Sparkling Snowfall Lights Up Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker”

December 19, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times Voices
Hedy Weiss

Content

‘THE JOFFREY BALLET’s NUTCRACKER’
RECOMMENDED
When: Through Dec. 28
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress
Tickets: $31-$132
Info: (800) 982-2787; www.auditoriumtheatre.org
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

Snow may have arrived earlier than usual in Chicago this year, but it’s a good bet that the annual snowfall that swirls around the dancers in the Joffrey Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker,” at the Auditorium Theatre through Dec. 28, breaks a record all its own.

By the time the first act’s Land of Snow scene draws to a close, the stage is a true winter wonderland, complete with reigning Snow King, Queen and Prince, an ensemble of female Snowflakes, male Snow Winds, a chorus of tiny Snow Tree Angels holding flickering candles, and a theatrical snowfall so dense it might well keep planes at O’Hare grounded for hours.

This glittering fantasy world is just one of many notable scenes in the company’s long-familiar Victorian America-designed take on the classic — a production whose long holiday season run brings with it a real fringe benefit — the chance to see an unusual cross-section of the company’s dancers in a slew of challenging roles.
I caught a Sunday evening performance of the ballet, and although the overall momentum of the performance was a bit uneven, there was much to delight in.

Amanda Assucena, a petite, dark-eyed sparkler who began her career in her native Rio de Janiero, was an exceptional Sugar Plum. With her technical precision, spot-on pirouettes, ideal placement, and a style that is at once unfussy yet warm, Assucena has a bit of Margot Fonteyn about her. She was partnered by Yoshihisa Arai, a slender dancer with a hint of punk spirit (he’s got a streak of red in his hair). Fleet and flamboyant, he seemed a bit winded at one point, but he rallied quickly.

Alexis Polito, whose balances were particularly impressive, made a confident Snow Queen, although at moments her long torso seemed a bit out of synch with her strong, shapely legs. She was solidly partnered by Matthew Adamczyk.

Lucas Segovia was a stylish Dr. Drosselmeyer, the magician uncle who sets the whole story in motion, with Cara Marie Gary as Clara, his winningly self-possessed niece. In fact, you wish this version of the ballet made more of the fact that the story is in large part about Clara’s introduction to romance. Aaron Rogers danced beautifully as the Snow Prince — the dreamworld incarnation of Clara’s bratty brother, Fritz.

Elizabeth Hansen’s fiery, superbly danced Chocolate from Spain kicked off the series of Kingdom of Sweets variations. She was followed by Kara Zimmerman, a strong, pliable and somewhat severe Coffee from Arabia, partnered by Miguel Blanco. As always, the rollicking Nougats from Russia (Joanna Wozniak with Elivelton da Gracias, Fernando Duarte and Graham Maverick), had the audience clapping, and were followed by a spotlessly danced trio of Marzipan Sheherdesses (Mahalia Ward, Jenny Winton and Polito).

The Waltz of the Flowers section of the ballet (like The Land of Snow, choreographed by Gerald Arpino in his characteristic fast-moving, richly musical, flamboyant style), was a standout, led by such top-flight dancers as Christine Rocas, Jeraldine Mendoza, Amber Neumann and a particularly lovely, ebullient Dara Holmes.

The many children in the cast are expected to do a great deal and were were well-coached. Russell Vinick conducted the always top-notch Chicago Philharmonic in the ballet’s ever-beguiling Tchaikovsky score. Live music, of course, is a great gift at any time of the year.