The Nutcracker: A scrumptious, warm family treat for the holidays

December 12, 2010
REVIEW by Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith


There's one word that sums up Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker," and it's not a bad one for the season: warmth.

Now 23 years old, the Joffrey Ballet's version, on view through Dec. 26 at the Auditorium Theatre, may not be as spectacular as some. But it has a glow in every choice and detail, in just about every moment, for that matter, from Oliver Smith's Americana setting to the creamy, cottony, pastel costumes that appear at times to be edible. After nearly a quarter of a century, this "Nutcracker" isn't always as keen as in its earlier days. But the revival unveiled Friday seemed a tad sharper than the performance at last year's opening, certainly a welcome holiday treat as scrumptious as any full-length ballet you're likely to encounter year-round.

One joy stemmed from the casting of Yumelia Garcia as opening night Sugar Plum Fairy, bringing a different presence and spirit to this critical role. She's a strong and in some ways more grounded ballerina at times, until, for instance, she lifts her arms upward in a way that suggests they're not so much moving as afloat. Her form is exact and her technique clean and assured, somehow a muscular soloist who sacrifices not a whit of beauty or poise, some of that thanks to her self-effacing mien and exuberance. Her prolonged balance on one leg is a stunner.

Mauro Villanueva continues his rise as one of the troupe's more striking men, buoyant and immaculate, a fine Nutcracker Prince. He and Garcia don't boast much chemistry, at least not yet. But they're what folks in the 1850s settings of this version might have called a handsome couple--a sexy partnership to relish and anticipate.

Taking the somewhat less celebrated role of Snow Queen, star ballerina Victoria Jaiani made it a majestic, silky star turn, leaping backwards into the arms of able partner Fabrice Calmels as if she can literally fly. Her Act II Coffee from Arabia duet (about the only stretch of this family ballet that hints at s-e-x) shone with her limber sensuality and awesome extensions.

Relative newcomer Ricardo Santos danced Fritz, the Snow Prince and Tea from China with pure technique and infectious exhilaration, less flashy than some predecessors, but refreshingly void of their scene-stealing tendencies, too.

"The Nutcracker"

The Joffrey Ballet's annual holiday production

When: 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 26; extra performances at 7 p.m. Thursday (12/16), 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 21, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 22, 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 23 and 2 p.m. Dec. 24 (no performances Christmas Day)

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

Price: $30-$115; CQ 800-982-2787 CQ or