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The Joffrey's lovely 'Nutcracker'

12.15.09
Joffrey Ballet
Chicago Tribune

By Sid Smith

"The Nutcracker" may not be Robert Joffrey's greatest production -- his string of enterprising revivals and choreographic discoveries are worthy rivals for that award.

But "The Nutcracker," completed not that long before Joffrey's death in 1988, is his most loving. Affection sweetly coats and seeps deeply into every scene and detail. It's as if Joffrey concocted a confection to honor the childhood memories that drew him to ballet, the fellow artists he loved and the magic of theater.

"The Nutcracker," back on view through Dec. 27 at the Auditorium Theatre, is 22 years old, but its choreography, warmth, charm and color remain ageless. Sure, its special effects are modest in the age of "Wicked." But "Wicked" doesn't have its great Tchaikovsky score, nor choreography that's both entertaining and intelligent. "I always come jaded," a veteran observer remarked at Friday's opening. "And I always leave moved."

Artistic director Ashley Wheater continues to impose his taste, both in casting and in emphases on form and follow-through, sharpening company port de bras, extensions and precision.

Friday provided another look at newcomer Miguel Angel Blanco, as the Nutcracker Prince. Already, his budding partnership with exquisite Victoria Jaiani (a lovely Sugar Plum Fairy) glistens with radiant beauty. He's sharp and princely, though more artful than pyrotechnical. His leaps around the stage were fine, not spectacular, and his vertical jumps, though high, included only passable entrechats and a gaping expression in midair that's not exactly the mien of a self-assured soloist.

Fabrice Calmels, playing the Snow King and other roles, continues to impress with the evolving suavity of his dancing, and he has a striking, articulate new partner in Kara Zimmerman, a poised, elegant, sure-and-steady Snow Queen.

Calvin Kitten, 38, and retiring at season's end, is still the sprightliest Snow Prince of them all -- his farewell to the role Dec. 27 is well worth catching.

In addition to a terrific cast of youngsters this year, company standouts include Amber Neumann's vibrant Spanish dance and Mauro Villanueva's smooth, buoyant Nutcracker Doll.