Of all the aspects of enchantment that grace the Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker," probably the most winning is the children.
Kudos to the way this particular mounting makes use of its juvenile performers, who stand out, in the end, from all the scenic lushness, special effects, gorgeous costumes and smart ballet. Children are not strangers to professional dance, the line between performance and recital occasionally blurring.
But the late Robert Joffrey and the team he assembled in the 1980s for this, his last production, delivered a young person's extravaganza -- from the nifty ensemble centipede evoked by the contingent who hide underneath Mother Ginger's skirt to the angelic, reassuring chants that come from the children's choir hidden in the pit during the snow scene.
Christmas is about a birth, about a baby, after all, and while the adult cast members also change in "The Nutcracker" year after year, it's really the kids who fuel its air of renewal and provide its shiniest magic. A Snow Queen or Sugar Plum Fairy as star? Not really. It's the youngster disguised as a gingerbread cookie (Riley Miske at Friday's opening at the Auditorium Theatre) who steals the show.
This year's effort by artistic director Ashley Wheater and company is a fine one. The occasional (and insignificant) flub on opening night proved more of the theatrical than the dancing variety. Dr. Drosselmeyer (an otherwise superb Matthew Adamczyk) dropped his top hat, and here and there someone entered the family scene prematurely.
But Joffrey seems to have envisioned much of Act I as controlled chaos anyway, the rush and tumble of the family scene right out of the typical hullabaloo of a holiday feast. Multiple sets of action constantly vie for attention, the children squabbling over a toy on one side of the stage while important players enter the large welcoming parlor at the other. When the dream world takes over, there's a fantasy battle between the Nutcracker Doll and evil-minded mice, and it has always been a bit cluttered, Joffrey throwing in children from Act II into the mix. This year the staging seemed more clear and focused, followed by a well-executed snow scene that's among the most bewitching in all of ballet.
Friday's casting had some twists, Yumelia Garcia portraying the Sugar Plum Fairy with newcomer Ogulcan Borova as her partner. She is always fascinating, short, but never dainty, a strong, athletic ballerina with a killer balance and firm control. Here and there she injects a lyrical delicacy, with the shake of a leg or the haunting elegance of her arms. She is a dancer who embraces every performance, enrapt, it seems at times, by her own inner music.
Borova is a welcome arrival, handsome, sturdy and gifted with sharp double turns. Their final sequence is not among the flashiest, but they're a winning pair. So are Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez in various roles, majestic as snow royalty and magnificently limber in the Arabian dance. After one particularly startling extension, Jaiani stares briefly at the audience, as if to wink and say, "No big deal."
Derrick Agnoletti is a deliciously spoiled Fritz, relishing his misbehavior, and a buoyant, stately Snow Prince. Erica Lynette Edwards is beautiful and intoxicating as the Spanish soloist, and the Waltz of the Flowers and its glorious ensemble sweep wowed me yet again.
The Joffrey Ballet's version of the full-length classic
When: Various times and dates through Dec. 27
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.
Price: $30-$115; 800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com
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