Joffrey Ballet rendition of The Nutcracker

Review by: Eric Luczak

With the holiday spirit in the air, and Christmas ornaments adorning bungalows all over Chicago, the city is fully embracing the season.  This time of year, people make time to see a rendition of The Nutcracker, and Christopher Wheeldon’s reimagining performed by the Joffrey Ballet is worthy of Chicago.

The Nutcracker is a simple story that really allows creative directors to modify and adapt many elements from production to production but the general outline stays the same. Wheeldon followed suit and set his Nutcracker five months before the World’s Fair of 1892 in Chicago. Not only that, Wheeldon’s version highlights the story of poor immigrant workers and their families as opposed to rich families.

The lighting and use of digital media were phenomenal. In the opening scene, the audience sees the World’s Fair, which is just a simple projection, in the distance while Marie, Franz and The Great Impresario enter the stage. Later on in the first act, a festival potluck begins and The Great Impresario interrupts to show his vision of what is to come. This is a great scene because he takes seemingly old useless objects and places them on a table. The arrangement only makes sense after a backlight shines through a white cloth to create a shadow of the World’s Fair buildings.  Toward the end of the act, the Christmas tree starts to grow and this set transition alone is worth watching. The second act once again uses the World’s Fair theme by displaying the different countries represented as booths at the World’s Fair.

I should note that I have been dancing for 10 years including some classical training. The stage acting by each individual is superb! Those smiles and emotion could be seen from the back of the hall! However, in the party scene in the first act, there was just too much happening on stage. At times, there was no clear focal point and it took away from the magic. The exception was when Marie’s mother danced; her arm and handwork flowed gorgeously.  The group performance by the dancers could have been better. I expected to see cleaner formations and more group awareness between the dancers. On several occasions, I saw arms go up at different times. I saw missteps and small fumbles as well. The soloists and small group performances in the second act were clean, but the choreography was bland and too short.  The Arabian soloists were the most enjoyable to watch because of the mystery and sex factor of their routine, and the crowd agreed, but I did not see anything terribly technically demanding.

Overall, the show is worth watching. Ballet is not just dance, but it is a presentation of many aspects. When you put the visuals, sets, dancers and costumes together it looks absolutely beautiful and you are transported into 19th century Chicago. When you pair a piece of Chicago history with the nostalgic musical arrangements of Tchaikovsky, the result is a piece of art that pulls on the heartstrings of every Chicagoan, instills a sense of belonging to our city, and brings us closer together as the melting pot we are.

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