Joffrey Ballet dancers talk 'The Nutcracker'

December 2, 2013
Red Eye Chicago
Julia Borcherts


Holidays in Chicago are synonymous with the Joffrey Ballet's lavish production of "The Nutcracker," the classic ballet adapted in 1987 by Robert Joffrey from E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and set to the traditional Tchaikovsky score with live musical accompaniment from the Chicago Philharmonic. The extravagant production also features sparkling costumes, lush sets, a giant Mother Ginger puppet by the late "Sesame Street" designer Kermit Love, the full Joffrey company of dancers, an additional 118 youth dancers and vocalists from five local children's choirs.

The story follows a girl named Clara's magical journey from an extravagant Christmas Eve party through a battle between toy soldiers and an army of mice into an enchanted forest with the King and Queen of Snow where the Sugar Plum Fairy awaits to congratulate Clara on her battle victory. "The Nutcracker" has become such a popular Chicago tradition that 23 performances are scheduled this season.

We checked in with three dancers from the 26th annual production to see how the ballet's elements play out in their offstage lives—and how they plan to celebrate the holidays once their schedules permit.

Go: 7 p.m. Friday through Dec. 28 at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway
Tickets: $31-$132. 800-982-2787;


Amber Neumann, 22
Hometown: Niles, Mich.
Current 'hood: Old Irving Park
Roles: Sugar Plum Fairy, Chocolate from Spain*, Flower, Snowflake, Tea from China*, Party Parent, Doll and Maid

Erica Lynette Edwards, 33
Hometown: Downers Grove, Ill.
Current 'hood: Lincoln Park
Roles: Party Parent, Governess, Grandmother, Vivandiere Doll, Snowflake, Chocolate from Spain*, Nougat from Russia* and Flower

Shane T. Urton, 23
Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Current 'hood: Edgewater
Roles: Butler and Party Parent, Soldier, Snow Wind, Flower Cavalier and Russian soloist.

*Chocolate from Spain, Tea from China and Nougat from Russia are three of five treats-themed divertissement scenes in which the Sugar Plum Fairy presents gifts and thanks to Clara for her courage during the battle.

Favorite candy:
Shane: "Turkish delights."
Erica: "Twizzlers."
Amber: "Skittles, which is also my sister's nickname."Closest real-life encounter with mice:
 "My sister is a scientist and has pet mice she is planning to train, so I've played with them quite a lot. They're so cute!"
Erica: "When I saw my BFF Carrie's cat leave a dead mouse in her tap shoe."
Shane: "Mice? Reading 'Flowers for Algernon.'"Most enjoyable or dramatic encounter with snow:
 "When I was little, we built a snowman that was so tall, we had to get out a ladder to
finish him."
Shane: "Enjoyable: My black-coated dog acting like a dolphin in tall white snow. Dramatic: The thunder-snow storm my second year in Chicago."
Erica: "Chicago's Snowmageddon."Favorite holiday tradition:
 "[My friend] Carrie and I exchange advent Christmas gifts, so we get to open a gift everyday from Dec. 1 through Christmas Day."
Shane: "I celebrate Christmas and my father's birthday at the same time."
Amber: "The Joffrey has a Christmas Eve matinee and every year since I joined the company, my mother has driven to Chicago Christmas Eve morning to take me home after for Christmas with my family."Favorite toy as a kid:
 "My grand army of Legos."
Erica: "My Jem doll."
Amber: "I loved and still love Hot Wheels cars!"Favorite toy as an adult:
"Candy Crush Saga."
Amber: "Any card or board game!"
Shane: "My computer."First thing on their post-"Nutcracker" agenda:
 "Play with my dogs as I visit my family in North Carolina."
Amber: "Visiting my sister and her husband and spending some quality time with their menagerie!"
Erica: "I'm going to throw a party!"Julia Borcherts is a RedEye special contributor. redeye [at] tribune [dot] com | @redeyechicago