Surprises await in Joffrey's 'Nutcracker'

December 9, 2012
Chicago Tribune
Sid Smith

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Forget Black Friday--for some of us, the holidays don't begin in earnest until the Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker" graces the Auditorium Theatre with its warm, lavish tribute to fantasy, family and classic dance.

For some seasons now, artistic director Ashley Wheater has been presenting different dancers and couples in the various roles, showing off the bench, as it were, and injecting surprise. At Friday's opening, that included April Daly as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her handling of this very classical role is something of a revelation.

Daly's oh-so-so thin arms are oh-so-so fluid, employed with poetry and haunting finesse. She's also strikingly lovely, confident and appealing in a star turn, her seemingly bewildered, smiling expression, as if shocked by all the attention, disguising pure poise, command and authority. She and Dylan Gutierrez aren't the most dashing or romantic, but he makes a fine partner and solid Nutcracker Prince, springy in leaps and strong in partnership.

Ricardo Santos is a deliciously naughty Fritz, a fine and buoyant Snow Prince and, partnering with Anastacia Holden, a deft brew of Tea from China. Amber Neumann is all gypsy fireworks and artful abandon as Chocolate from Spain, always a scintillating sequence because it allows the ballerina such vim and personal sparkle, and the corps are winning this year in their various undertakings--as family and friends at the party, as snowflakes and, most beautifully, in the Waltz of the Flowers, one of Gerald Arpino's best legacies.

Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein, dancers I admire, fell a tad short, her leap atop his shoulders shaky in the snow sequence and their Coffee from Arabia missing some of the chemistry and sizzle often seen in the past.

But, in the end, "The Nutcracker" is about the children as much as the grown-ups, and Robert Joffrey's great mounting, which turns 25 this season, employs juvenile performers in ways that not only reinforce the youthful spirit of the holidays, but celebrate the early-age commitment the art of ballet entails. No sequence in this production captures that as well as the Mother Ginger one, the bit with the giant puppet whose skirts conceals a handful of rollicking youngsters, who always manage, as they did again Friday, to steal the ballet.

When: Various times through Dec. 27

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

Price: $31-$132; 800-982-2787 or ticketmaster.com