The Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet New Nutcracker

19 Dec

December 17, KQED, San Francisco scheduled a late night showing of the creation of The Joffrey Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, music, of course, by Petyr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It was less the full production as danced than the history of its evolution, dotted with comments by artistic director Ashley Wheater and Wheeldon, the production chiefs, the dancers, cautionary comments and a final summation by Rahmn Emanuel, then Mayor of Chicago, himself a former ballet student.

I liked it for several reasons. One, it incorporated Chicago history and 1893 Columbian World Fair, celebrating Columbus’ 1492 discovery, just as San Francisco Ballet’s third production by Helgi Tomasson elected to emphasize San Francisco at the end of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition celebrating completion of the Panama Canal. SFB’s production, now a decade old, was revealed two years after Wheater had assumed his role in Chicago. I would suspect the SF example may have figured into what Wheater said was a decade long discussion with Wheeldon regarding the new production.

Second was the decision to make it a working class holiday, centering around the Polish immigrants who must have worked on the construction of the White City as the Fair had been dubbed, complete with the modest, even drab surroundings of semi-derelict fences. The traditions of Polish families were noted, such as waiting for the evening star before commencing the festivities, real food brought by the community.  Clara’s parents were transformed into a single mother, the mice into puppets. Act II is cast as features from the fair with a sexy Arabian interlude and Buffalo Bill Cody taking over the exuberant jumps of the Russian variation. The Russian Tsarist ambiance seemed quite vanished.

The hour-long production includes discussion by the production heads, and how video provided the expanding Christmas tree. Dancers commented: Yoshiharu Arai, April Daly, Dylan Gutierrez and SF native Jeraldine Mendoza, dancing Clara and two critics weigh in as well.

Wheeldon made sure every salient emotion had its place. Declaring he always thought the grand pas de deux was about love, he made Drosselmeyer into an impresario who dances the grand pas de deux with Clara’s mother. Clara’s dream for her mother gets a final moment making one want to believe it just might continue.

In checking the date for this major achievement in which Frederick Law Ohlmstead had a role, there is a list of items entering American practice both mechanical and edible through this historic exposition. The Ferris wheel was introduced, along with Spray Paint and the Zipper. Two diversions, Cracker Jack and Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, entered the American taste and for more substantial fare, Aunt Jemima’s Pancake Mix, undoubtedly sparking interest in ready cake mixes.

The above paragraph is totally ancillary to enjoyment of the TV documentary.
It just adds a dimension for what I hope will be seasonal television showings of a wonderfully special Chicago Joffrey Ballet take on The Nutcracker ballet.

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