Chicago Dance Review: THE NUTCRACKER (Joffrey)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 6, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

CHRISTMAS CHESTNUTS NEED A NUTCRACKER

Even though the second half of this holiday favorite actually seems set in spring (with the “Waltz of the Flowers” as chief evidence), its warmth is never more welcome than in winter. Tchaikovsky’s tale of plucky Clara’s defeat of the wicked mice and her rescue of a now-human Nutcracker born from an obscure curse is inseparable from other “tidings of great joy” in this “most wonderful time of the year.” Clara’s reward for conking out the Mice King consists of guided tours of the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, excuses for Joffrey Ballet to strut its stuff in a panoply of nationalistic and novelty numbers.

Joffrey Ballet 2012

Celebrating twenty years in Chicago and in the Auditorium Theatre, which itself marks 125 years as a treasure/pleasure palace, “Chicago’s most beloved holiday tradition” (with only Goodman’s A Christmas Carol and Apollo Chorus’s Messiah as competition) delights in the details of E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” a short story with no mention of Clara at all.

Joffrey - Nutcracker (1) - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Running through December 28 and featuring live accompaniment by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra, Robert Joffrey’s evergreen 1987 version, with worthy scenery by Oliver Smith, continues to delight, much as the beloved ballet did for virgin audiences at Saint Petersburg’s Mariinsky Theatre on that magic night of December 17, 1892, just a year before the composer’s premature death.

Joffrey - Nutcracker Childrens Cast - Photo by Cheryl Mann (2)

Complete with four mechanical dolls—vivandière, harlequin, soldier and columbine—the first act’s gala party in an American Victorian parlor is quite the community festivity, even as Dr. Drosselmeyer (Fabrice Calmels), enchanted godfather to siblings demure Clara (Caitlin Meighan) and mischievous Fritz (Elivelton Tomazi), works his wiles to make the Nutcracker as human as Pinocchio.

Joffrey - Nutcracker, Matthew Adamczyk as Mouse King - Photo by Cheryl Mann

Following the crucial combat in the “Magical Battleground” between the Nutcracker’s boy soldiers and five not-so-blind Mice, we’re transported to a very snowy winter wonderland. Here Snow Queen Victoria Jaiani and Snow King Temur Suluashvili create their own beautiful blizzard, aided by the female corps de ballet as Snowflakes and perky little girls as Snow Winds (the Pro Musica Youth Chorus provides offstage vocalizations).

Joffrey - Nutcracker, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili as Arabian - Photo by Herbert Migdoll

Finally, we change seasons as the Sugar Plum Fairy (Jeraldine Mendoza) and the Nutcracker Prince (Dylan Gutierrez) preside over foreign pastry divertissements turned real, as well as a “Victorian bouquet” of very ambulatory flowers (a pansy, rose, dahlia, carnation, iris, columbine, rhododendron, and clematis) and their dreamboat cavaliers.

Joffrey - Nutcracker, Jeraldine Mendoza as Sugar Plum Fairy - Photo by Cheryl Mann (2)

Completing the spell is the obligatory grand pas de deux where Gutierrez exults in the heart-stopping leaps he lavished on adoring audiences in Joffrey’s recent Swan Lake. Mendoza, her lovely smile never fading, is a miracle of movement as she fully embraces the torturous challenges of this tour de turns. Her perfect form as she pushes past the pain is braver than anything Clara did to the Mouse King.

Joffrey - Nutcracker, Mother Ginger's Polichinelles - Photo by Cheryl Mann

The swirling finale delivers an intoxicating farewell: Clara and her sorcerer protector, borrowing a balloon from the Omaha State Fair, ascend into an apotheosis. We may leave through the lobby, but we are just as transformed.

Joffrey - Nutcracker, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili as Snow Queen and King - Photo by Herbert Migdoll (2)

photos by Cheryl Mann and Herbert Migdoll

Joffrey - Nutcracker, Caitlin Meighan as Clara - Photo by Cheryl MannThe Nutcracker
Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
scheduled to end on December 28, 2014
for tickets call 800-982-2787
or visit www.ticketmaster.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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