A World Class Nutcracker – A Bittersweet Farewell to a Chicago Tradition
Reviewed by: James Murray
I have lived in Chicago since 1992. In that time I have seen the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker on Christmas Eve matinee as a part of my holiday ritual. I have my partner Bob to thank for introducing me to it and taking me to see it 19 times. I must admit that while I enjoyed it I always felt something was lacking which turned out to be a consistency of excellence with the dancing. There were always standouts in it but it usually left me feeling a little short-changed. After seeing the farewell and final Joffrey production on Saturday evening my entire feeling about it has changed dramatically.I owe much of it’s success to Joffrey’s relatively new Artistic Director Ashley Wheater who has assembled a uniformly world-class company of dancers who are generally the same size. Why is this important in a Ballet company? It all has to do with the laws of gravity. If you have dancers of different heights and weights they will never land at the same time, making the dancing look sloppy. This was a curse of the old Joffrey ballet under the direction of Gerald Arpino. Wheater has kept very few of the core from that time (he has kept the finest) and transformed Joffrey into a world-class ballet company that can hold it’s own with the best companies in the world.
The current Nutcracker is by far the finest production, on every level, I have seen since I have been in Chicago. For the first time the evening went by with lightening speed and some outstanding performances. Aside from the excellent core the dancer who danced Nutcracker Prince (Elivelton Tomazi) and Sugar Plum Fairy (Cara Marie Gary) were standouts (as they are the heart and soul of the ballet it is crucial that the chemistry and paring is right). Both dance with such command of their technique that it appears second nature and they can fully execute the spirit of their roles and the ballet. Their Pas de Du ranks among the best I have seen. Cara Marie Gary has exquisite follow through with her extensions and Tomazi has an athleticism combined with a lyricism that is pure poetry.
Other standouts in the company were Hansol Jeong who played Clara’s sister Fritz and the Snow Prince who seems to defy gravity with his jumps. He was also in the second act as Tea from China and was splendid.
Dylan Gutierrez’s Snow King and Anais Bueno’s Snow Queen were also exceptional and paired beautifully. The Nougats from Russia (Amber Neumann, Edson Barbosa, Raul Casasola and Stefan Goncalvez) were one of the audience favorites of the evening and were exhilarating to watch.
I never thought I would catch myself saying that I will truly miss this Nutcracker created so many moons ago by the founder of the company, Robert Joffrey. After this last production of it I will miss it as I was finally able to see what it can be in the hands of masters. Don’t miss this one!
Final Performances are Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2 pm and 7 pm; Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2 pm and 7 pm; Thursday, Dec. 24, 2 pm; Saturday, Dec. 26, 2 pm and 7 pm; and Sunday Dec. 27, 2 pm. Tickets range from $32-$136 and are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street, as well as the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University box office, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers, by telephone at (800) 982-2787 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.