Chicago Dance Review: THE NUTCRACKER (Joffrey)

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by Lawrence Bommer on December 5, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


After 28 years the Joffrey Ballet is ending Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker. All good things, it seems, must come to an end. Next year Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beloved ballet will be reinterpreted in a spanking new staging by Tony winner Christopher Wheeldon (who last season reimagined Swan Lake as a fantasy within a rehearsal).

1 Hansol Jeong with childrens cast_Photo by Cheryl Mann 3 Cara Marie Gary & Michael Smith_Photo by Cheryl Mann

And so it’s journey’s end for Joffrey’s very last Clara, dazzled and delighted by her gallant Nutcracker Prince whom she redeems after a battle with the Mice King and his rodent troops, and their delightful visits to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets.

3 Cara Marie Gary wtih Childrens Cast_Photo by Cheryl Mann 4 Cara Marie Gary_Photo by Cheryl  Mann

Judging from opening night, the piece may well have outstayed its welcome. Not particularly acclaimed by the audience, this year’s recreation, engineered by artistic director Ashley Wheater, seemed a bit rushed and even desultory. Repeats for dances were eliminated and, churlishly, there was no first act curtain call (no chance to acknowledge the vocalizing of the Anima Singers, for one rebuff). It felt a tad perfunctory–as if the ensemble had been more eager to get it over with than to give its all one last time to Joffrey’s concoction.

6 Caitlin Meighan & Yoshihisa Arai_Photo by Cheryl Mann 5 Childrens Cast_Photo by Cheryl Mann

But, no question, the gorgeous old sets and costumes of this 19th-century American remount of a Russian classic deliver glorious goods. Anticipating Norman Rockwell, it’s so much Currier and Ives nostalgia delivering domestic warmth and contagious festivity.

7 Battle Scene_Photo by Cheryl Mann

Featuring the excellent Chicago Philharmonic and 118 local dancers with the full Joffrey corps de ballet, the stage teemed with Dolls, Soldiers, Snow Tree Angels, Party Girls and Boys, Battle and Mounted Mice, and the sassy Polchinelle children hiding under Mother Ginger’s giant crinoline dress. They’re all transformed by mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer (Michael Smith), a magical godfather for Clara and mischievous Fritz (Hansol Jeong). Of course, he only stands in for author E.T.A. Hoffman, eccentric inspirer of Les Contes d’Hoffman.

8Mahallia Ward & Dylan Gutierrez_Photo by Cheryl Mann (1) 9 Hansol Jeong_Photo by Cheryl Mann

Cara Marie Gary makes a sprightly Clara, eager for the next excitement–but the big action comes with the grand pas de deux by Amanda Assucena’s captivating Sugar Plum Fairy and Albert Velasquez’ dashing Nutcracker Prince (though even this seemed to fast forward like much of the evening).

10 Land of the Snow_Photo by Cheryl Mann 11 Nicole Ciapponi_Photo by Cheryl Mann

The divertissements at the Christmas Eve soiree and the celebration in Candyland were splendidly presented as always: sultry with Dara Holmes and Temur Sulashvili’s Arabian duet and thrilling with the Cossack quartet from the steppes of Russia. When Clara and her protective godfather finally return to America in their huge balloon, it’s a lot like Professor Marvel’s departure from Oz (this time with the designated passenger).

12 Anastacia Holden & Hansol Jeong_Photo by Cheryl Mann 13 Dara Holmes & Temur Suluashvili_Photo by Cheryl Mann

As farewell perfomances go, this Auditorium Theatre spectacle was respectful enough to the massive memories it redeemed. It’s strange to mourn for a night of classic choreography. But perhaps a year from now Wheeldon’s version will open up new vistas to an old masterpiece. Joffrey’s take on a Christmas fantasy will not be forgotten, let alone replaced, but we will have new marvels to replenish the cash cow. Thanks for the memories.

14 Chilrens Cast as Polichinelles_Photo by Cheryl Mann 15 Waltz of the Flowers_Photo by Cheryl Mann

photos by Cheryl Mann

16 Amanda Assucena & Alberto Velazquez_Photo by Cheryl Mann 19 Finale_Photo by Cheryl Mann

The Nutcracker
Joffrey Ballet
Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University
50 E. Congress Parkway
scheduled to end on December 27, 2015
for tickets call 800-982-2787 or visit Ticketmaster

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

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