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2019 Ballet Chicago Nutcracker December 13-15 & 19-22 / Duell, Blair, Balanchine

Jack Reed

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The Ballet Chicago Studio Company presents their annual run of their version of The Nutcracker this weekend and the following one, previously eight performances, but this year, nine:  Curtain times are 7:00 PM on December 13, 14, and 19-21, and 2:00 PM on December 14, 15, 21 and 22, in the Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport, near the intersection of Southport, Wellington, and Lincoln Avenues in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, next to the landmark St. Alphonsus church.

Ballet Chicago is one of the country's leading Balanchine-oriented ballet schools; most of their ballet curriculum consists of Balanchine ballets or fragments of them, but Spanish and modern dance are included, as well as choreography by faculty like Daniel Duell, who danced in Balanchine's NYCB; his partner in life, as well as in art, as he likes to tell us before the curtain, Patricia Blair, who danced in the Eglevsky Ballet when  Edward Villella was running it; Ted Seymour, who danced in the Suzanne Farrell Ballet and elsewhere, and others, some with background in Spanish and modern, and some alumni.

The Ballet Chicago Studio Company takes in B.C. students "when they are ready"; thus it's the cream of the school and performs the top roles, including the surviving parts of Balanchine's Sugar Plum pas de deux in this production, to which Duell has contributed a male variation to replace the lost Balanchine one.  Blair has contributed the choreography of the Snow Scene which concludes Act I and includes an adagio pas de deux to the Pine Forest music, as well as other parts, along with a lot by Duell and some by Seymour.  (I gather these last two are the ones who remade the Battle scene into the dancey-ist version I've seen, deploying some of the classical vocabulary unexpectedly in martial action.)

Personally, enjoying dancing most when I see what I hear, I prefer this production, made by people true to their roots in Balanchine's way - "See the music, hear the dance" -  instead of the new Joffrey one, by Christopher Wheeldon, which doesn't look to me nearly as well heard as his Polyphonia did, for example.  In these peoples' hands, these dancers do pretty much what Tchaikovsky asks for.

And with tickets at about one-fifth the price of the Joffrey production, it's value for money in that way too.  That the dancers are paying tuition instead of drawing a salary and that the musicians are recorded (from well-chosen performances) are partly responsible for the lower prices.  Belying the low production budget, the costumes, sewn up by volunteers, "The Guild of the Golden Needle", look good and move well, too.  (Have a look at some images from my previous, longer posts in this forum here.)

Here are some moving images from a few years ago:

(If clicking the embedded images here doesn't start the video, use the links on the left.)

Mirlitons [Flutes]

Waltz of the Flowers:


And here's Act One, from 2014, beginning with an introduction by Ballet Chicago's Artistic Director Daniel Duell:

(Inevitably, this imagery provides only glimpses.)

How some scene and costume changes are accomplished in full view adds drama for me along with the charm of the evident, dedicated community producing this show.  Except for a very brief number with some three- and four-year-old bunnies in the matinees, no one on stage is trying to do something even a little beyond them; and aside from charming the audience (including their parents), these little ones remind us that stage experience is part of a dancer's training.  Most of the time, though, we don't notice.  We see the music.  We're entertained.  We're lifted on high.

Edited by Jack Reed
trying to fix the links to the videos
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