In this review of the
Toby Nicholson and
Christopher Rutt who are both dancers and dance teachers dialogue, offering insights about the production.
CR: Toby, as my ballet go-to guy, you’re very familiar with The
Nutcracker. How many times have you performed in or seen a version of
this famous ballet?
TN: I've danced in at least four different productions, seen many more, and my son, Christopher, danced in the
Ruth Page production for two years.
CR: How would you rate the Joffrey’s version?
TN: It is a glorious production, a lavish, visually beautiful
display. I especially loved the opening. After vignettes of party guests
crossing the stage during the overture, the curtain opens on a stunning
living room in a Victorian mansion. It’s an impressive intro. What did
you think, Chris? You dance and teach dance.
CR: I agree that the production was magical in many ways. The
costumes, lighting, and period set design are wonderfully realized. The
formal attire of the Victorian guests nicely complement each other in
rich hues of purples, blues, and maroons, and the immense parlor with
its forced perspective rivals some opera sets. Scene changes and
transitions were seamless, and snow, fog, and pyrotechnics were used to
good effect. And it is hard to beat live music, here the
Chicago Sinfonietta led by guest conductor
TN: What didn’t you enjoy?
CR: Performance wise, I will say that the first act party scene feels
long, as the general order of business -- greeting, giving gifts,
watching life-size toys go through their mechanical actions, the
obligatory adult dance – is a lengthy pantomimic gathering. Although
here, Fritz, not Clara, steals the focus; while a very buoyant and
Ricardo Santos is given too much focus. It’s not long before you want the impetuous child to be sent to his room so that Clara, danced by
Holden, might get her due.
TN: I always have a problem with adults playing children. If we are
to believe that these 25-year-olds are children, then what are these
other little people? Although Santos and Holden are beautiful dancers,
with little adjustment, well- trained children could perform these
CR: Speaking of well-trained, the mice are wonderful. The costume
designs are so inventive that, as the battle progresses, the battalions
increase from cuddly, mischievous little creatures to rats whose
metallic headpieces shine with sinister malice. Kudos to the creative
TN: The mice on horseback add a clever comic boost to a battle
that suffers from a somewhat meandering musical composition.
Choreographers also always have so much going on that it is difficult to
focus on the salient points. The Mouse King got buried in the mêlée.
And I totally missed the Mouse King’s death. Next thing I knew he was
being carried out by his minions.
CR: Yes, he was decked from behind by a slipper-wielding Clara.
TN: Magically the Victorian house disappears in one of those seamless
transitions you mentioned and we are in the Land of Snow. Now Clara’s
parents appear as Snow King and Snow Queen. Here
Fabrice Calmels and
Victoria Jaiani are able to
display their considerable dance skills. They make an elegant couple in
their pas de deux. The king and queen are joined by the Snow Prince,
wonderfully danced by the buoyant
Ricardo Santos, now really in his element. Company dancers as snowflakes round out the beautiful scene amid the lightly falling snow.
CR: The sheer amount and rate of snowfall was stunning. It was almost
disorienting to watch the choreography, but I loved the puffs of snow
kicked up by each glissade. What do you consider some of the highlights
of the second act?
Allison Walsh and
Ricardo Santos had a dramatic
flare, even if the duet lacked choreographic inventiveness and
relationship between the dancers. But they danced with personality and
enthusiasm. Also, the Marzipan Shepherdesses (
Caitlin Meighan, and
Jacqueline Moscicke) gave a
pert preciseness to their trio. Their theme ending with a développé in
effacé was particularly beautiful. The reed pipes seemed superfluous.
CR: And underused. I felt the same about the long fabric in the
Arabian pas de deux, and wished that the choreography had included
unusual manipulation of the cloth. And don’t you feel that the Arabian
pas de deux should have some grounded sex appeal?
Victoria Jaiani is strong,
lithe, and flexible. It almost seemed that the choreography was only
designed to display her incredible facility, rather than build a mood.
TN: I agree. And I would like to see a more masculine costume with less jewelry for a strong dancer like
Miguel Angel Blanco.
The Grand Pas De Deux was ably danced by Sugar Plum Fairy
Yumelia Garcia and Nutcracker
Prince Mauro Villanueva. Although not particularly a matched pair, they
each displayed strengths. Garcia’s traveling fouettés and her balances
on point in arabesque were amazing. Villanueva was an attentive partner
and displayed an aerial lightness in his solos. The Pas De Deux leads
into a picturesque finale highlighted by a back-to-Oz image as the
CR: Yes, and therein lies one of the problems with this telling of
the tale. The important plot device of Clara going to sleep, as well as
awaken, seems like a fairly large omission. Everything after the first
scene is a dream, isn’t it? And the dream aspect is the raison d’être
for the entire second act. Without it, the viewer is left in a limbo of
sorts, and in this version the balloon ride finale strangely alludes to
that other classic about dreams, The Wizard of Oz. But that movie’s
ending has a resolution; this one is left hanging, so to speak.
TN: Well, all in all,
The Joffrey Ballet
Nutcracker is a magnificent offering. I would like to see its new artistic director,
Ashley Wheater, infuse his own personality into this fine work. Just as
George Balanchine revitalized
the whole Nutcracker phenomena in 1954, now it is Ashley Wheater’s turn.
Chicago is fortunate to have this wonderful world-class company to
call its own.
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