I've been attending the Joffrey's Nutcracker since I moved to Chicago in 2009. It's always been special - the warm, gilded light of the Auditorium Theatre, the familiar Tchaikovsky score, Chicago's finest ballerinas - they all came together to transcend you straight into a holiday wonderland. Yes, it's always been transcending, but this year, for the first time, it was truly for us: A gift to Chicago.
This new Nutcracker is a symbol of our times. It wasn't just American political discourse that dove into populism this year - story author Brian Selznick and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon had the masses on the mind as well. The old Nutcracker was a glimpse of privilege: Clara and her family twirling about their Victorian mansion with petticoats and human-sized dolls for gifts. Wheeldon instead takes us to a cozy shack with a widow and her two children, set on the construction site of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. The shack is less impressive than the mansion, but no less joyful, as construction workers from the fair file in to the shack to exchange Christmas greetings and gifts.
For the traditional Nutcracker fan, the crowd-pleasers are still in place and, dare I say it, even better. The snow scene glittered, the Arabian dancers enchanted, and a toy nutcracker did indeed turn into a human soldier. What else can we ask for?
Let's see: More dancing for the main character, Marie (the new Clara)? Check. A widow-turned-World's-Fair-statue-turned-golden-goddess? Check. (Jeraldine Mendoza stole the show at the performance I attended.) Beautiful backdrops depicting the World's Fair, and even more rodents than before? Check and check.
For the nostalgic and the skeptics looking for the marzipans and the Russian dancers: Trust me, change is good sometimes.
This was a special year for me personally. At last year's Nutcracker, my handsome now-husband knew that it would be the last-ever performance of the old version of the show. Once the lights came up, we went for a stroll through Millennium Park and he popped the question (you know, the one that comes with a ring!). Now we've started off our first year of marriage with a new tradition of seeing this new, amazing rendition of a classic tale of love and family.
As the man behind the show's new story, Brian Selznick, says in the program:
"...we hope that Marie's dream journey through the World's Fair will illuminate what is special about all holiday stories...the value of love, the need for hope and the comfort of family, no matter where you're from, or what type of family you have."
It doesn't get much better than that. Cheers to many more years of this beautiful story. Happy Holidays!