***** Highly Recommended ***** The Joffrey Ballet’s “Chicago-centric” version of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is quite simply magnificent. By setting “The Nutcracker” against Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Wheeldon gave the city a unique gift. This was the fifth time I’ve seen/reviewed The Nutcracker and I still love everything about it! I did notice that a few things which were just slightly different, which actually improved on something that I thought was just about perfect. Every movement was graceful, precise and exquisitely performed. By the way, Tchaichovsky’s glorious music was played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Scott Speck, the Joffrey’s Music Director. 4 BIG Holiday Spotlights!
Please note: as you read through my review, please understand that the dancers I saw performing might not be the same at your performance. In fact, different casts will alternate in the leading roles throughout the run.
For my Northwest Indiana readers: I’ve mentioned before that one member of the Joffrey company, Evan Boersma, is the son of Kelly Boersma, principal of Frank H. Hammond School in Munster. In this production, he dances as a Toy Soldier and one of the Spanish dancers.
As the lights dim, The Nutcracker logo is replaced by projections of real Chicago posters and newspaper headlines/stories proclaiming the Columbian Exposition – the Chicago World’s Fair. One of those headlines just happens to mention that building the Fair is creating jobs for immigrants.
The Great Impresario of the Fair (Dylan Gutierrez), flourishing his cape, assisted by Peter (Hyuma Kiyosawa), his apprentice, shows VIPs around the site, also pointing out important features on a model. Outside the site, people go about their business, passing the fences around the construction.
Some teenaged boys (Fernando Duarte and Xavier Nuñez) have managed to sneak onto the grounds. After crawling out through the fence, they jostle each other around as Peter passes by pulling a wagonload of packages. Franz (Oliver Reeve Libke) steals a tall, red box. His older sister, Marie (Yumi Kanazawa), tries to grab it, but he tosses it to one of the boys and they play keep-away. Hiding the package under his jacket, Franz takes it home.
At home, their Mother (Jeraldine Mendoza) has been working on a sculpture for the Fair. When the children come home, Franz hides the package in a cupboard while Marie helps Mother get ready for the holiday potluck she’s hosting.
Other Fair Workers and their families begin to arrive, bringing decorations and food for a Christmas celebration. The Workers are: Anais Bueno, Valeria Chaykina, Nicole Ciapponi, Lucia Connolly, Dara Holmes, Gayeon Jung, Brooke Linford, Olivia Tang-Mifsud, Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa, Jonathan Dole, Derek Drilon, Yuchan Kim, Graham Maverick, Aaron Renteria and Valentino Moneglia Zamora
The Great Impresario projects a silhouette of the Fair, entertaining the workers with a glimpse of what they’re building. With Peter’s help, he rewards the workers with bonus envelopes, then he gives each child except Marie a gift. When he gives Marie a very familiar red box, Franz runs to check the cupboard, which is empty. Marie is thrilled with her nutcracker until Franz knocks it to the floor, breaking it. When the Great Impresario fixes it, Marie hugs him.
After Mother tucks her into bed – with her nutcracker – Marie has a really vivid dream in which the Fair’s Rat Catcher (Temur Suluashvili) is transformed into the Rat King. Much to her horror, she is surrounded by giant Rats (Derrick Agnoletti, Derek Drilon, Fernando Duarte, Yuchan Kim, Graham Maverick, Xavier Núñez). Suddenly, toy soldiers (Edson Barbosa, Brian Bennett, Evan Boersma, Jonathan Dole, Aaron Renteria, Valentino Moneglia Zamora) start battling the rats while a life-sized Nutcracker (José Pablo Castro Cuevas) is fighting the evil Rat King.
The Nutcracker miraculously transforms into a real Prince and the Great Impresario appears, whisking Marie and the Prince into a giant sleigh which bore them away.
On the ice, the Snow Soloists (Anais Bueno, Nicole Ciapponi, Gayeon Jung, Brooke Linford) are joined by the Ice Cavaliers (Derrick Agnoletti, Edson Barbosa, Graham Maverick, Aaron Renteria). Finally the Snowflakes (Valeria Chaykina, Lucia Connolly, Olivia Duryea, Anna Gerberich, Dara Holmes, Julia Rust, Chloé Sherman, Miranda Silveira, Miu Tanaka, Olivia Tang-Mifsud, Princess Reid, Lauren Bemisderfer**) enter. The Soloists, the Cavaliers and the Snowflakes are all involved in the exquisite Snow Dance.
As their sleigh makes land, the Queen of the Fair (Jeraldine Mendoza) welcomes them with an incredibly graceful solo. The Great Impresario leads Marie and the Prince through the exhibits of the Fair, but not before Marie and the Prince have a chance to dance together.
As they visit the various pavilions, they are joined by Fair visitors: the women, Valeria Chaykina, Lucia Connolly, Olivia Duryea, Anna Gerberich, Dara Holmes, Princess Reid, Chloé Sherman and Miu Tanaka wearing graceful dresses with pastel ruffles: the men, Derrrick Agnoletti, Jonathan Dole, Derek Drilon, Blake Kessler, Graham Maverick, Xavier Núñez, Aaron Renteria and Valentino Moneglia Zamora in white top hats and tuxedos with bright colored vests.
The Great Impresario escorts Marie and the Prince to several various pavilions:
- In the Spanish Pavilion, Spanish Dancers Anais Bueno, Gayeon Jung, Evan Boersma and Yuchan Kim stomp with a flamenco flair.
- In the Arabian Pavilion, the Arabian Dancers, Victoria Jaiani, Temur Suluashvili take sensual to a whole new level.
- A Chinese Dancer (Fernando Duarte) and two Chinese Dragons criss cross the stage celebrating Chinese New Year.
- Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is a featured act on the Fair’s sideshow. Buffalo Bill (Edson Barbosa) demonstrates his roping and leaping skills while his Wild West Girls (Brooke Linford, Julia Rust, Olivia Tang-Mifsud) dance backup.
- There are Venetian Masked Dancers, Amanda Assucena, Nicole Ciapponi and Miranda Silveira.
- Mother Nutcracker (Yoshihisa Arai) sits on the roof of a spinning pavilion while the Walnuts and nutcrackers dance below.
- Finally, The Queen of the Fair and her partner (Guiterrez) return for a final, dazzling pas de deux.
Note: Guests must show proof of vaccination with photo ID before entering the theater. Guests are required to wear masks while inside the building.
The Joffrey Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker” runs through December 26th at the Lyric Opera House, 20 North Upper Wacker Drive, Chicago. The best parking option I’ve found is the Poetry Garage, 201 W. Madison, $12.
Running time is just about 2 hours with a 20-minute intermission. Remaining performances are: Thursday, December 16th at 7:00 pm; Friday, December 17th at 7:00 pm; Saturday, December 18th at 2:00 & 7:00 pm; Sunday, December 19th at 2:00 & 7:00 pm; Tuesday, December 21st at 2:00 & 7:00 pm; Wednesday, December 22nd at 2:00 & 7:00pm; Thursday, December 23rd at 2:00 & 7:00 pm; Friday, December 24th at 2:00 pm; and Sunday, December 1:00 & 6:00 pm.
Tickets start at $35. FYI (312) 386-8905 or www.joffrey.org.