Photo by Dan Swinson

By Elizabeth Ellis

Part of the challenge with the creation and performance of holiday classics is how to keep them fresh and interesting and entertaining, and yet preserve the essential spirit of the pieces that continue the traditions of the holiday. In a stroke of genius, A&A Ballet choreographer Alexei Kremnev and a titanic cast of 175 talented dancers take the beloved yet all too familiar ballet THE NUTCRACKER, and infuse it with the glamor of the Art Deco era. What results is a gorgeous and thematically fitting reinterpretation, hopefully destined to stake its claim among the legion of Nutcrackers presented every December.

Kremnev and Anna Reznik, the titular A&A, left their positions with the Joffrey Ballet Academy two years ago, and with their decades of teaching experience, formed a new company dedicated to pre-professional ballet training. By uniting their present students with many of their former students who are now professional dancers, Kremnev and Reznik introduce a level of consistency and artistry equal to that of other established ballet companies across the country.

Set in the 1920s, the feel of this NUTCRACKER has more sparkle, more glitz, and a more sophisticated vibe, as best expressed in the fancy party costumes that the adults wear in the beginning of the ballet. The audience feels transported to the iconic Paris of Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation. While the dozens of the younger dancers perform adorably as you might expect, several of the professional dancers give exemplary performances. American Ballet Theatre soloist Katherine Williams is a marvel of lofty elegance as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her fellow ABT company members Michael Sayre and Jose Sebastian, respectively, display fantastic strength and grace as the Nutcracker and the Cavalier. Rounding out the ABT contingent is one of their National Scholars, the exceptional Grace Curry, as Clara.

The other absolute star of this production is Kremnev’s inspired choreography. He keeps much of the classic ballet, but adds in some festive dance during the party scenes, and stunning elements of rhythmic gymnastics (ribbons and balls) for some of the tiniest dancers.

The lovely Studebaker Theatre provides A&A with a grand and gracious home: a perfect frame for this Nutcracker. Hopefully next year and in years to come, A&A will be able to produce a longer run of this beautiful ballet. For neophytes, it’s a perfect introduction to this art form; for those more familiar with dance, it’s a fresh and fantastic work that holds its own with ballets in every season.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.