The Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker Review-a very special holiday event

In its 60th season, the Joffrey Ballet is performing its final staging of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino’s take on the immortal ballet, “The Nutcracker”, which debuted here in 1987. The buzz about town is full of how next year there will be a new version, by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, to look forward to. Indeed, there have been many variations on this great dance classic since Marius Petipa crafted the original to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. In fact, Petipa’s work was itself based on a retelling by Alexandre Dumas, pere, of the E.T.A Hoffman tale,”The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. Until December 27, however, lucky Chicago audiences can enjoy the version we have come to know and love, with it’s utterly glorious score, inspiringly performed by the Chicago Philharmonic under the baton of Russell Vinick and music director Scott Speck.This enduring holiday classic, grand in concept and execution, could not be staged in a lovelier setting than the historic Auditorium of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway. The deep, wide stage with its 95-foot loft, the magnificent acoustics, the design-work involving flowering vines and murals, this is the second –largest concert hall in the country, after New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.

Caitlin Meighan and Yoshihisa Arai

Battle Scene

What is seen on the stage in Joffrey’s vision is different in detail from Hoffman’s story, and all the various choreographed versions – such as George Balanchine’s,  and , of course, the Maryinsky-differ, and they all contain different particular stylistic elements, but the basic plot remains the same. Whether set, as Hoffman’s was, in 1816 Germany, or as the version at the Auditorium is, in Victorian Chicago, this is Christmas Eve. We are in the large and grand home of the Stahlbaum family. There is a huge and sparkling tree overlayed with lights and surrounded by gifts. Children are chasing each other about as the party gets joyous with music and dance. And then godfather Drosselmeyer arrives. He is impossibly tall and elegant, and as played by Michael Smith, also one of the Children’s Ballet Masters, incredibly compelling and larger-than-life, swishing and swirling in his purple-lined black cape, exuding mystery and magnetism and conquering the stage.

Land of the Snow

Aastacia Holden and Hansol Jeong

When jealous brother Fritz breaks the special Nutcracker toy given to his sister Clara by Drosselmeyer, he repairs it with a handkerchief plucked from the air. The magic has begun. The inimitably young and graceful Clara, danced by Anastacia Holden, falls asleep in front of the tree after the guests leave.  The tree grows to a great height, the toys come to life, and an army of mice headed by Mouse King, Edson Barbosa, challenge the toy soldiers led by the nutcracker doll, danced by Yoshihisa Arai. Under the many-layered canopies and the gently falling snow, accompanied by the marvelous toy-dancers and the swirling melodies of Tchaikovsky, the Nutcracker Prince and the Sugarplum Fairy, danced by Rory Hohenstein and the incomparable Christine Rocas  enchant the audience. They present the delighted Clara with a celebration of amazing dances in fanciful costumes in the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, before culminating in a Grand pas de deux of extravagant beauty.The night this reviewer was there the entire cast received many bravos and encores and a well-deserved standing ovation. The audience tribute was also meant for artistic director Ashley Wheater, scenerist Oliver Smith, lighting artist Jacl Mehler and special effects designer, Kermit Love. A special accolade here is given to the over 200 great costumes and 172 pairs of shoes used in each production of the Nutcracker.

Children's cast

Finale

All images courtesy of Cheryl Mann

Tickets for the Nutcracker and other wonderful events at the Joffrey can be had at the Joffrey website

 

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