On Their Toes

December 3, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


While most of us are eating, shopping and party-going our way through the holiday season, the dancers of the Joffrey Ballet are working up a serious sweat.

By the time they arrive for their annual Chicago engagement of “The Nutcracker,” running Dec. 10-26 at the Auditorium Theatre, they will have performed the company’s Victorian American version of the classic at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center and the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Mo. And along the way, some of the performers in this “no stars, all stars” troupe will be responsible for keeping a dozen different roles at the ready.

April Daly is at various times called on to play the aunts and mother in the opening party scene, as well dancing as the Snow Queen, the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Spanish and Chinese variations, and the Waltz of the Flowers.

“I’ve danced all these roles before, and some of them are really part of my muscle memory by now,” said Daly.

“What has made it all so challenging this season is that I had a very demanding rehearsal and performance schedule for our fall season. And in between we’ve been learning a new ballet by Edwaard Liang for our spring season. So if I was able to carve out time for a one-hour rehearsal on any given day for ‘Nutcracker’ I was cheering.

“I also watched videos to refresh my memory of some roles, or took a lunch break to run through the Spanish variation, or rehearased Sugar Plum Fairy after our morning class.

“One tricky thing is that your partner can change, and you have to be ready to make adjustments for that — sometimes just getting reacquainted at intermission. I do often run through a new role in my head at bedtime, though recently I woke up at night and realized I was going through the Sugar Plum.”

Daly is a stickler about presetting every costume and headpiece personally so there are no panicked moments during quick changes, especially those requiring a shift from character shoes to pointe shoes.

Matthew Adamczyk is another “Nutcracker” workhorse.

“Over the course of the run I think I’ll be dancing 13 or 14 different roles, including the Snow King and the Prince, and, for the first time this year, Drosselmeyer (the magician-like uncle to Clara and Fritz), a role that requires the synchronization of about four people to make the tricks work,” said Adamczyk. “I’m also responsible for knowing the Arabian dance, the Trepack [Russian dance], the Waltz of the Flowers and five different party scene roles.”

“Just remembering which wing you should enter from can be completely overwhelming,” Adamczyk confessed. “But Ashley (Wheater, the Joffrey’s artistic director) is adamant about our having enough rehearsal to feel comfortable.

“And luckily we have a great wardrobe and stage management team to help with quick costume changes. I’ve also learned to layer costume pieces so I can be as efficient as possible. I’ve got only about 30 seconds to go from being a parent at the party to a mouse.”

Adamczyk also has developed his own methods for maintaining the physical fuel he needs for the demands of the dance.

“This is the season when I eat a lot of pasta,”  he said. “And a good pancake breakfast is the best thing for me on the days I’m partnering the Sugar Plum.”

There has been talk of a new “Nutcracker” production for the Joffrey for some years now, and Wheater admits his goal is to realize that plan by 2013.

“I love the Joffrey version, which I danced in myself years ago,” Wheater said. “But it was created in 1987, and we live in a different world now, so I do think it’s time to look at the story in a different way, My hope is that Christopher Wheeldon might create a version for us.”