Theatre 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

It’s that magical time of the year when The House Theatre of Chicago brings the inhabitants of Clara’s toy box back to life in their annual all-original The Nutcracker. For the eight’s straight year this exciting Christmas tale brings the spirit of Christmas to the Chopin theatre in Ukrainian village. The production of The Nutcracker originally premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 under the Visiting Company Initiative and has been produced at The House every year since 2010. The House Theatre is well known for its playful approach to classic tales, and The Nutcracker is one of its best examples. Loosely based on the story by E.T.A Hoffmann, it has the traditional elements of the original story, only with a few major changes. In House’s ballet-free version Clara’s family learns that Fritz, their beloved son and brother who is a soldier, had been killed and won’t be coming home for Christmas. Darkness descends on the family and in their grief, they stop paying attention to each other not to mention forget all about Christmas. It’s when Clara’s favorite Uncle Drosselmeyer shows up the following Christmas with a new hand-made Nutcracker toy for Clara that looks exactly like Fritz, is when the family’s wound starts to heal. The cornucopia of fun characters includes a couple of Scary Rats with British accents, giant puppets and much more.

If seeing another Nutcracker seems like a tired proposition during the holiday season, wait till you experience this. Witty dialogue, skilled puppetry, live music, singing and dancing - creators Tommy Rapley, Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich and Kevin O’Donnell really packed the show with action. There’s even a great mini orchestra consisting of piano, cello, French horn, violin and percussion (under music director Matthew Muniz) seated by the back wall and providing live score during the show. Superb original choreography by Tommy Rapley and Hillary Aarons makes all that seemingly chaotic running through the stage and numerous lightning fast scene changes completely effortless.

Talented cast includes a very young newcomer this year: Haley Seda is excellent as Clara, and her beautiful singing voice is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to the show. Returning cast members - Rachel Shapiri as Phoebe, Desmond Gray as Fritz, Torrey Hanson as Drosselmeyer, Amanda de la Guardia as Martha, Nicholas Bailey as David and Ian Maryfield as Monkey all make the show pure magic.
Whether or not a Christmas show is on your list this holiday season, The House’s The Nutcracker will not disappoint; it’s lively yet intimate, wise yet playful, and you might want to bring your out of town guests with you (both adults and children) to brag about Chicago’s lively theatre scene. Because the magic is real!

The Nutcracker is being performed at Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park through December 30th. For more information visit www.thehousetheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, proudly announces an impressive 2017-18 season including a world premiere by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc, the North American Premiere of Midsummer Night’s Dream by acclaimed choreographer Alexander Ekman plus Chicago Premieres by George Balanchine, Lola de Ávila and Jerome Robbins. The Joffrey Ballet kicks off its 62nd season with Lola de Ávila’s Giselle, October 18-29,followed by the return of Tony Award®-winner Christopher Wheeldon’s newly reimagined The Nutcracker, December 1-30. For its winter engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents Modern Masters, a mixed repertoire program with four works – a World Premiere by Nicolas Blanc (untitled), the Chicago Premieres of Kammermusik No. 2 by George Balanchine and Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth plus Body of Your Dreams by Myles Thatcher, February 7-18. The Joffrey Ballet will conclude its season with Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, April 25-May 6.

 

All performances take place in the Joffrey’s home venue, the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, in downtown Chicago at 50 East Congress Parkway. All programs throughout the season feature live music performed by the Chicago Philharmonic conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet.

 

This season, for the first time, The Joffrey Ballet and Lyric Opera of Chicago will collaborate on a world premiere production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s classic opera, Orphée et Eurydice directed and choreographed by internationally acclaimed Director and Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier. Orphée et Eurydice will be presented at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, September 23 - October 15.

 

Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly embracing the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces and contemporary works. Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron.  

 

“During my time as Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, we’ve worked tirelessly to redefine ballet at the highest level,” said Ashley Wheater. “This season, we elevate this commitment with dynamic performances that celebrate joy in a time when transformative storytelling has never been more needed. We present sweeping passion in modern renditions of Giselle and Midsummer Night’s Dream; we see hope and wonder through the eyes of Chicago immigrants with the return of Christopher Wheeldon’s reimagined Nutcracker; and finally, we feel inspiration with works by modern trailblazers and legendary voices including Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Alexander Ekman, and Myles Thatcher.”

 

“Ashley Wheater’s commitment to world-class artistry and transformative experiences has ignited hope and wonder in Chicago audiences, and this season is no exception,” added Executive Director Greg Cameron. “From the youthful passion of Giselle and magical wonder of The Nutcracker to boundary- pushing masterpieces from rising talent and legendary voices, these unforgettable stories beautifully express our human condition and provide a beacon of hope and inspiration. We look forward to sharing these remarkable and moving ballet experiences with Chicago audiences in the year to come.”

 

About the 2017-18 Season

 

October 2017

 

The Joffrey Ballet launches its 2017-18 season with the Chicago Premiere of Lola de Ávila’s visionary adaption of Giselle. Former Associate Director of the San Francisco Ballet School, de Ávila’s take on this classic Romantic-era ballet is set to composer Adolphe Adam’s original score and tells the tale of young Giselle, who discovers her lover is betrothed to another and dies of grief, only to be enlisted by the vengeful Wilis, a ghostly army of maidens who haunt the forests, dancing to death any male mortal who crosses their path. When her beloved wanders into their grasp, Giselle makes the ultimate act of love to free him from his fate.

 

A ballet in two acts, Giselle is presented in 10 performances only, October 18-29, 2017.

 

December 2017

 

After its wildly successful world premiere in December 2016, The Joffrey Ballet will once again present its newly reimagined holiday classic The Nutcracker by Tony Award®-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, Wheeldon’s turn-of-the-century tale opens as young Marie and her mother, a sculptress creating the Fair’s iconic Statue of the Republic, host a festive Christmas Eve celebration. After a surprise visit from the creator of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, the mysterious Great Impresario, Marie embarks on a whirlwind adventure with the Nutcracker Prince through a dreamlike World’s Fair. A ballet in two acts set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, The Nutcracker also features design by an award-winning creative team including Tony Award®-nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch, Caldecott Medal Award-winning author Brian Selznick, Obie and Drama Desk award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist, Tony Award®-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz and Tony Award®-winning projection designer Ben Pearcy.  

 

The Nutcracker is presented in 32 performances, December 1-30, 2017.

 

February 2018

 

The Joffrey’s winter program, a mixed repertory program entitled Modern Masters, features a world premiere by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc, the Chicago Premieres of Kammermusik No. 2 by George Balanchine and in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth, Glass Pieces by Jerome Robbins plus Body of Your Dreams by Myles Thatcher.

 

Kammermusik No.2, originally created for New York City Ballet in 1978 by world renowned contemporary ballet choreographer George Balanchine, broke the conventions of ballet with its exceptional use of complex structures, precision, energy and speed. Set to a score by neoclassical composer Paul Hindemith, hailed as one of the great German composers of the 20th century, this work for 12 dancers features an eight-man ensemble performing jagged lines and stylized gestures along with two couples, who present the counterpoint to the ensemble with duets set to the intricate passages for piano.

 

Body of Your Dreams, created by up-and-coming choreographer Myles Thatcher, is a tongue-in-cheek take on fitness which made its world premiere as part of the 2014–2015 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. A contemporary work for nine dancers, Body of Your Dreams features a series of movements expressing the highs and lows of body image woven together with inventive wit, set to a score by Dutch avant pop composer Jacob ter Veldhuis. A current dancer with San Francisco Ballet, Thatcher is known for melding contemporary sensibility with classical technique to resonate feeling and atmosphere. Thatcher made his Joffrey Ballet choreographic debut with the World Premiere of Passengers in September 2015.

 

Nicolas Blanc, current Ballet Master and Principal Coach for The Joffrey Ballet, will create a new work (untitled) for the company which will take audiences through five mesmerizing worlds set to an orchestral and electronic soundscape by Mason Bates, composer-in-residence at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Former Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet, Blanc made his choreographic debut with the Joffrey in April 2015 with the U.S. Premiere of Evenfall. Most recently, Blanc was selected to participate in the 2015 National Choreographers Initiative as well as the New York City Ballet's New York Choreographic Institute where he created Mothership, which premiered in New York City Ballet's 2016 gala.

 

In honor of the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins’ birth, the Joffrey will present the Chicago Premiere of Glass Pieces, a signature Robbins’ ballet set to three works by American minimalist composer Philip Glass. Originally premiering with New York City Ballet in 1983, Glass Pieces is a tour de force of movement and music for 42 dancers featuring urban, postmodern choreography, recurrent rhythms, shifting patterns and an energized pace to reflect the pulse of metropolitan America in the ‘80s. One of the great American choreographers of the 20th century, Robbins prolific career has made a profound contribution to the ballet world in addition to renown commercial credits as a director and choreographer for theater, movies and television including On the Town, West Side Story, The King and I, Gypsy, Peter Pan, and Fiddler on the Roof. Even after his death in 1998, his superb body of work continues to be celebrated and performed by companies worldwide. In its 62-year history, The Joffrey Ballet has presented numerous works by Jerome Robbins, including The Concert, Interplay, Moves and N.Y. Export: Op. Jazz.

 

Modern Masters is presented in 10 performances only, February 7–18, 2018.

 

April/May 2018

 

Celebrated around the globe for his originality and humor, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman brings his unique vision to the Joffrey with the North American Premiere of his Midsummer Night’s Dream, which made its world premiere with The Royal Swedish Ballet in 2015. A full-length ballet vastly different from Shakespeare’s tale, Ekman’s take on a Midsummer Night’s Dream presents a festive Scandinavian Midsummer celebration, as the border between the world of mortals and the kingdom of the supernatural becomes thinner, turning the celebration into a dreamlike fantasy. Ekman has collaborated with companies worldwide to create award-winning works that both entertain and challenge the observer, including the Chicago Premieres of Ekman’s Tulle in 2015 along with his wild and rhythmic Episode 31 which premiered on the Joffrey during the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival. Ekman will also present the world premiere of a new work (untitled) during The Joffrey Ballet’s spring program Global Visionaries in April 2017.

 

Midsummer Night’s Dream is presented in 10 performances only, April 25-May 6, 2018.

 

Joffrey Gala Performance — April 20, 2018

For the third year in a row, The Joffrey Ballet will open its special, one-hour gala performance exclusively to Joffrey subscribers and gala donors. 

 

Lyric Collaboration — September 23 – October 15, 2017

This season, The Joffrey Ballet and Lyric Opera of Chicago will collaborate on a world premiere production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s classic opera Orphée et Eurydice. Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, Orphée et Eurydice features a modern-day Orpheus, a poet whose every word communicates an overwhelming love for his late wife, Eurydice. After refusing to accept her death, he courageously journeys to the Underworld to bring her back to life but first must face Love’s challenge. Lyric Opera will present Orphée in the Paris version, containing thrilling ballet sequences that will come to life under the direction and choreography of internationally acclaimed Director and Chief Choreographer of The Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier. Most recently, Neumeier worked with the Joffrey, upon whom he set the North American premiere of his full-length story ballet Sylvia in October 2015. Orphée et Eurydice will be presented in seven performances at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, September 23 - October 15.

 

Tickets and Subscriptions

Three-program subscriptions, which do not include The Nutcracker or Orphée et Eurydice, start at $87. Subscriptions will be available for purchase as of February 22, 2017, online at joffrey.org, by mail (Joffrey Ballet Subscriptions, The Joffrey Ballet, Joffrey Tower, 10 East Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60601), by telephone at 312-386-8905, by fax at 312-739-0119, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Single tickets for the October, February and April performances as well as The Nutcracker will be available starting August 1, 2017. Single tickets are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of 10 East Randolph Street, by telephone at 312-386-8905, or online at joffrey.org.  

 

Orphée et Eurydice will be presented by The Lyric Opera of Chicago at the Civic Opera House (20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago). Joffrey Ballet subscribers will receive an exclusive pre-sale opportunity with a 20% discount. Tickets can be purchased through Lyric Opera audience services at 312-827-5600.

 

About The Joffrey Ballet

Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly reflecting the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces, and contemporary works.

 

The Company’s commitment to accessibility is met through an extensive touring schedule, an innovative and highly effective education program including the much lauded Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, Community Engagement programs, and collaborations with myriad other visual and performing arts organizations.

 

Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956, guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under internationally renowned Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron.

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of 2017-2018 Season Sponsors: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, NIB Foundation, and the Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, Live Music Sponsor The Marina and Arnold Tatar Fund for Live Music, and 2017-2018 Season Partners: pamella roland and Fox Ford Lincoln, Clear Channel Airports, Chicago Athletic Clubs, JW Marriott, and Official Provider of Physical Therapy, Athletico.

 

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit joffrey.org.

 

Published in Dance in Review

There is no better way to get in the holiday spirit than with the classic Christmas ballet, the Nutcracker. Twenty-eight years after Robert Joffrey’s original production, this is the final year that the Joffrey Ballet will perform this Nutcracker (2016 brings us the world premier of Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker!). Even decades since artistic director Ashley Wheater performed in the opening night of the production, this performance retains the timeless magic of this joyous holiday tradition.

 

For those unfamiliar, the show takes place on Christmas Eve in the 1850s, opening with a party at the house of the mayor, his wife and his two children, Clara and Fritz. In the midst of the lively party Drosselmeyer, the somewhat eccentric godfather to Clara and Fritz, sprinkles in some excitement to the festivities with enchanted life-size dolls that dance and entertain the guests. However, it is his gift of a nutcracker for Clara, which truly ignites the magic.

 

After the guests have left and the family has gone to bed, Clara sneaks downstairs to gaze upon her beloved Nutcracker. She soon finds herself in the middle of a battle between the Mouse King and his army of mice and the Nutcracker, who comes to life to fight with his band of toy soldiers.  With the toss of a shoe, Clara knocks down the Mouse King saving the Nutcrackers life and as means of a thank you, he takes her through the Land of Snow to the Kingdom of Sweets where the many toys from under Clara’s tree come to life in enjoyable and fantastic dances.

 

Joffrey’s Nutcracker downplays the traditional romance between Clara and the Nutcracker prince, fortifying the role of Drosselmeyer as the catalyst and guide of Clara’s journey to the Kingdom of Sweets. Performed by Michael Smith, Drosselmeyer is a technically strong role but at times, it felt overpowering for my taste, making the role of Clara more infantile and taking away from the romance between Clara and the Nutcracker Prince. 

 

Another split from tradition was the introduction of male dancers into the Land of Snow and Waltz of the Flowers scenes, however these deviations I found truly fantastic. The combination of beautiful partnering, endless falling snow and the graceful choreography expertly performed by the snowflakes (ladies) and snow winds (men) transports the audience on their mystical journey with Clara through the land of snow. In the Waltz of the Flowers in the second act, again the partnering added an interesting dimension, as did the constant tossing of fluttering flower petals beautifully worked into the choreography.

 

Overall, the dancers exhibited a wonderful balance of grace and precision creating flowing lines that perfectly complimented the Tchaikovsky score. The company members were fantastic, performing in perfect unison with a look of joy on their face making everything look effortless as a good ballet should. There were many young performers in the show as well who steal the scene with their cuteness! In the Kingdom of Sweets, each piece was accompanied by a tiny tot dressed in character sitting with Clara to watch the dance unfold. As someone who performed in the Nutcracker a number of times as a kid, I enjoyed this element of the show, as I am sure every aspiring ballerina in the audience did as well.

 

My favorite pieces by far were the Coffee from Arabia pas de deux, where Dara Holmes captivated us with her flexibility and elegant lines and the Grand Pas De Deux by the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince. Instantly entranced by the sparkle of the Sugar Plum Fairy costume, I was continually captivated as Amanda Assucena and Alberto Velasquez brilliantly performed the most iconic piece from the show.  

 

The Nutcracker runs at the Auditorium Theater through December 27th.  Buy your tickets now! Take your children, take your parents, take your date or take them all for a magical performance that will truly put you in the holiday spirit. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Twas a cold winter evening,

In Chicagoland,

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.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Rory Hohenstein  Christine Rocas photo by Herbert Migdoll

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.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Jeraldine Mendoza photo by Herbert Migdoll

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.

Joffrey Nutcracker - Dylan Gutierrez and April Daly photo by Herbert Migdoll

So off to The Joffrey!

Don’t miss it this year,

Fill up your holiday,

With Nutcracker cheer!

Published in Dance in Review

 

 

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