12/20 and 12/27- the 20th at 7 p.m., the 27th at 2 p.m.

There will be a Tuesday performance on 12/26 at 2 p.m. and another at 7 p.m. and on Friday, the 29th an added 2 p.m. performance with no evening performance on closing 12/30

Tickets range from $35- $165 and are available at the box office, by calling 312-992-2110 or online at www.joffrey.com