Joffrey Ballet | The Nutcracker | Dance review
A Nutcracker production is never easily reconstructed. More than one director would likely agree. Keep in mind the cast, namely the large number of kids. Joffrey consistently ranks at the top in this area. The tykes can be a tedious operation, demanding extra attention from the artistic staff. Certainly, artistic director Ashley Wheater understands their importance, not only for the production but also for the continued development of the company academy and its students. If Friday’s disciplined opening night display at the Auditorium is any indication of the stars to come, then the future appears bright—a testament to the Joffrey’s educational programming.
It’s often the kids who steal the spotlight in the first act. The pros perform at their technical best, maybe a smidge less dynamic. Save for Ricardo Santos’s mischievous Fritz and Caitlin Meighan's sweet, impressionable Clara, the party scene favors the traditional mold. Generally speaking, it’s a common characteristic for most companies, considering the scene’s lack of substance compared to the second act. Still, that shouldn’t prevent Joffrey’s actors from adding their signature panache, maybe a few endearing eccentricities. That seems to be the only issue at hand. The conclusion of the first half dazzles with a luscious wintry snowfall and finely-tuned variations. Santos (who transitions from youngster to Snow Prince) whips off a series of speedy pirouettes; Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein (as Snow King and Snow Queen) perform a marvelous pas de deux—the majority of it clean and on the mark.
Part two delivers on all counts, though the puppeteered Mother Ginger could use a reboot. She’s charming, but who wouldn’t love to see one of the dancers take a crack in the big dress? Despite that minor nitpick, Joffrey’s now 25-year-old classic remains exquisite. Live music from the Chicago Philharmonic and a dream-like set of nostalgia add wondrous dimension for the company’s sublime technicians. The character roles get loud, deserving cheers, while the Waltz of the Flowers remains light and spirited with splits galore. Dylan Gutierrez’s stage presence suits well for the Nutcracker Prince and April Daly’s Sugar Plum Fairy is exceptional; her arabesques precise; her spots quick; her balance enviable. The couple’s second act pas de deux is the quintessential breathtaking experience.
Joffrey’s performance of The Nutcracker continues through December 27 at the Auditorium Theatre. Tickets available at auditoriumtheatre.org.