Review | THE NUTCRACKER at Joffrey Ballet

Review | THE NUTCRACKER at Joffrey Ballet

Victoria Jaiani & Miguel Angel Blanco | Photo by Cheryl Mann

By Sheri Flanders

The genre of dance is criminally underrated among mainstream audiences, yet for the uninitiated, the Joffrey Ballet’s NUTCRACKER is a wonderful annual entrée to the beauty of the artform this holiday season. Set against a reimagining of Chicago’s World’s Fair of 1893, the two-act extravaganza is a visual feast for the eyes. Opening with Ken Burns-style images from Ben Pearcy projected on a scrim that lifts to reveal a lavish set, this is a tale filled with whimsy and delight.

The story follows young Marie (Anais Bueno) as she descends into a Christmas dream world, cast by the spell of the Great Impresario (Dylan Gutierrez), the designer and creator of the World’s Fair. As things progress, love blooms between the Great Impressario and Marie’s mother (Jeraldine Mendoza) and also between Marie and the Great Impressario’s apprentice, Peter. Every single dancer in this performance is simply marvelous, yet Anais Bueno and Jeraldine Mendoza both shine in roles crafted to showcase the talents of ballerinas of their caliber.

As Marie and Peter travel through the World’s Fair Pavillions, the Arabian dancers Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili are stunning showstoppers. Rory Hohenstein’s comedic chops do not diminish his considerable technique, and Fernando Duarte keeps the audience in stitches as Mother Nutcracker.

The set and costume design by designer Julian Crouch and illustrator Brian Selznick are worth the price of admission alone. The intense kaleidoscope of colors is dazzling as Marie enters the dream world. Puppeteer Basil Twist’s playful imagining of the rats adds an extra sprinkle of mirth.

One could argue that it is certainly a shame that the rich history of the World’s Fair is left by the wayside in a solely visual and aural production, and there is no shortage of musty tomes around to fill that desire. Despite this, the rare treat of being completely freed from the tyranny of words allows the sweet confection of the imagination to playfully run free, just as young Marie’s.

About author

Sheri Flanders

Sheri Flanders is an actor, writer and comedian in Chicago. She is head writer for Choice The Musical, half of the comedy duo Flanders and part of the Infinite Sundaes musical house ensemble. Sheri is a contributor for Chicagoland Musical Theater, a faculty member of the Second City music program and co-owner of Flanders Consulting.