Ballet Chicago Presents The Nutcracker at the Athenaeum Theatre, a whimsical story of a girl whose dreams take her to the Land of the Sweets on Christmas Eve, in a classic production performed by Ballet Chicago students.
As the lights go down and the curtain rises, the audience sees a large and elegant Christmas tree and the Stahlbaum family welcoming their guests to the annual holiday party. Dressed in a deep purple dress is Marie, the story’s protagonist. As she begins to move about the stage filled with excitement and wonder, all eyes are on her. She embodies the joyful spirit of the holiday season and already she has the audience on their toes.
Ballet Chicago Puts Focus on a Little Girl’s Dream
Ballet Chicago’s rendition of The Nutcracker puts all the focus on Marie, played by Daisy Herrera. After receiving a Nutcracker as a gift from the magic Herr Drosselmeyer, Marie is the belle of the Stahlbaum’s annual holiday party. She dances with her friends skipping around the stage, holding the Nutcracker close by her side and everyone, especially her brother Fritz, is jealous of her new gift.
After everyone has left the party, Marie tip-toes into the room and finds her Nutcracker. As she falls asleep, a colony of mice appear in the form of dancers in dark grey unitards, pouncing and skittering across the stage. As Marie awakens, she finds that her nutcracker has become life-sized and fights off the mice with his soldiers. A choreographed fight complete with sword fighting, and dramatic lifts, begins between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. In order to protect her Nutcracker, Marie throws her shoe at the Mouse King and he falls right into the Nutcracker’s sword.
Marie travels through the magical forest and meets the Snow King and Queen and their dancing snowflakes. Snowflakes fall from the sky, dusting the stage with powdered white as the dancers gracefully twirl to Tchaikovsky’s angelic score. The snowflakes move together quickly in unison, becoming a flurry of white tutus. In Act 2, Marie arrives in the Land of the Sweets and the Sugar Plum Fairy thanks her for her bravery in defeating the Mouse King. She summons all the sweets – Spanish Hot Chocolate, Arabian Coffee, Chinese Tea, Russian dancers, Mirlitons, Polichinelles, and the flowers to dance in Marie’s honor.
Each dance in the Land of the Sweets in Ballet Chicago’s production featured a lead dancer, which in this reviewers opinion, presented a variety of strong and beautiful female characters. In comparison to other versions of The Nutcracker that this reviewer has seen, Ballet Chicago’s story was more so about Marie’s journey, and even after the battle scene duet when the Nutcracker comes to life, he is only a vehicle for Marie’s imagination. She is the star of this production.
Technical and Classic
Danced primarily in pointe shoes, the dancers in Ballet Chicago’s Nutcracker, especially the schools older students and lead characters, performed with grace and elegance. The Waltz of the Flowers and dance of the snowflakes featured many moments of rippling movement, in which the dancers must stay perfectly in time each dancer beginning a movement one beat after the next to create a mesmerizing wave of arms and legs. The dancers kept in time with one another and the music as if it were effortless.
The production was classical in its choreographic style, even keeping the famed Sugar Plum Pas De Duex choreography set by George Balanchine. Emma Wittig and Russell Scmidt, who played the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, moved through the complex partnering and grandiose lifts and partnered turns with balance and grace, all while keeping smiles on their faces.
This reviewer was also impressed by the young dancers in the production. The angels, and Polichinelles in Act 2 and young party goers in Act 1 kept in character with ease, keeping the mood light and cheery, and reminding the audience of how exciting the holidays are to experience as a child.
Ballet Chicago’s Nutcracker provides an introduction to the classic story that has something for the whole family. When snow begins to fall from the sky, or Herr Drosselmeyer gestures toward the Christmas Tree downstage and the lights begin to flicker in a multitude of colors, there are “oohs” and “aahs” from the children in the audience.
The production even gives the adult viewers a little chuckle at the end of Act 1 when the maids pull out a flask and pour themselves a drink when all the partygoers have left. Ballet Chicago provides the audience the whimsy of the beloved Nutcracker story, and brings out the joy and fun of the holiday season.
Thursday, December 19 at 7pm
Friday, December 20 at 7pm
Saturday, December 21 at 2pm & 7pm
Sunday, December 22 at 2pm
The Athenaeum Theatre
2936 N. Southport Ave.
Chicago, IL 60657
About the Author:
Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Hayley began dancing at the age of four. She has studied Ballet, Pointe, Modern, Jazz, Contemporary, and African dance and regularly can be found taking dance and Pilates at Chicago's Lou Conte Dance Studio. Hayley has completed internships at CityScene Media Group, OhioDance, the Chautauqua Institution, and American Dance Festival. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Marketing Manager. Learn more about Hayley at hayleyross.weebly.com