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.
Twas a cold winter evening,
On the way to the Auditorium theatre,
For a performance quite grand.
The guests took their seats,
The stage decked in splendor,
Anxiously awaiting their journey,
Expecting ballerinas so tender.
Then up went the music,
And down went the lights,
As we were whisked away
To the Nutcracker that night.
All know the story,
The Nutcracker’s tale,
From the grand ball to the Sugar Plum Fairy,
Danced by a young Mikhail (Barishnikov ;-) )
The Joffrey performed the ballet,
With intricate care,
To keep with traditions,
So all ages could share.
Spanish Chocolate, Arabian Coffee,
Chinese Tea and Russian Candy,
Danish Marzipan, Mother Ginger,
It was all just dandy!
But the waltz of the snowflakes
And the waltz of the flowers,
Is where this ballet
Holds all of its power.
The dancers on pointe,
In their tutus and tights,
Twirling and leaping,
Twas a majestic sight.
The Joffrey Ballet is performing,
A holiday tale to remember,
For all to enjoy,
While it runs through December.
So off to The Joffrey!
Don’t miss it this year,
Fill up your holiday,
With Nutcracker cheer!