It might be easy to write off “The Nutcracker” as an “introduction to ballet,” produced primarily for children, and as dependable (both artistically and at the box office) as a Christmas dinner of turkey or ham. But on a recent evening at the Auditorium Theatre, a panoramic scan of the audience for the Joffrey Ballet’s delicious Victorian-American version of the classic revealed this surprising fact: The audience was comprised primarily of adults, and they not only packed the orchestra and box seats, but filled much of the theater’s upper balcony as well.
There is good reason for this. Unquestionably, the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” has grand appeal for young audiences with its special effects, magic tricks and the involvement of a large contingent of exuberant, expertly trained yet wonderfully natural child dancers (kudos to ballet masters Chartel Arthur, Willy Shives and Katie Garwood), who are called upon to perform many complex sequences throughout the ballet. But the work also is a grand showcase of classical technique that spotlights the particular talents of many of the company’s ensemble dancers.
This year’s edition (which, as always, features many different mix-and-match casts) is marked by unusual zest. At the performance I saw, things were set into rapidfire motion by Jack Thorpe-Baker’s dashing, sharply etched Dr. Drosselmeyer, godfather to Clara (a high-spirited Caitlin Meighan) and her bad-boy brother, Fritz (John Mark Giragosian, whose splendid dancing came into play later with his dazzling, lighter-than-air moves as both the Snow Prince and the high-jumping Tea from China).
The Waltz of the Flowers, the portion of the ballet memorably choreographed by Gerald Arpino, looked particularly lush and exuberant this time around, with the dancers (Jenny Winton, Elizabeth Hansen, Alexis Polito, Amber Neumann, Jaime Hickey, Jacqueline Moscicke, Lauren Pschirrer and Dara Holmes) all in full bloom, and outfitted in beautifully rebuilt costumes.
The most breathtaking dancing came in the Grand Pas de Deux finale for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Nutcracker Prince. Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili (who are married in real life, but also form the most felicitous of onstage partnerships), held the audience at rapt attention with the flawless beauty and exquisite line of their every move. These two breathe as one when dancing, and the audience holds its own breath for the duration of the magic they generate.
April Daly and Rory Hohenstein sparkled as the Snow Queen and Snow King. Erica Lynette Edwards brought impressive percussiveness to Vivandiere, the military windup doll, and gave a forceful rendering of the Spanish variation. Mahalia Ward, a leggy beauty partnered by Hohenstein, gave a promising take of the seductive Coffee from Arabia variation, though a bit more seamlessness would seal the sinewy deal here. A fiery Joanna Wozniak led Graham Maverick, Aaron Rogers and Ricardo Santos in a red hot rendering of Nougats from Russia that had the audience clapping along. And Katherine Bruno, Jeraldine Mendoza and Katherine Minor brought a lovely synchrony to the Marzipan Shepherdesses.
Conductor Scott Speck’s rendering of the iconic Tchaikovsky score was buoyant and bright, and was expertly played by the Chicago Sinfonietta — just another reason why this Joffrey “Nutcracker” invariably brings such pleasure.
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