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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

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