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Ballet Chicago Studio Company's Nutcracker

Jack Reed

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I caught up with Ballet Chicago Studio Company's annual Nutcracker at Saturday evening's performance. One thing to say right away is that while Daniel Duell's choreography may not be as brilliant as Balanchine's, whose is? Duell obviously takes his instructions from the same source, accomodating to his different resources, in superior contrast to another version to be seen in these parts (and sometimes in Washington). Watching that one, I can imagine myself telling that choreographer, through my clenched teeth, "Listen! For God's sake, listen!" as his dancing and Tchaikovsky's music go along parallel but separate paths. Not so Duell; Duell hears well, and continously.

This came to mind long before the Athenaeum theatre's CD player disgraced itself late in the adagio of the Sugar Plum pas de deux, which, being (mostly) Balanchine's, was brilliant, and brilliantly danced by Charlotte Speranza and her able cavalier, faculty member Ted Seymour, fittingly brilliant for the end of the evening, but in it the dancers had to follow their own path after a while while the drunken-sounding machine replayed long sections of the intoxicating music as though not willing to come to the end of it. (After a longish pause, we got a cavalier's variation and the rest of the pas and then the ensemble Finale in good order.)

But before this ending, marked by the performer's triumph over adversity in addition to their doing justice to Mr. B., we had had an evening of dancing well worth seeing not least because of its musical integrity and some drama too. Along with a new backdrop for the Act II Land of Sweets, we had a Drosselmeyer in Act I this year who heightened the role in more ways than one. The tallest person on stage, Kevin Iega Jeff could have dominated the first scene with his large, clear movements, but he's better than that, and played his role for its sinister mystery (rather than the differently-effective dotty eccentricity we have seen here other years), merely influencing events in the well-lit center by some well-chosen gestures in the dimmer background, aided by his African-American coloring.

In that center, Diana Cisneros was a lovely Marie, leading the March with her fine corps of six small girls; there must be an acute shortage of suitable boys in Ballet Chicago, essentially a school, and so Duell has set Tchaikovsky's delicate march as a miniature ballet-within-a-ballet, with unison ensembles, solo circle, and so on. Cisneros, as Marie, also leads the "Polichinelles" divertissement in Act II, with a corps of tiny ones, in new choreography by Seymour. Rebecca Bruch and then Tony Peyla brought just the right balance between doll stiffness and dancer fluidity to the Doll dances in Act I, and Ashley Ferguson and Jake Laub brought the right mixture of ease and growing intensity - matching the music here - to the Snow pas de deux, a unique feature of this production, as far as I know.

Rachel Jambois and Speranza led the Waltz of the Snowflakes, with a corps of eight big girls who could have used more room on stage, and Rachel Jambois and her corps of fourteen (some of the same ones) certainly could have in the Waltz of the Flowers. Alicia Pugh's "Arabian Coffee" solo was remarkable for its sustained sinuousity, a nice contrast to the doll dances of Act I. Indeed, all of this is such a good show, with scarcely anyone attempting what they cannot do with clarity and grace and some dramatic effectiveness, that I'm going back this afternoon for some cast changes (and a near-riot of extra little white mice, if previous seasons' matinees are a guide). The last of the three performances is at 3:00 at 2936 N. Southport. Sid Smith, in the Tribune for 26th November, considers the case for Chicago having become a dance town, but this charming, taking little production still seems to be a well-kept secret, and the theatre's hardly been full, if you'd like to have a look yourself.

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