On the western bank of Lake Michigan we find the third largest city in the nation; the largest city in the Midwest. A historic town known for it's Al Capone-ish tommy-gun gangsters of the 20s, a jazzy nightlife, Chicago pizza and seemingly hundreds of world renowned restaurants. A city fondly known as "Chicagoland", "Chi-town" and the 'Windy City". This beautiful metropolis on the lake has many skyscrapers that reach up to the sky and kiss the clouds. Chicago may offer some of the finest dining in the world, but Chicago also offers one of the finest ballet companies in the nation as well. The Joffrey Ballet!
The Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker is like a Christmas stocking stuffed full of ballet talent, just waiting to pulled off the fireplace mantle and enjoyed. The real magic of the Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker is their ability at being the consummate story teller. It's as if they are sitting on a chair surrounded by the child-like audience sitting on the floor around them, in a hear-a-pin-drop silent room with our eyes and ears widely focused on their every word. How the Joffrey introduces Clara and Fritz with their ongoing relationship playing out consistently in Act I. How they masterfully make Drosselmeyer the silent narrator throughout Clara's dream in Act I and Act II. Fritz taunting Clara with a mouse at the party and then seeing the youth's scary critter battling her beloved Nutcracker Soldier. And then Clara's love of Drosselmeyer's dancing dolls turning into a magical land chock full of dance celebrations on the palace patio. Truly some Windy City Christmas Magic!
The Party scene opens to the Stahlbaum's grand parlor room framed with large draperies, a fireplace on the left, a staircase in the back, a giant chandelier and of course, a beautiful Christmas Tree. Everyone at the party is frozen momentarily as the curtain lifts to fully reveal the stage. Clara (Abigail Simon) in a pretty pink dress and the uber-charismatic Fritz (Ricado Santos) in a flashy purple coat open gifts at center stage. Drosselmeyer arrives dressed in black with knickers, buckled shoes, a vest with gold buttons and chain, a beard and his dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail (Michael Smith). He brings with him a pair of dancing Harlequin dolls and a couple of dancing soldiers. Fritz often commands the attention of the party with his stylistic tirades and rants. The stage is full of comical activities with dotting maids, well-seasoned grandparents, gentlemen boasting, giggling girls, and scheming boys all happening simultaneously on stage. The party parents are talented dancers and are soon filling the stage with ballroom performances.
The Stahlbaum parlor goes dark as Clara settles in for a quiet little dream on the chaise lounge. Drosselmeyer appears above the clock, winging his purple cape as the clock chimes time. Suddenly the room is filled with little floppy-eared mice and soldiers. Drosselmeyer orchestrates a transformation of the house into a magical battle scene with a castle on one side and a tent of mice on the other. The mice don silvery mice head helmets and the soldiers bring out their rifles. The Nutcracker and the Mouse king begin fighting hand-to-paw with the Nutcracker lifting the Mouse King over his shoulders like a professional wrestler. Clara takes advantage of her deadly slipper and ends the Mouse Kings life with one deadly blow. The stage transforms to a snowy winterland as the stage is filled with little snow angles in fluffy white snow dresses. Clara arrives with the Nutcracker Prince as Drosselmeyer provides a beautiful winter snow and a stage filled with snow dancers.
The Joffrey Ballet's Snow Scene is powerful and stunning, with a Snow Queen and King, a Snow Prince, a corps of twelve Snowflakes and six Snow Wind dancers to provide pairings and lifts. The choreography is action packed with the charismatic Snow Prince soloist sharing the center stage with the Snow Queen and King. As the scene closes, Clara climbs aboard a beautiful white rocking horse and rides off with Drosselmeyer.
Act II opens to a beautiful palace terrace where Drosselmeyer arrives leading the white rocking horse with Clara on board. They are seated on the left of the terrace as Drosselmeyer presents the Sugar Plum Fairy and her court. Drosselmeyer presents a celebration of dances starting with the Chocolate from Spain soloist in brown and gold dancing with a Spanish fan. The Coffee from Arabia couple perform many lifts in their soft blue costumes complete with turbans adorned with feathers. Two colorful dancers represent Tea from China followed by the leaping Nougats from Russia who dance to the clapping audience. Three beautiful pastel striped Marzipan Shepherdesses preceed the always comical Mother Ginger and her eight little Polichinelles and her one little Gingerbread child.
Choreography is king in this Waltz of Flowers as the Victorian Bouquet dancers, a corps of eight, and four Cavaliers fill the stage with the magic created by Gerald Arpino. A garden of multi-colored flowers full of lifts and leaps that provides a stunning sensation of briliance and originality.
The grand pas de deux is performed by the super-talented Sugar Plum Fairy, Yumelia Garcia, and her Nutcracker Prince Mauro Villanueva. Graceful and delicate to say the least. A moving performance that provides a spectacular ending to a magical show.
The Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker is clearly on the short list of the best Nutcrackers in the country. Performing from December 10 through December 26 at the Auditorium Theater.
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