‘The Nutcracker’ by the Joffrey Ballet tugs the heartstrings — whether it’s your first time or 51st
Lauren Warnecke, Chicago Tribune
December 3, 2023
For many families, a trip to “The Nutcracker” is a nonnegotiable holiday tradition — as time-tested and treasured as “A Christmas Carol.” Much like the Dickensian play is to theater, “Nutcracker” is the lifeblood of American ballet companies. It’s a pact made annually between artists and audiences that, for many companies, sells the tickets that keep the lights on.
Americans love “Nutcracker” because it’s an unwavering treatise about dreams coming true. Dreams are kind of our thing. So ballet companies keep doing it. And we keep loving it.
Joffrey Ballet’s version of the holiday classic opened Saturday afternoon, with performances continuing through Dec. 27 at the Lyric Opera House.
Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon had big shoes to fill, reimagining Robert Joffrey’s weathered, traditional version in 2016 with a hyperlocal bent. Children’s author Brian Selznick’s libretto overlaps E.T.A Hoffmann’s tale about a young girl who falls asleep and enters a magical kingdom of candy and fairies with Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
The pairing fits like a glove, even when a gun-toting, rope-slinging Edson Barbosa appears as Buffalo Bill in the second act.
Immigrants Marie, brother Franz and their single mother live in a shantytown on the edge of Jackson Park near the fairgrounds. Fair workers gather for a humble holiday party and get a surprise visit from a Daniel Burnham-type figure called the Great Impresario. They exchange gifts, dance and make merriment out of paper masks and steampunk-esque shadow puppetry. The Impresario flatters Mother and the children, giving Marie a special nutcracker doll.
This “party scene,” as it’s known colloquially, is chock full of tiny details, which have become more evident as the ballet marinates in Joffrey’s capable hands (and feet). A few subtle changes feel big to this critic, most notably a richer instrumentation of the Grandfather Dance near the end of this scene (though this “Nutcracker” has no grandparents). Wheeldon initially stripped the score to the three uncredited Lyric Opera Orchestra musicians who join the dancers on stage as party guests (and do a bang-up job playing the part). It made sense: working-class immigrants obviously wouldn’t have had an entire orchestra in their living room. But “The Nutcracker” is not often, if ever, about common sense. It’s about magic. And wonder. And dreams. Tchaikovsky’s music, as it’s written, is wonderful. What comes after, when Marie falls into Dreamland, is the magic.
Read the full article here.
The Nutcracker runs now-December 27 at the Lyric Opera House. Purchase tickets here.