'Nutcracker' ballet a cherished holiday tradition

  • Tori Rumzis, a senior at Vernon Hills High School, dances the role of Clara in Dancenter North's production of

    Tori Rumzis, a senior at Vernon Hills High School, dances the role of Clara in Dancenter North's production of

  • Anastacia Holden performs as Clara and Matthew Adamczyk is Dr. Drosselmeyer in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

    Anastacia Holden performs as Clara and Matthew Adamczyk is Dr. Drosselmeyer in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker." COURTESY OF HERBERT MIGDOLL/JOFFREY BALLET

  • An army of mice menace Clara in a previous production of Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."

    An army of mice menace Clara in a previous production of Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."

  • The Mouse King rallies his troops in a previous production of Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."

    The Mouse King rallies his troops in a previous production of Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."

  • A multiheaded Rat King monster menaces an unwitting Clara (Briana De Giulio) in The House Theatre of Chicago's modernized and revisionist play version of "The Nutcracker" at the Chopin Theatre.

    A multiheaded Rat King monster menaces an unwitting Clara (Briana De Giulio) in The House Theatre of Chicago's modernized and revisionist play version of "The Nutcracker" at the Chopin Theatre. COURTESY OF LEE KEENAN/THE HOUSE THEATRE OF CHICAG

  • Snowflakes dance about in Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."

    Snowflakes dance about in Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."

  • Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani perform as the King and Queen of Snow in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

    Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani perform as the King and Queen of Snow in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker." COURTESY OF HERBERT MIGDOLL/JOFFREY BALLET

  • Yumelia Garcia stars as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Mauro Villanueva as the Cavalier in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

    Yumelia Garcia stars as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Mauro Villanueva as the Cavalier in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker." COURTESY OF HERBERT MIGDOLL/JOFFREY BALLET

  • April Daly stars in the Act II Spanish Dance divertissement in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

    April Daly stars in the Act II Spanish Dance divertissement in The Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker." COURTESY OF HERBERT MIGDOLL/JOFFREY BALLET

  • The Nutcracker and an army of toys do battle with the forces of the Mouse King in Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

    The Nutcracker and an army of toys do battle with the forces of the Mouse King in Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

  • Clara treasures her prized nutcracker in Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker," which returns to the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg.

    Clara treasures her prized nutcracker in Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker," which returns to the Prairie Center for the Arts in Schaumburg.

  • A minion of the Rat King does battle with The Nutcracker, Clara and her toys in last year's production of The House Theatre of Chicago's modernized and revisionist play version of "The Nutcracker" at the Chopin Theatre.

    A minion of the Rat King does battle with The Nutcracker, Clara and her toys in last year's production of The House Theatre of Chicago's modernized and revisionist play version of "The Nutcracker" at the Chopin Theatre. COURTESY OF MICHAEL BROSILOW/THE HOUSE THEATRE OF

  • The Mouse King in "The Nutcracker on Horseback" in Chicago.

    The Mouse King in "The Nutcracker on Horseback" in Chicago.

  • Aaron Rogers appears as the cursed title character in the Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker."

    Aaron Rogers appears as the cursed title character in the Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker." COURTESY OF HERBERT MIGDOLL/JOFFREY BALLET

 
By Scott Morgan
Posted12/2/2011 6:00 AM

"The Nutcracker" didn't originate in the U.S., but Americans have wholeheartedly embraced the Christmastime ballet as one of our nation's most prominent holiday traditions.

San Francisco Ballet staged the first full-length American "Nutcracker" in 1944, and dance companies both big and small have created versions of the magical tale. Since "The Nutcracker" ballet can utilize so many young performers as party guests, attendants, mice and soldiers, you can bet that there will always be a guaranteed audience well-stocked with doting parents and other supportive relatives and friends.

 

But the origins of "The Nutcracker" go back almost two centuries to 1816 when author E.T.A. Hoffmann first dreamed up the weird and wonderful German tale of "The Nutcracker and the King of Mice." Darker than the version American audiences have grown to love, Hoffmann's fantasy-filled Christmas story introduced a young girl named Clara (Marie in some versions) who helps break the curse on a prince who has been transformed into a nutcracker by some magically malevolent mice.

"The Nutcracker" made the leap to the stage when Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov transformed it into a ballet. Though initially a critically reviled flop during its 1892 premiere at St. Petersburg's Maryinsky Theatre, "The Nutcracker" has since gone on to become one of the most-produced ballets in the world -- especially in the U.S.

"I don't think there's anywhere quite like America with 'The Nutcracker,'" said Joffrey Ballet artistic director Ashley Wheater, who has danced in multiple productions of the ballet in the U.S. and the U.K. "In Europe, they do 'The Nutcracker,' but not to the same degree that companies do it here because for many, the 'The Nutcracker' performances are revenue for the overall budget (of a dance company)."

Since so much depends on making "The Nutcracker" family-friendly, American productions tend to gloss over some of the scarier aspects of Hoffmann's story. For instance, Wheater's first professional experience in "The Nutcracker" was in London's Royal Ballet production of dancer/choreographer Rudolf Nureyev's dark version of the story.

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"There was this whole of idea of Clara being scared in her dream by all of these bats," Wheater said. "And the bats turned out to be her parents and all of the guests at the party,"

Wheater also said Nureyev made an odd decision to have the transformed Nutcracker prince danced by the same performer who plays Clara's eccentric Uncle Drosselmeyer. This brought up uncomfortable questions as to why this uncle is so obsessed with giving his adolescent niece a magical experience in the first place.

"Having played the role of Drosselmeyer, I think that the people who play him have to understand what they're trying to portray with the role," Wheater said, noting that in many European productions, he's much more of a sinister figure. "In (The Joffrey Ballet) production, he's just a wonderful uncle who has the magic."

There's also warfare and death in "The Nutcracker," albeit between toy soldiers and the forces of the Mouse King (or Rat King in some versions), who is a multiheaded monster in Hoffmann's original tale.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"A lot of people stay away from the darker side of the story," Wheater said. "I think that's why when you get to the battle scene and you have the mice, it's done in a humorous way."

Indeed, most ballet versions of the Mouse King are done in a cutesy fashion, which is quite a contrast to the truly terrifying multiheaded beast seen in The House Theatre of Chicago's modernized and revisionist 2007 play version of "The Nutcracker" currently at the Chopin Theatre. Other revisionist "Nutcrackers" available on video include choreographer Matthew Bourne's "Nutcracker!" that is set in a bleak British orphanage, while choreographer Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut" relocates the action to 1960s America with a dysfunctional suburban family at its center.

But thankfully for most American families, "The Nutcracker" is largely an all-ages affair. It has also proven time and time again to be a wonderful way to introduce children to the art of ballet.

"We look at it as a way to expand the horizon for the arts," said Cheri Lindell, director of Dancenter North and its "The Magic of the Nutcracker" production. "If a family comes and it's their first taste of ballet and the arts and they enjoy it, that's huge. That's part of our goal and we've found that families come back year after year."

Local productions of 'The Nutcracker'

Barrington Youth Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Barrington High School, Barrington, (847) 382-6333 or BYDE.org
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4
Tickets: $25-$28; $22 seniors and students; $15 balcony seats

The House Theatre of Chicago's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division St., Chicago, (773) 769-3832 or thehousetheatre.com
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday, also 3 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 11 and 18, and Friday and Saturday, Dec. 23-24 (no show Dec. 25); runs through Friday, Dec. 30
Tickets: $25; $10 students

Schaumburg Dance Ensemble's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court, Schaumburg, (847) 895-3600 or prairiecenter.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Dec. 2 and 9; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 3 and 10; 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 4 and 11
Tickets: $26; $18 kids, students and seniors

Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Paramount Theatre, 8 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666, paramountaurora.com or saltcreek ballet.org
Showtimes: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3
Tickets: $32; $30 seniors; $25 kids
Also at: Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University, 1 University Parkway, off I-57 at Sauk Trail, University Park, (708) 235-2222 or centertickets.net
Showtimes: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Tickets: $33-$40; $28-$35 kids ages 16 and younger
Also at: North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847) 673-6300 or north shorecenter.org
Showtimes: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18
Tickets: $31.50-$39.50

North Shore School of Dance's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Lake Forest High School, 1285 N. McKinley Road, Lake Forest, (847) 432-2060 or northshoredance.com
Showtimes: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4
Tickets: $20; $14 seniors and kids

Dancenter North's "The Magic of the Nutcracker"
Location: Libertyville High School Butler Auditorium, 708 W. Park Ave., Libertyville, (847) 367-7970 or themagicofthenutcracker.com
Showtimes: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 3 and 4
Tickets: $15-$32
Also at: Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan, (847) 263-6300 or geneseetheatre.com
Showtimes: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11
Tickets: $18-$35

Joffrey Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago, (800) 982-2787 or joffrey.org
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Dec. 9, 16, 17, 20; 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 10, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23; 2 p.m. Dec. 11, 24, 26, 27
Tickets: $30-$115

DanceWest Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
Location: North Central College's Pfeiffer Hall, 310 E. Benton Ave., Naperville, (630) 637-7469 or finearts.northcentralcollege.edu
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, and 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11
Tickets: $30-$32; $23-$25 kids 12 and younger
Also at: Oswego East Performing Arts Center, 1525 Harvey Road, Oswego, (630) 717-6622 or dancewestballet.com
Showtime: 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Tickets: $30; $23 kids 12 and younger

"The Nutcracker on Ice"
Location: Robert Crown Center, 1701 Main St., Evanston, (847) 448-8258 or cityofevanston.org/parks-recreation/robert-crown-center
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 11
Tickets: $9-$10

Ballet Legere's "The Nutcracker Ballet"
Location: Chodle Auditorium, 2423 S. Austin, Cicero, (773) 237-1874
Showtimes: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11
Tickets: $25-$27; $20-$22 seniors and kids 12 and younger

Civic Ballet of Chicago's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Elgin Community College Blizzard Theatre, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, (847) 622-0300, elgin.edu/arts or civicballetofchicago.wordpress.com
Showtimes: 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 10 and 11
Tickets: $27; $15 kids 12 and younger
Also at: Lumber Center for the Performing Arts, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake, (847) 543-2300 or clcillinois.edu/tickets
Showtimes: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Tickets: $23-$31 (senior and student discounts available)

The Moscow Ballet's "The Great Russian Nutcracker"
Location: Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont, (800) 745-3000 or rosemonttheatre.com
Showtimes: 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10
Tickets: $26-$86.50

Ballet Chicago's "The Nutcracker"
Location: Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, (800) 982-2787, balletchicago.org or athenaeumtheatre.com
Showtimes: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, Dec. 10 and 17; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 11 and 18; 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16
Tickets: $22-$32; $18-$26 seniors and students; $14 kids 15 and younger

New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" LIVE
Location: HD live simulcast from Lincoln Center to select movie theaters worldwide including locations in South Barrington, Lombard, Naperville, Woodridge, Evanston, Deer Park, Bloomingdale, Lincolnshire, Warrenville, Crystal Lake and Batavia. See fathomevents.com.
Showtimes: 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13
Tickets: Prices vary by theater, but about $20 for adults and $16 for kids

Von Heidecke's Chicago Festival Ballet's "The Nutcracker"
Location: McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, (630) 942-4000, atthemac.org or chicagofestivalballet.com
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Tickets: $37; $35 seniors; $27 kids

Berkshire Ballet Theatre's "The Nutcracker Ballet"
Location: Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake, (815) 356-9212 or rauecenter.org
Showtimes: 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Tickets: $19-$25

State Street Dance Studio's "The Nutcracker Ballet"
Location: Norris Cultural Arts Center, 1040 Dunham Road, St. Charles, (630) 232-0444 or statestreetdancestudio.com
Showtimes: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 18
Tickets: $22-$27

"The Nutcracker on Horseback"
Location: Noble Horse Theater, 1410 N. Orleans St., Chicago, (312) 266-7878 or noblehorsechicago.com
Showtimes: Various performances now through Sunday, Jan. 1
Tickets: $30-$35; $20-$22 kids

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