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Joffrey ‘Nutcracker’ glows

Joffrey Ballet 25th anniversary producti'The Nutcracker' - Dylan Gutierrez as The Prince April Daly as Sugar Plum Fairy. | PHOTO

Joffrey Ballet 25th anniversary production of "The Nutcracker" - Dylan Gutierrez as The Prince and April Daly as the Sugar Plum Fairy. | PHOTO BY HERBERT MIGDOLL

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THE JOFFREY BALLET IN ‘THE NUTCRACKER’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When: Through Dec. 27

Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress

Tickets: $31-$132

Info: (800) 982-2787; www.ticketmaster.com

Updated: January 10, 2013 6:19AM



Maybe it is just a fervent act of homage to the 25th anniversary of the Joffrey Ballet’s distinctive Victorian American (think Age of Lincoln) version of “The Nutcracker,” crafted by Robert Joffrey (with help from Gerald Arpino), shortly before his death. Maybe it is simply that the company, now directed by Ashley Wheater (who was part of that first production), is dancing at an exceptionally high level at the moment. Or maybe it is a happy combination of both things.

Whatever the reasons, the deftly tweaked and sharpened production that began its annual holiday season Friday night before a notably full house at the Auditorium Theatre, could easily melt an old-fashioned snowstorm with its unique combination of warmth, charm, grandeur and superb performances.

Few ballets in the classical repertoire provide a grander showcase for more dancers than “The Nutcracker.” So no matter how many times you may have seen this edition of the classic, there is always the thrill that comes from discovering new or previously hidden or underexposed talent. (This certainly was the case Friday as the first of several rotating casts held the stage.) And of course there is the added pleasure of watching a gaggle of gifted children pull off the many challenging sequences in which they play a crucial role.

“The Nutcracker” comes in two quite distinct acts — the first bursting with winningly choreographed storytelling, social dances and toy variations, and the second more focused on full-out classical dancing. So it’s best to start at the beginning.

To the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer, the magician godfather of doll-nurturing Clara (Caitlin Meighan), and her bratty brother, Fritz (Ricardo Santos), Maura Villanueva brings both style and allure. As for Santos, he is a firecracker who later returns to the stage for a breathtaking, fully airborn performance as the Snow Prince.

The ideally paired Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein are memorable as the Snow Queen and Snow King — all delicacy and lightness. They also gave a fluid, gently erotic rendering of the Coffee from Arabia duet.

Cast in the crucial roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince were April Daly and Dylan Gutierrez — both tall, leggy, perfectly proportioned dancers whose steely technique is matched by a fleet and easy style that makes everything look deceptively easy. Gutierrez gives the impression he could fill a stage twice the size of the one he is on. And Daly, serene in everything from her balances to her gyroscopic turns, brings a lovely hint of sweetness to her impressive precisionism.

There was powerhouse dancing from Amber Neumann as Chocolate from Spain. The wildly spinning Nougats from Russia (Jacqueline Moscicke, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai and John Mark Giragosian), had the audience clapping. The variation for the giant “puppet,” Mother Ginger, had far more spice than usual. And the lyrical, notably pretty Marzipan Shepherdesses (Jeraldine Mendoza, Katherine Minor and Jenny Winton), danced beautifully, as did the eight Flowers in the Victorian Bouquet.

Even the original Oliver Smith sets looked fresher thanks to Jack Mehler’s fine lighting.

And then there is the invaluable Chicago Philharmonic, which played the iconic Tchaikovsky score with zest, with conductor Scott Speck supremely well attuned to the dancers’ every move.



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