Dance in Review

A delightful winter holiday ballet staple, Joffrey’s The Nutcracker gets a make-over by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Joffrey’s Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. The all-American all-Chicago version that premiered last December at The Auditorium Theatre takes us to a very exciting time in our history: 1892, five months before the World’s Fair in Chicago is set to open (story by Brian Selznick). Though the circumstances are different, creators of the ballet kept many elements of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and most importantly, the spirit of Christmas, intact. No more rich children and their fancy Christmas party with expensive presents - we’re back to the real world. Marie is from a poor immigrant family; she lives with her widowed mother, who is a sculptress working on the golden Statue of the Republic for the Columbian Exposition, and a younger brother Franz. The construction is in full swing and employs mostly immigrants from around the world.

In Act I the workers come to Marie’s house bearing food and drink for a lively Christmas celebration. Three musicians [from the orchestra] are invited on stage to accompany the dancing, much like it would be in those days. Marie is performed by very talented Amanda Assucena, a remarkably expressive ballerina; her gestures are all we need to understand what’s happening in the story. When a mysterious man who designed The World Fair and is known as The Great Impresario (Miguel Angel Blanco), shows up at the party, he captures everyone’s imagination with his visions of the completed Fair and gives out Christmas gifts. Marie receives a toy Nutcracker, and she couldn’t be happier. When she goes to bed that night she dreams that her new favorite toy leads an army of soldiers against a pack of rats who invade their shack and are always around in the streets (doesn't that sound painfully familiar, at least to Chicago city dwellers?). After she saves her Nutcracker from being eaten by The Rat King, he promptly turns into a handsome Prince. Whimsical costumes, gorgeous set and wonderful puppetry make for very enjoyable ballet experience  and a long cast of characters danced by children adds even more charm to the ballet.

Joffrey Ballet dancers are unquestionably world class masters, and this production showcases its many talented members. Victoria Jaiani who dances the parts of both Marie’s mother and The Queen of the Fair couldn’t be any more graceful and is always quite marvelous.

In Act II Marie, the Prince and The Great Impresario sail to the World Fair in a gondola where the Queen of the Fair (Victoria Jaiani) takes them to different pavilions where countries are represented by their dances – exotic Chinese and Spanish Dances are great, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is really fun too, but then there’s the sexy Arabian Dance. Here Weeldon’s brilliant choreography is masterfully executed by Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels ; watching them dance is like eating some exquisite dessert that you wish would never end. It’s that good.

Somewhere towards the end of Second Act the drama of Tchaikovsky’s music gets lost in the romantic love dance of The Great Impresario and The Queen of Fair and leaves us longing for something else, but that’s easy to get over.

Live score is provided by Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra under Conductor/ Music Director Scott Speck.

The performance can be seen at Auditorium Theatre and runs two hours and twenty minutes and includes a twenty-minute intermission. For more information on Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker visit www.joffrey.org

Published in Dance in Review
Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:04

Review: Joffrey's Nutcracker

There's nothing more cloying than an evening of bad holiday theatre. Each December countless Chicago theaters put up their annual Christmas shows. Some are better than others. For a reliable standard, Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" is a safe bet.

 

For 2016, Joffrey presents an entirely new version of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Conceived by English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this new production is sleek and tailor-made for Chicago. An interesting variation on ETA Hoffman's original Russian fairy tale. In this version, Marie is from a working class family and it's set during the construction of the Chicago World's Fair. The dance sequences in the second act are Clara's dreams of what the Columbian Exposition will hold. Wheeldon's aesthetic borrows from holiday favorites like "A Christmas Carol" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" Sets by Julian Crouch combine the classic imagery of the original and newer conventions like projections. Accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this "Nutcracker" is a little more grown up than the pastel versions you might remember.

 

The talent will be of no surprise to Joffrey regulars. Dancing the part of Marie is Amanda Assucena. Her performance portrays the lead character with a more teenage curiosity about romance. Miguel Angel Blanco dances a variation of Uncle Drosselmeyer, otherwise known as the Impresario of the Fair. It's playful and a little creepy. In the dream sequence, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels turn up the heat as the Arabian Dancers. Wheeldon's choreography creates quite a spectacle and the large cast sequences are magical.

 

For those bored with run-of-the-mill "Nutcrackers" (a dime-a-dozen this time of year), this brand new production at The Joffrey will leave an impression. It's refreshing to see a local cultural institution take what they know works and turning it on its head. If only more of Chicago's tried and true holiday shows would take the same path, maybe we wouldn't dread them so much.

 

Through December 30th at Joffrey Ballet. 50 East Congress Parkway. 

 

 

Published in Dance in Review

Everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet, a timeless tale of lovers kept apart by family and society, but the power of love allows them to fight through only to meet a tragic demise. The story has been told over and over again in stories, books, movies, plays and even real life. The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its 2016-2017 season with Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo and Juliet and proves that the story can transcend time and stands tall even without the beautiful poetry of William Shakespeare. 

 

In this creative, three act re-imagining of the classic Romeo and Juliet, the audience travels through time as they are pulled into the gripping story of the love and loss. Starting in Italy in the 1930’s, during the rise of Mussolini and Fascism, the militaristic, strict Capulet family and the more free and relaxed Montague family encounter one another and Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time. The second act moves to the 1950’s with the rise of political terrorism and the Red Brigade, which compliments the increasing challenges that keep the true lovers apart. In the final act it is 1990 and as Berlusconi’s leadership drives increasing social divide in the country, Romeo and Juliet meet their tragic end.

 

The show is a multi-media story ballet and the video imagery projected on the backdrop compliments the story. The rest of the set is simple, consisting of some lightly reflective panels that add a lovely effect to indoor scenes, and a few dark pillars and benches.  It allows most of your focus to be on the dancers themselves as the story unfolds. The costumes are non-traditional with no tutu’s in sight, opting instead towards more street fashion. As we progress through the three acts, the costumes evolve moving through time. One of the most creative aspects of the costuming is how the colors change across the acts, starting in a simple black and white, next to sepia tones and finally more full color, and through it all Romeo and Juliet are clad in a pale blue reflective of their innocence and lightness.

 

The choreography by Krzysztof Pastor is phenomenal and breathtaking. There are so many variety of styles from the rigid and powerful movements of the Capulet family, to the fun and lighthearted flow of the Montagues and of course the beautiful range of emotions that Romeo and Juliet portray, played by Rory Hohenstein and Christine Rocas. Just as Shakespeare has been praised for his ability to switch between comedy and tragedy so effortlessly, the choreography does the same with some lighthearted moments that broke the tension, even bringing about a laugh from the audience. Mercutio, played by Yoshihisa Arai, was the best representation of this comedy through dance. He brought boundless energy to the stage in an exceptional performance that made the audience all but fall in love with Mercutio.

 

Overall, the performances by the entire company were fantastic. Dancers moved effortlessly and in beautiful harmony with one another and with the score by Sergei Prokofiev. It was a nice break from the more traditional style of ballet yet still showcased the natural grace and amazing talent of the entire cast. 

 

If you are a fan of the ballet, or have never seen a story ballet before, this is certainly a performance to see. The modern qualities of this show make it more accessible to those unfamiliar with ballet, and no one can argue the multitude of emotions that this performance evokes. It never ceases to amaze just how powerful the art of movement can be, and in this re-telling of the age old story of Romeo and Juliet that power is clearly evident. The show is playing at the stunning Auditorium Theater through October 23rd. Be sure to get your tickets and experience the magic of the Joffrey Ballet.

 

Published in Upcoming Dance

 

 

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