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Joffrey Ballet's 'The Nutcracker': A holiday spectacular

By Courtney Jacquin
On December 15, 2013

The "Nutcracker" is everywhere - the music is in car commercials, on The Weather Channel weather on the 8s. There's a good chance you've seen the "Nutcracker" at some point. If you ever took ballet in your life, you've probably been in the "Nutcracker."

So why should you go see the Joffrey's Nutcracker, running now through Dec. 28, now in its 26th season?

Because Robert Joffrey's the "Nutcracker" is damn near flawless. It's magical. It's everything that's great about the holiday season.

If you're unfamiliar with the "Nutcraker," here's your crash course: the "Nutcracker" tells the story of Clara, who receives a nutcracker from her mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer. When the nutcracker is broken, Drosselmeyer not only magically repairs the nutcracker, he does one better - he brings it to life. This leads Drosselmeyer and Clara on a journey through a battle between soldiers and mice before being whisked away with the Nutcracker Prince to an enchanted forest by the Snow King and Queen, followed by the magical land of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The ballet is set to Tchaikovsky's iconic pieces, played flawlessly by the Chicago Philharmonic.

All "Nutcracker" productions may seem similar from company to company, ballet school to school, but Joffrey's is undoubtedly one of the best in the country - perhaps only second to the New York City Ballet's - and it's proven through every minute of the ballet.

Obviously the Joffrey dancers are great ‒ that surprises no one ‒ but it's the other elements that really set Joffrey's "Nutcracker" ahead of the others. The costumes in the party scene that open Act One are Victorian-era works of art, flowing with the effortless moves of the dancers.

My personal favorite moment of the ballet is the snow scene that ends Act One. The strange is transformed to a magical winter wonderland with fake snow and fog, so convincing you'd think you really were transported to the middle of a snowy forest.

But this scene gets its magic from the Joffrey dancers. The snow scene is one of the few scenes that incorporate the entire corps, incorporating most of the cast into the snowy scene. Dancers multiply like snowflakes as the piece progresses, leaving you pretty damn breathless going into intermission.

The scene is lead by The Snow Queen, King and Prince danced by Christine Rocas, Temur Suluashvili and Derrick Agnoletti, respectively.  All three are perfect, including the solo by Agnoletti that got the crowd clapping for his impressive amount of fouettes. Another refreshing take on the "Nutcracker" that the Joffrey incorporates is the use of more men in their snow scene than most, a refreshing addition.

Last season, Rocas portrayed both The Snow Queen the "Coffee from Arabia" female soloist and she reprised both roles again this year, serving some "Black Swan" realness between the beautiful Snow Queen and the sensual "Arabian" solo.

The problem with shows that children enjoy is that there are children there. Including ones who talk, sound like they're hacking up a lung, and cry. They will make you very upset for making noises during the quieter pieces. Don't let them get you down. Power through. It's worth it.

Act Two is a series of solos, duets and small groups that are quick moving from piece to piece, and it houses most of the iconic "Nutcracker" pieces people recognize, and, well, it's where the magic of this ballet really comes out.

From the quick paced "Trepak" (Russian) to the second large corps piece "Waltz of the Flowers," you can't help but smile in actual wonder and awe throughout the second half.

Maybe it's how "Waltz" builds, similarly to "Snow," bringing more and more dancers on stage all moving together in such a delicate yet powerful manner, I wanted to do good in the world after "Waltz." Really.

What everyone waits for is, of course, the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced again this year by April Daly. The pas de deux between her and Nutcracker Prince Dylan Gutierrez is the epitome of what ballet partnering should be: every lift and turn free of flaws. Both Daly and Gutierrez have their solos as well, and each solo is just as perfect as the pas de deux. Daly is delicate in her piques that traverse the stage; Gutierrez is strong yet graceful.

There's a reason the "Nutcracker" playbill calls the show "Chicago's most beloved holiday tradition." Even if going to the ballet isn't a normal outing, the "Nutcracker" is more than just a ballet - it is the holidays.


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