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Ballet Chicago's "The Nutcracker" opening at Athenaeum The

Jack Reed

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Ballet Chicago's annual production of The Nutcracker opens this evening in the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport, just off the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Wellington Street, in the Lincoln Park/Lakeview neighborhood. Ballet Chicago is one of the country's better Balanchine-oriented ballet schools, and as such their Ballet Chicago Studio Company puts on a couple of good shows each year, depending to some extent of course on who's in the school, as well as some ballet demonstrations around the city. (Their big show of the year goes on in mid-May in the Harris Theater in downtown Chicago; the next one is scheduled for may 14, 2016, and looks to be a Balanchine program, although, as we here all know, "programs are subject to change.")

BC has been putting their Nutcracker on in one place or another since 1997, and this year the season has grown to 10 performances, 7 open to the public and 3 for school children.

Their Nutcracker is mostly choreographed by Daniel Duell, who danced in George Balanchine's NYCB, and his wife, Patricia Blair, who danced in the Eglevsky Ballet on Long Island, when Edward Villella ran it; and it includes the three surviving parts of Balanchine's Sugar Plum Pas de Deux, supplemented by a Cavalier's variation choreographed by Duell.

It's been many, many years since I've seen the Joffrey-Arpino staging, being retired by the Joffrey Ballet after this season, because when I saw it after Balanchine's, it just seemed so oblivious to Tchaikovsky's instructions, compared to Balanchine's sensitive collaboration with his composer. Personally, I prefer BC's, because its choreographers hear their music so much better, if not quite to Balanchine's own level of inspiration, in spite of the Joffrey Ballet's more seasoned professional dancers and stronger production values. (Maybe even more important for his choreography than Duell's time in NYCB is the fact that, as I understand it, he is a musician - a classical musician - too.)

I expect that, as in the past, the music for this production will come from multiple recordings - lending particular vitality to the different numbers individually. (I assume Duell made the selection.)

Those who have issues with Balanchine's scattering of the parts of the SP pas de deux may like to know Duell has collected together the four parts of BC's version late in Act II, in a more classic plan. (Personally, I can take it either way.) More than that, though, this production is one of those that has a Snow pas de deux - actually just an adagio, for another pair of principal dancers - to the Pine Forest music in the Snow scene at the end of Act I.

Like Balanchine's staging, and others, this one is subject to frequent tinkering; the scenery has developed over the years, and costumes too, and I gather the Battle of the Mice has lately been reworked and extended by Duel and Ted Seymour, who teaches in the school, choreographs, and dances with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and elsewhere, and appears in this production sometimes, variously in the opening Party scene as Dr. Stahlbaum, as the Snow Cavalier, and/or as the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier.

Here's a link for the complete schedule of public performances and ticket sales:


Edited by Jack Reed
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