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Flash Review 1, 12-18:
A Chest'Nut' from the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago
By Jessica Swoyer
Copyright 2001 Jessica Swoyer
CHICAGO -- There is
no better Christmas than this year's to revisit a world where the
hero wins, and not only does he get the girl but enchants her with
dreams of sugar plum fairies and snowflakes. This year we have witnessed
a revived craving for fantasy -- partly inspired by the fascinating
magic series by J.K. Rowling. Characters such as Harry Potter may
not have been created in the same century as Clara in E.T.A. Hoffman's
"The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," but generally characters surpass
time; ones such as these defy time in a most spectacular way.
Robert Joffrey's production
of "The Nutcracker," performed Wednesday by the Joffrey Ballet of
Chicago at the Auditorium Theater, is not short on spectacle. It
was as fascinating to the little girl seated two seats away from
me as to the adults behind me. And no wonder; this production has
quite an eclectic pedigree. Conceived and directed by Joffrey, it
combines original choreography by Gerald Arpino with staging by
George Verdak and Scott Barnard, after the 1940 Ballet Russe de
Monte Carlo production itself revived by Alexandra Federova after
the original Petipa/Ivanov Maryinsky Ballet version.
In the first act, the
curtain rises to a house literally waiting for festivities to begin:
All characters on stage are frozen in the moment. Then, to the tick
of the eerie grandfather clock, the dancers begin to move in slow-motion,
foreshadowing something powerful is about to manipulate the magical
night. Finally, full lights bring all to normally paced life and
the guests (who we've seen prior in a series of crossovers journeying
to the party) arrive. This includes the curious Dr. Drosselmeyer,
danced by JBC veteran Adam Sklute, and his nephew (also the Nutcracker
Prince), portrayed Wednesday by Calvin Kitten.
The party scene is full
and lively as Drosselmeyer incredibly brings dolls to life, children
are presented with gifts and adults dance grand waltzes and jigs.
It is in this first scene that Clara dancer Heather Aagard is presented
with the unusual but dearly cherished nutcracker doll. After the
party has finished, the allure of the doll brings Clara back downstairs
and under the holiday tree, just before the clock strikes midnight,
and not a creature is stirring, not even a -- oh, wait, there is
touches include mice scampering from the fireplace as Drosselmeyer,
standing atop of the clock, bats his cape-like wings in rhythm with
the twelve strokes of the clock, his head acting as the hour hand
sharply pointing in the directions from 1 to 12. With a huge flash
of light, the Nutcracker comes to life and the battle between the
soldiers and mice begins.
In the Land of Snow,
a Freudian interpretation of Clara's dream-like experience finds
the Snow Queen and King danced by Clara's mother and father, Joffrey
company dancers Emily Patterson and Samuel Pergande. This winter
wonderland transforms from the tripped-out battle scene -- where
the mice look more like terminators with gold and silver metal heads,
red beady eyes, long and sharp, pointy noses, and gladiator armor
-- to a thicket of ice-frosted pine trees enveloped by clouds of
dry ice creating the appearance of snow drifts.
he Waltz of the Snowflakes,
choreographed by Arpino, is woven into the Snow King's and Queen's
pas de deux, as well as the Snow Prince's solo, danced by Patrick
Simenello. Dancing by the corps is so quick and light you'd think
it would melt if paused for a second; and the romantic -- though
this time slightly clumsy -- partnering by Patterson and Pergande
offsets Pyotr Tchaikovsky's string-heavy score. Also highlighted
was a pirouette a la seconde and tour combination cleanly executed
bourees by the dancers from Waltz of the Flowers opened the colorful
pastel Kingdom of Sweets in Act II. This lavish affair was as decadent
for the audience as it was for Clara. Presented to Clara by the
Sugar Plum Fairy (Jennifer Goodman) and the prince, Kitten, were
treats from afar. Chocolate from Spain was danced by Elizabeth Mertz.
Coffee from Arabia unfolded as a sumptuous duet by Valerie Robin
and Peter Kozak. In this duet the incorporation of a long flowing
yellow scarf acted as a snake entranced by the dances of its charmers.
Tea from China danced by Taryn Kaschock, and Guoping Wang was short
and sweet as Kaschock once again proved her control of the movement,
finishing triple pirouettes clean and coming off pointe as she pleased.
Nougats from Russia elicited huge enthusiasm danced by Stacy Joy
Keller, Orlando Canova, John Gluckman and Michael Levine. Suzanne
Lopez, part of a trio set to the music commonly known as the Reed
Flutes graced us with her smile as a Marzipan Shepardess.
The Waltz of the Flowers
was kaleidoscopic in its colors as well as its spatial formations.
The delicacy of Tchaikovsky's harp introduction to this section
was accented by Arpino's inclusion of paper flower petals that in
timely fashion fluttered from the dancers' hands. Maia Wilkins and
Trinity Hamiliton, seeming to truly enjoy themselves, alternated
in a succession of petite pas de deux; Wilkins's partner struggled
to hold back a laugh, perhaps due to an inside joke. Regardless,
Hamilton and Wilkins, both longtime company members, fused the rest
of the 14 dancers in a presentation of grace and flawlessness.
Goodman and Kitten performed
the Sugar Plum pas as though it were part of their pedestrian life.
Although looking very comfortable, they didn't lack for sparkle;
neither did the finesse of Goodman's phrasing or the strength displayed
in Kitten's partnering. The pair solidified and emphasized the Joffrey
Ballet of Chicago's strength as an ensemble.
All of the JBC dancers
presented themselves as individuals within a company which dances
Robert Joffrey's production
of "The Nutcracker" runs through Sunday at the Auditorium Theater.
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