***** Highly Recommended ***** The Joffrey Ballet’s “Chicago-centric” version of The Nutcracker, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is quite simply magnificent. By setting The Nutcracker amidst Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Wheeldon gave the city a unique gift. No matter how many times I see The Nutcracker, I never get tired of the feeling of anticipation and excitement before a performance, waiting for that first chord of Tchaikovsky’s glorious music! The Nutcracker is absolutely perfect in every way. 4 BIG Spotlights
As the lights dim, The Nutcracker logo is replaced by projections of real Chicago 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.
Note: as you read through my review, please understand that the dancers I saw performing might not be the same at your performance. Several different dancers will alternate in the leading roles throughout the run.
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 (Elliot King) 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 runs away. As she’s walking away, Marie is frightened by the Fair’s Rat Catcher (Edson Barbosa).
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: Coco Alvarez-Mena, Anais Bueno, Valeria Chaykina, Lucia Connolly, Olivia Duryea, Dara Holmes, Gayeon Jung, Miu Tanaka, Yoshihisa Arai, Evan Boersma, Derek Drilon, Stefan Goncalvez, Yuchan Kim, Graham Maverick, Alberto Velazquez and Blake Kessler.
During the celebration continues, 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 (Edson Barbosa) is transformed into the Rat King. She is surrounded by giant Rats (Derek Drilon, Fernando Duarte, Blake Kessler, Yuchan Kim, Graham Maverick. Xavier Nuñez) battling toy soldiers (Yoshihisa Arai, Evan Boersma, José Pablo Castro Cuevas, Valentino Moneglia Zamora, Davide Oldano, Aaron Renteria). A life-sized Nutcracker (Zachary Manske) is fighting the evil Rat King when suddenly, the Nutcracker miraculously transforms into a real Prince.
Suddenly, the Great Impresario appears, whisking Marie and the Prince into a giant sleigh and they sail across the icy lake. On the ice, the Snow Soloists, Amanda Assucena, Anais Bueno, Valeria Chaykina and Gayeon Jung are joined by the Ice Cavaliers, Evan Boersma, José Pablo Castro Cuevas, Graham Maverick and Aaron Renteria. Wearing gorgeous ice blue costumes, they are joined by the Snowflakes: Coco Alvarez-Mena, Lucia Connolly, Anabelle de la Nuez, Olivia Duryea, Dara Holmes, Nae Kojima, Princess Reid, Basia Rhoden, Julia Rust, Natali Taht, Miu Tanaka and Lauren Bemisderfer* The soloists, the Cavaliers and the Snowflakes are all involved in one of the most exquisite dances of the whole show, The Snow Dance.
As their ship 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.
Frequently, they are joined by the other Fair visitors, the women (Lucia Connolly, Anabelle de la Nuez, Olivia Duryea, Dara Holmes, Princess Reid, Natali That, Miu Tanaka and Amanda Illuminati**) in graceful dresses with pastel ruffles; the men (Brian Bennett, Evan Boersma, José Pablo Castro Cuevas, Zachary Manske, Graham Maverick, Xavier Núñez, Davide Oldano and Aaron Renteria) 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, Yoshihisa Arai ND Stefan Goncalvez stomp with a flamenco flair.
- In the Arabian Pavilion, the Arabian Dancers, Victoria Jaiani and Edson Barbosa take sensual to a whole new level.
- A Chinese Dancer (Wictor Hugo Pedroso) and two Chinese Dragons celebrate Chinese New Year.
- Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is a featured act on the Fair’s sideshow. Buffalo Bill (Valentino Moneglia Zamora) demonstrates his roping and leaping skills while his Wild West Girls (Coco Alvarez-Mena, Basia Rhoden and Julia Rust) dance backup.
- There are Venetian Masked Dancers, Amanda Assucena, Valeria Chaykina and Nae Kojima
- Mother Nutcracker (Fernando Duarte) sits on the roof while the Walnuts dance below.
- Finally, The Queen of the Fair and her partner (Gutierrez) return for a final dazzling pas de deux.
Tchaikovsky’s glorious music was played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra conducted by Scott Speck, the Joffrey’s Music Director.
Northwest Indiana audiences: I saw Kelly Boersma, principal of Frank H. Hammond School in Munster, before the show. She’s very proud of her son, Evan, a member of the Joffrey company. This year, he’s a Fair Worker, a Toy Soldier, an Ice Cavalier and a Fair Visitor (wearing a Kelly green vest).
In most cases, I’ve credited the adult dancers above. I do think that everyone, including the child dancers should be recognized, so here they are. Note: these performers do not appear in every production.
- Ragamuffins/Rats: Sasha Chatz, Victoria He, Coralai Groulx, Spencer Martinez, Penelope McAllister and Madison Sise
- Worker Girls: Inaya Abdul Malik, Jenna Barber, Aranza Davalillo, Chloe Hazizi, Zaria Johnson, Selah Kim and Francesca Pelc
- Teen Worker Girls: Isabella Merritt and Sophia Singleton
- Soldiers/Nutcrackers: Anna Balster, Annabel Bowman, Daniela Fieberg, Kerri Hagen, Mia Carina Prado and Aditi Singh
- Cavalry/Dragons: Lluvia Álvarez Salgado, Antonina Leary, Meagan Leonard and Madeline Maine
- Walnuts: Inaya Abdul Malik, Jenna Barber, Aranza Davalillo, Chloe Hazizi, Zaria Johnson and Madison Sise
- Waves/Dragons: Coralai Groulx, Spencer Martinez Isabella Merritt Sophia Singleton
- Junior Snowflakes: Elin Kranz, Cadence Ostrowski, Ava Rosas and Lulu Verma
- Snowflakes: Aracelie Aguilar, Amaliah Guerrero-Mendez, Elena Kim, Eden Parmer, Maelyn Stoner, Andrea Tollinche, Aamani Varadhi and Sarelle Yang
Note: Masks are encouraged but not required.
The Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker runs through December 27th 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. Visit www.joffrey.org/performances-and-tickets/plan-your-visit/directions-and-parking/ for reduced rate
Remaining performances are: Saturday, December 10 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM; Sunday, December 11 at 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM; Thursday, December 15 at 7:00 PM; Friday, December 16 at 7:00 PM; Saturday, December 17 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM; Sunday, December 18 at 1:00 PM and 6:00 PM; Wednesday, December 21 at 7:00 PM; Thursday December 22 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM; Friday, December 23 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM; Saturday, December 24 at 11:00 AM and 4:00 PM; Monday, December 26 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM; and Tuesday, December 27 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM.
Tickets start at $36. FYI (312) 386-8905 or www.joffrey.org.