Friday, December 23, 2005

The Nutcracker by the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago

Seeing the Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition in our family. Long ago we started watching Mikhail Baryshnikov and the American Ballet Company in a studio performance of the ballet shown annually on our PBS station. Filmed in 1977 it features the twenty-nine year old Baryshnikov, who had defected from the Soviet Union in 1974, with Gelsey Kirkland as Clara. We still have this performance on a video we made in the early 1990s. It is now available on DVD. (I could find only video on Open WorldCat.)

Since the mid-1990s we have often seen the Nutcracker performed by the Salt Creek Ballet in the crowded auditorium at Hinsdale Central High School in Hinsdale, Illinois. For the annual Nutcracker, nationally-known dancers take principal roles and the company of high school age dancers serves as the corps de ballet. Instructors from the School of the Salt Creek Ballet are cast as the adults in the opening Christmas party scene or as Mother Ginger in Act II. The sets and costumes are colorful, and the music is superb. My favorite parts are always the Dance of the Snowflakes (when the chorus sings "ah ah ah ah ah" and the snow begins to fall) and the Russian Dance (when the dancer kicks his legs from the near-sitting position.)

This year we had the opportunity to see the Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker in the historic Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The ballet company moved to Chicago in 1995 and has been in residence at the Auditorium Theatre. Robert Altman's film The Company features the Joffrey in some dances that we were able to see two years ago. This was our first time at its annual Nutcracker. I was surprised that we could walk up and buy tickets several hours before the performance. Sadly some tickets in the first balcony went unsold. Bonnie said that there are many performances this year, including matinees, so it is not reasonable to expect the theatre to be packed every time.

I hope many people did see this year's Nutcracker, as it was excellent. I especially liked Brian McSween as a very active Dr. Drosselmeyer, the uncle with the huge cape, and Kathleen Thielheim and Fabrice Calmels as the Arabian dancers. McSween's transforming of the Nutcracker Doll into the Nutcracker Prince was the best I have ever seen. (Or did not see - the change was magic.) A huge puppet danced the part of Mother Ginger from whose skirts appeared many young dancers. The costumes and sets were colorful and the orchestra was great. I am still humming various themes from the ballet.

If you are in Chicago, you should resolve to see the Joffrey and the Auditorium Theatre.


laura said...

I saw the premiere of the Joffrey's Nutcracker in Iowa City in 1988--it was wonderful, though long ago.

ricklibrarian said...

Hi, Laura. Thanks for commenting. I hope you get to see it again.