If you have not yet booked your tickets to see the Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker, then I highly recommend you do…right now. Performances start up again on Thursday 17 December and work their way through the 27th. For the full schedule and ticket information, click here.
Oh sure, this event may not be for the hipster in your life who will scoff at how The Nutcracker is, “like, sooo overdone” and how, at times, it can get a bit cheesy. But I think even the most hardcore of hipsters (you know, the ones who go to Billy Dec’s Underground just to be seen) will get giddy at seeing this holiday classic.
Act I begins with a long-winded scene in the Victorian parlour of the Stahlbaum’s house. A bunch of well-dressed guests and their children show up for a Christmas party that includes gift-giving and dancing. The highlight of this scene were ballerinas Anastacia Holden and Calvin Kitten, playing Clara and Fritz respectively. Both ballerinas did a great job channeling their inner child and were incredibly emotive. Kitten pouts, throws fits and tortures Holden’s character like a pro, and adds a lot of depth to the relationship between the two. Without his acting, you might not realise how jealous he is when Holden’s character receives the Nutcracker doll from Dr. Drosselmeyer (Godfather of Clara and Fritz), played by David Gombert.
Holden is adorable and executes every move with grace. At first, you almost think she is one of the child dancers because of her stature, but as soon as she performs her first pas de deux with Dr. Drosselmeyer’s nephew (a.k.a The Nutcracker Prince), played by Miguel Blanco, you can tell that she is a petite professional. Like Kitten, she is a great actress, and you really feel sad for her when her Nutcracker doll gets broken. She is so likeable, in fact, that your eyes will be glued to her for most of the scene…even when she is not the centre of action.
Scene II, The Magical Battleground is very busy. The Calvary Mice, Nutcracker Prince and other officers and soldiers crowd the stage, making it hard to focus on any one group. I was so distracted by all the action that I hardly noticed when the King of Mice was slayed by the Nutcracker Prince.
This brings me to another point. When the Nutcracker comes to life, you may have the same reaction I did, “Am I in a Burger King commercial?” The Nutcracker’s mask looks like the King and it is terribly unnerving. Luckily, that mask is only on for one scene, so you don’t have to put up with it for long.
Scene III in the Land of Snow is magical, fabulous, amazing, etc., etc.! No really, it is. Fake snow falls from the ceiling of the stage for the entire scene, there is a snow glitter pony (fake) and a beautiful dance between the Snow Queen and King (played by Kara Zimmerman and Fabrice Calmels, respectively). I did not particularly like Calmels in Othello (he played Othello), and was not overly excited about him in this performance either. He is still a tank, towering over the other ballerinas and bulky to boot, but moreso, he seems clunky when he is by himself. His strength serves him well, however, in the pas de deux and he helps Zimmerman look even more ethereal
There are points in this dance you when you will wonder if Zimmerman and Calmels are lovers in real life. They caress each other and are completely in their own little world, especially toward the end. I felt a bit voyeuristic at times because they were so intense!
During the intermission the Joffrey brings out a children’s choir to sing Christmas Carols in the beautiful lobby of Auditorium Theatre, which is charming – but you will be itching to get back to your seat for Act II because not surprisingly, it blows Act I out of the water.
The above picture shows Mother Ginger and her Polichinelles, who we meet in the second act. This huge doll is fourteen feet tall and is transported in five different sections for the show. When the puppet first ambles onto the stage, you are sure to both ahh and say, WTF?! But after a few minutes of Polichinelles dancing in and out of her skirts, you will love it. The child ballerinas are especially impressive in this scene as they intermix ballet with some acrobatics! So cool!
Also in the Kingdom of Sweets we are introduced to the Sugar Plum Fairy played by Victoria Jaiani. She is beautiful but takes a while to warm up. If you are sitting close enough to the stage, you can see her physically shake at points when she has overextended an arm or leg. It looks painful. She keeps a mechanical smile on her face at all times that sometimes looks more like a grimace.
Jaiani and Blanco did not get into their groove until the latter part of the Grand Pas de Deux, when they became stunning. Blanco performed an impressive display of turns while Jaiani looked more graceful than ever. Near the end, Blanco throws Jaiani in the air and then catches her. The audience went wild.
There are too many dances to go through, but you will love them all. Make sure to watch out for the lively Russian dancers (pictured below) and Amber Neumann as the Chocolate from Spain (she’ll be the one holding the Spanish fan).
Other cool facts about The Nutcracker that will make you ooh and ahh:
This production uses approximately 200 costumes and 172 pairs of boots and shoes.
During a four-week season, the production requires the use of over 200 lbs. of flame proof, paper punch snow mixed with hand cut silver paper to make the snow sparkle.
The Christmas tree is 23 ft. and 3 in. tall, 16 ft. wide at the base and has 46 individually wrapped gifts beneath it.
Transporting The Nutcracker requires five 48-ft. long semi-trailer trucks. One and one half semi-trailers are filled with props alone. There are well over 320 individual props. Yowza!
Go see The Nutcracker. I cannot do it justice here because it is a spectacle that must be seen. Must! Enjoy!