Reviewing “The Nutcracker” is like reviewing, well, there’s nothing quite comparable.
Robert Joffrey’s classic “The Nutcracker”turns 25 this December as Joffrey Ballet Chicago performs the legendary choreographer’s work, the same beautiful staging since 1987.
Not only is Joffrey’s presentation now a classic, the story of “The Nutcracker”is as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus, whether you realize it or not. “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” “Russian Trepak” and “The Marche” are everywhere from advertisements to holiday radio stations, but nothing compares to these selections performed live by the Chicago Philharmonic while the elegant and graceful dancers of Joffrey Ballet’s company take the stage.
The Nutcracker tells the story of Clara, who receives a nutcracker from her mysterious Drosselmeyer. When the nutcracker is broken, Drosselmeyer not only magically repairs the nutcracker, he does one better – he brings it to life. This leads Drosselmeyer and Clara on a journey through a battle between soldiers and mice before being whisked away with the Nutcracker Prince to an enchanted forest by the Snow King and Queen, followed by the magical land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. If Drosselmeyer sounds like the creepy uncle who shows up at holidays and makes you feel a little uncomfortable, he is.
The role of Clara was beautifully danced by Caitlin Meighan, Drosselmeyer by Mauro Villanueva. The both first appear in the party scene, set in a 19th century American home filled with the toys Robert Joffrey remembered from his childhood. In accordance with the Victorian era, the full, flowing skirts worn by party guests twirled and billowed as they danced about, creating unparalleled visual interest. Perhaps most interesting, when the scene was coming to an end to move into the battleground, Drosselmeyer appeared above the grandfather clock, looking as if he perched like an eagle. It was one of the best visual moments of the ballet, even including all of the dancing.
The first act ended with the Land of Snow, and Snow Queen Christine Rochas gave and effortless and beautiful performance. With the snow falling and the live St. Mel School Choir’s voices coming from the orchestra pit, the scene was almost entrancing and a perfect end to the first act.
Christine Rochas was back in the second act as the female in the “Coffee from Arabia” pas de deux, solidifying her status as a star. “Coffee” has a very different feel from “Tea,” “Chocolate” and the other divertissements from around the Sugar Plum Fairy’s land, it brings an almost sexy feel to a ballet you don’t often perceive as sexy.
There were two moments in “Coffee” when Rochas stood in front of partner Rory Hohenstein with her leg held up straight, 180°, and looked out to the audience with a facial expression that said, “What, you can’t do this?” If this were “Black Swan,” Rochas’ Arabian would be the Black Swan; her Snow Queen would be her White Swan. Except all with a little less crazy.
The second act of “The Nutcracker” ran quicker than Act I with the many “divertissements,” the pieces everyone known from the show. “Nougats from Russia” proved as a lively pick-me-up for the audience who began clapping along with the beat by the end of the piece.
The show ends with the performance the audience waits for; the performance a ballerina waits perhaps her entire career to perform – the grand pas de deux. April Daly’s performance was flawless, beautiful, perfect - there aren’t enough adjectives to give her credit. Her solo is delicate yet precise, the quite piccato of the music that begins the piece was echoed in her movements, progressing to an impressive sequence of turns covering the entire stage. Also, shout out to the best winged foot in arabesque in the show.
Perhaps it’s been clear throughout this review I’m a dance lover, and a former dancer myself. I’ve performed variations from “The Nutcracker” (“Snow,” “Waltz of the Flowers,” “Arabian,” “Russian”…the list goes on), so it holds a place near and dear in my heart. I’m the one on Christmas Eve in my house that finds a performance of “The Nutcracker” on TV and makes everyone watch it, much to their disdain. “The Nutcracker” is Christmas to me. So take the advice of my boyfriends, a ballet novice who didn’t know the story of “The Nutcracker” before watching. He told me he really enjoyed watching the story unfold ans was thoroughly impressed by the visual staging of it all. Robert Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” might just have made a ballet fan out of him.
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