Monday, December 21, 2015

The Nutcracker 2015

What started as a way to extend the festive feeling garnered by attending Zoolights in 2012 and became a yearly Christmas tradition for Jesus and me has turned into something even better this Christmas season. Instead of merely listening to The Nutcracker's various waltzes and marches, or finding a less-than-stellar YouTube version of it to watch, we attended Ballet Chicago's version of the Russian classic.

The Venue: gave the entire night a storybook feel. The Athenaeum Theatre is over 100 years old, and it shows - gracefully. The wooden seat frames are worn smooth and the adornments on the walls and ceilings recall a time when the theatre was people's main form of entertainment and escape.

The Music: never disappoints. While not live, it was still the perfect accompaniment to the dancers on stage. And with fresh visuals, we can better guess which waltz is playing on our Nutcracker Pandora without checking!

The Story: was slightly different that what we were used to - Clara was called Marie in this version, for one. Having American Girl as their main sponsor also added in a few elements probably not seen anywhere else (ie, each little girl on stage received her own American Girl doll for the opening Christmas party scene and accompanying dance). The important (read: familiar and popular) aspects remained largely untouched.

The Dancers: were young, but not so fresh that they couldn't give the ballet the gravitas it deserves. We enjoyed picking out our favorites in the group dances, marveling at the solos and duets, and recognizing dancers who portrayed several characters. Bonus: several of the ballerinos ended up at the same place we went for dinner afterwards. They were nearly unrecognizable in their street clothes, and it felt like a brush with celebrities, albeit local ones.

The Choreography: felt both familiar and new. Not that I have any expertise to draw on here, but I've seen several of the steps in our viewings of the BBC and New York City Ballet versions - and those now feel like canon. Still, I know each version makes it their own, in the cast and the musical choices, but especially in the choreography. Ballet (and dance in general) is a visual medium, so it makes sense that what you see on stage changes the feel of the whole thing.

The Crowd: was mostly couples, families of all ages, or groups of women young and old. The theater wasn't full, but there was a sizable audience. [Rant & Parental Cautionary Tale: My least favorite attendees were the spoiled kids (ages approx. 5-8) who sat behind us narrating the entire thing and kicking the back of my seat until Jesus gave them his "You Better Knock That the Hell Off" look. I'm not a fan of their parents either for allowing this nonsense to happen, but as both Jesus and I remarked as the entire clan rudely left during the curtain calls, having to live with those kids is probably punishment enough.]

The Overall Effect: magical. This modest telling of one of the most popular Christmas stories was, as my first ballet, amazing. It appealed to my childhood dream of becoming a ballerina and my adult dream of attending live shows, supporting local art, and making memories from experiences.

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