‘The Nutcracker’ stands on merit

December 14, 2010
REVIEW by Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


There is a tendency to think of “The Nutcracker” as little more than a sparkling holiday ritual designed primarily to lure family audiences into the world of ballet. But as the Joffrey Ballet demonstrated so impressively at this season’s opening night performance of Robert Joffrey’s now 23-year-old Victorian era American take on the Russian classic, the work easily can serve as a splendid, richly varied showcase for the company’s many highly accomplished dancers. And the fireworks currently on display at the Auditorium Theatre — along with those so visible during the company’s bravura fall program of ballets by Balanchine, Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon — reinforces the sense that the Joffrey ensemble is in exceptional form these days.

There are countless delights in this year’s production, which has been polished to a high gleam, and tweaked with the addition of countless little details that clarify the storytelling. But it was the bravura dancing that most impressed on opening night. (Several different casts will rotate throughout the run.)

Particularly felicitous was the pairing of Yumelia Garcia as the Sugarplum Fairy and Mauro Villanueva as the Nutcracker Prince. Garcia is a petite woman with exquisitely articulate feet, an alluring sense of tranquility and ease, and phenomenal balances. The audience, awestruck by her rock-solid, unsupported arabesques — held as if she were suspended from a wire — gave her a rousing ovation. And Villanueva, with his bravura leg work, beautiful lightness, and total clarity, also was an ideal partner for her.

The splendid partnership between Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels is well established by now, and they danced with great elegance — amid a copious snow fall — as the Snow Queen and King. In addition, Jaiani, whose slender body can curl like an ornate, seductive arabesque, was all exotic allure as Coffee from Arabia, partnered by Miguel Angel Blanco. (The other Sweets variations also were zestfully danced.)

Ricardo Santos, the young Brazilian-bred dancer and a winner of several international medals, made a strong impression — first as Fritz, the bratty, impulsive brother of Clara (the spirited Anastacia Holden), and then as the high-speed leaping and spinning Snow Prince. Caitlin Meighan, Aaron Rogers, Allison Walsh and Derrick Agnoletti were first-rate Mechanical Dolls, and Michael Smith was a terrific King of the Mice, with the whole battle scene a hoot. atthew Adamczyk brought great flair and authority to the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer, godfather to Clara and Fritz and master magician of Christmas fantasies. The Waltz of the Flowers (Gerald Arpino’s choreography) was in full bloom with exquisite dancing by the women. And the gaggle of children who must do a great deal of demanding dancing and acting did both with skill and naturalness.

One final note: This is a city where even the most superb performers often seem embarrassed about taking bows. But this time around the Joffrey fully relished its many fully deserved curtain calls.