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Ballet Chicago Studio Company "Nutcracker" 12, 18-20 Dec.

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Ballet Chicago Studio Company, essentially drawn from older students of the school emphasizing Balanchine technique, with some guest artists, will present a performance of its annual Nutcracker this Saturday, 12th December, at 7 pm in the Pickwick Theatre, 5 S. Prospect Avenue, Park Ridge, Illinois, (847) 604-2234, and then four more performances on Friday, December 18 and Saturday 19 at 7 pm, Saturday the 19th at 2 pm, and Sunday the 20th at 3 pm in the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, in Chicago.

These performances usually demonstrate that the line between student and professional performance levels is hard to draw; the choreography, mostly by Daniel Duell and Patricia Blair, always seems musically aware to me and includes a pas de deux in the Snow scene as well as Balanchine's "Sugar Plum" adagio and coda in Act II.* While the music in the Pickwick will be provided by the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra, in the Athenaeum it will be recorded; the performances are fully costumed and the stage space decorated by a series of backdrops and props. Besides some cast rotations, the matinee performances in the Athenaeum add a number of the younger students in the school to already-existing scenes in the production.

Further details, including images from past seasons and ticket prices for the Atheneaum performances, which are reduced for Friday evening, are on the Ballet Chicago Studio Company page on the BC web site:


Duell has just added some thoughts about his "Nut" production to his blog on the BC site, detailing some of its unique features:


There's some information about cast members there, especially the visitors; to that I can add, regarding the Athenaeum performances, that Olivia Schmit, whom I admired in the demi role in Rubies last May, will perform (with Ted Seymour) in two of the Snow pas de deux, alternating with Ashley Johnson and either Seymour or newcomer Rashaen Arts (from Amsterdam). Johnson, with Hamilton Nieh, will dance Sugar Plum at all four performances. And Duell modestly says nothing about this, but I feel certain that he himself will step into the role of Drosselmeyer a few times at least.

*Does this imply that only the adagio and coda are performed? I didn't mean to do that. Actually, the four-section pas de deux is performed, late in Act II after the divertissements, with the two variations choreographed largely by Duell (or Duell and Blair).

Edited by Jack Reed
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Opening night's high points for me (in the Athenaeum Theatre) were Dana Coons's "Marie", a larger role here than in some other productions -- for example, she, not "Fritz" (Emily Sanchez), tells the Sugar Plum Fairy, who is nearly overwhelmed by it, the harrowing story of the duel of the Nutcracker and the Mouse King -- which Coons made clearly legible at every instant, plainly possessed of that inner understanding on several levels of what all this is about that eludes some older dancers, both in the pantomime drama and set dances of the first scene and in the mimed and danced mingling with the Polichinelles in the last one; Ashley Johnson's second scene Snow pas de deux with her able partner Rashaen Arts and then her "Sugar Plum", with its stunts, like the running-upstage diagonals ending up on her partner's shoulder carried out with such security she could add a slight flourish of head and fingers to the second one, with the yet more able Hamilton Nieh; Olivia Schmit's generous "Dewdrop", where the same easy, high, long jumps we saw in her Rubies demi last May were now brought to a softer more gradual conclusion, for example, as this role and the music it seems to grow out of require; and Eleanor Albarran's "Columbine Doll" in the first scene, in which she nicely and smoothly balanced the doll bit with a dancer's presence and which whetted my appetite for her Marzipan in the last, where as it happens, her dancing was perhaps only a bit stiff in striving for clarity. Oh, and last but not least, Daniel Duell's "Drosselmeyer", which he made more or less odd from moment to moment. Well, wasn't Drosselmeyer an odd old man? And a little magical, too: often, in this role, in the dim upstage, he starts off the downstage action with a few of the same gestures; that's the part, but when it's the choreographer in the part, we have a little in-joke to enjoy, too.

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Going back for the Saturday evening performance after watching some of the 1993 NYCB performance was a good idea. Watching Ashley Johnson's Sugar Plum variation, I thought, where have I seen this before? It may not have been quite so vivid as Darci Kistler's presentation on the DVD, but it was all Balanchine's. "Dewdrop" wasn't Balanchine, though it was satisfyingly perceptive musically, and it was a pleasure to watch Eleanor Albarran dance it. I think maybe sometimes she's a bit tense at the start of something she does, but as she proceeds, with more to do sometimes and no extra time to do it -- Duell has chosen recordings of this wonderful music by conductors who are plainly interested in it, giving us nothing routine to be heard, and with well-animated tempos -- it all becomes a strong flow of clearly articulated shapes. This time I brought a guest, who also praised this dancer, and we both enjoyed Claire Henley and Ted Seymour's Spanish dance and Olivia Schmit's Arabian dance, in addition to Johnson and Hamilton Nieh's "Sugar Plum".

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