‘The Nutcracker’ magic still exists

Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Cara Marie Gary (Marie) and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

4 stars

Imagine what if. What if Marie Stahlbaum’s nutcracker Christmas gift and her dream, a tale by E.T. A. Hoffmann, and adapted by Alexandre Dumas that was first presented with Tchaikovsky’s music in 1892, changed location and style.

What if it moved from a wealthy, European estate to Chicago where dreams were possible for a young girl who lived in a shack. And, what if the story kept the late 19th century date.

What was going on in Chicago that year was preparation for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition also called the Chicago World’s Fair. It celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’1492 landing in the “new world.”  Indeed, the Chicago World’s Fair dedication was in 1892 but the fair didn’t open until 1893.

Imagine all the possibilities the fair with its multi-cultural pavilions and its noted (first) Ferris Wheel as a background might hold for a ballet.

Internationally known choreographer Christopher Wheeldon did when asked by Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater for a re-imagined ballet that still incorporated some of the beloved images that fit Tchaikovsky masterpiece.

Alonso Tepetzi and Cara Marie Gary and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
Alonso Tepetzi and Cara Marie Gary and The Joffrey Ballet. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

Add in Julian Crouch’s magical and wondrous set and costumes and a new book by Brian Selznick that is wordless yet evocatively descriptive, and audiences have an exciting, fresh story to go with Tchaikovsky’s music.

That audiences have bought into the new look and story The Joffrey premiered in December 2016 was evident by exuberant applause  at the Dec. 1, 2018 opening of what is a continuing holiday tradition.

New look aside, The Joffrey dancers continue to amaze as they execute Wheeldon’s choreography with grace, style and skill.

What audiences might notice and relate to today’s immigration policies is that the show opens with vintage posters and newspapers including those on one paper saying that the large fair needs to hire more immigrants.

In what is being called the “re-imagined” ‘Nutcracker,’ Marie’s family are working-class immigrants. The guests at their holiday party are also immigrants who likely work at the fair. In this new story, Marie’s mother is supposedly the sculptress for the fair’s large, golden statue based on the Statue of the Republic that was a fair attraction.

The Joffrey Ballet in The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet in The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

What has stayed the same is that Marie’s brother, Franz, is still bratty and breaks the nutcracker, that there still is a magical visitor who in this story is the fair’s Grand Impressario, and that the mice still loom large and are taken on by toy soldiers.

In Marie’s dream the Grand Impressario makes her family’s paltry fir  turn into a growing, glowing, gorgeous tree.

Some of the individual dance images are different but they also are splendid as they convey what Marie dreams will be in the fair when it opens.

The old, traditional “Nutcracker” story is likely to continue in stories put on by dance groups everywhere. But the Joffrey’s new “Nutcracker” is delightfully fresh, beautifully performed and artistically presented.

DETAILS: The Joffrey Ballet’s  “The Nutcracker” is at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway, through Dec. 30, 2018. Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.  For tickets and other information visit The Joffrey.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

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