Holiday magic: Suburban dance companies bring classic 'Nutcracker' to life
There are losses, triumphs, battles and dreams come true in the fantastic world of "The Nutcracker," a perennial Christmas ballet favorite. And this season, both Elgin and Batavia play host to two similar but different ways to experience that Tchaikovsky-scored story.
"Every year, I have a focus of the show. This year is 'enchanting,'" said Linda Cunningham, director of the Chicago Ballet Conservatory's production, taking the stage for three performances Dec. 7 and 8 at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.
Presented with the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, the show features a cast of 70 that includes professional dancers and actors, preprofessional dancers and even a magician's influence on the familiar, beloved scenes.
"I stay very true to tradition with the score and story. I believe that's key not only for the audience, but for my dancers," said Cunningham.
Sean Stewart and Elina Miettinen, both with the American Ballet Theatre, will be joined on stage by actor Roger Hendricks Simon and dancer Raoni Xavier of the Bolshoi Brazil.
Cunningham said the professionals will dance with new talent, including a small cameo role by a 2-year-old female ballerina.
"I really look for genuine, well-hearted professionals to work with," she said. "They are kind and loving to the young students."
The show is produced by Tressa Mohler, owner and director of the Bloomingdale-based Chicago Ballet Conservatory.
"What I love about her is she believes in my vision," said Cunningham.
While tradition is at the heart of the show, it also indulges in special effects.
"I love flights and things that happen aerial-wise," she said.
Cunningham, founder of the now-shuttered State Street Dance Studio in Geneva, said this is her third year directing the Elgin production.
New this year is the addition of a Sugar Plum Fairy Tea Party from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, scheduled for between the day's two performances. Cunningham said treats will be served and party attendees will have a chance to mingle with cast members.
A third performance was added this year to accommodate audience demand, she said. Tickets are priced at $25 to $50 and are available at www.cbcnutcracker.com. Tea party tickets are $20.
'The Fox Valley Nutcracker'
Some 110 dancers from 25 dance studios will create a spectacular ballet when the Fox Valley Ballet presents its sixth annual "The Nutcracker" at three performances Saturday, Nov. 30, and Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Batavia Fine Arts Center.
"I founded Fox Valley Ballet a couple of years ago," said Ashlie Andersen, the ballet's artistic director. "My goal and mission was to bring together dancers in the Fox Valley region and beyond. It's a great way for our preprofessional youth dancers to work alongside professional dancers."
Andersen, who worked with Cunningham at the Geneva dance studio, said several Fox Valley Ballet "Nutcracker" scenes feature both adults and children, professional and fresh talent on stage en masse.
"Some of our scenes have 70 dancers going in and out," she said.
Michael Erickson and Miriam-Rose DeLuc, lead dancers with the Chicago Repertory Ballet, will perform the Grand Pas and Samuel Opsal and Laura Peterman, both of Chicago's Ballet 5:8, will dance the parts of the Snow King and Snow Queen.
The show will present special effects, including aerial feats.
"We like to add in a lot of magic. We're making it bigger and bolder," she said.
The company also features dancers with special needs.
"We have a cast member who is wheelchair-bound at the age of 13 and is in our party scene. We have had performers with autism, and one currently is playing the role of our maid," said Andersen.
The show also will feature a relatively large number of male dancers.
"We have more (males) than usual. We really wanted to highlight them this year. It's something to be proud of. There are a lot of boys that really love the art form."
Andersen's two twin sons, 5-year-old Cooper and Connor, will make their "Nutcracker" debut this year.
"They love being a part of it," she said.
Where to see 'The Nutcracker'
Dance companies throughout the city and suburbs are staging their versions of Tchaikovsky's beloved ballet "The Nutcracker." Here's where you can catch this holiday favorite:
Barrington Dance Ensemble: 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23; and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, Barrington High School, 616 W. Main St., Barrington. Santa visits at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 22. $15-$32. (847) 382-6333 or barringtondance.org.
Salt Creek Ballet: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at Hinsdale Central Auditorium, 5500 S. Grant St., Hinsdale; 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at Center for the Performing Arts, Governors State University, 1 University Parkway, University Park; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn; 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. $20-48. saltcreekballet.org/nutcracker.
Fox Valley Ballet: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1, at the Batavia Fine Arts Centre, 1201 Main St. $20-$40. foxvalleynutcracker.com or (630) 937-8930.
"The Magic of the Nutcracker": 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at Genesee Theatre, 203 N. Genesee St., Waukegan; and 10:30 a.m. (abbreviated show) Saturday, Dec. 14, and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14-15, at Libertyville High School, 708 W. Park Ave., Libertyville. Dancenter North performances. $12-$36. www.dancenter-north.com/magic-nutcracker.
Schaumburg Dance Ensemble: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6 and 13; 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, and Sunday, Dec. 8 and 15; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, Al Larson Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Court, Schaumburg. $25-$30. (847) 895-3600 or www.villageofschaumburg.com.
Chicago Ballet Conservatory's "The Nutcracker": 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, at Hemmens, 45 Symphony Way, Elgin. Chicago Ballet Conservatory with Elgin Symphony Orchestra. $25-$50. www.CBCnutcracker.com or (630) 893-1444.
"Great Russian Nutcracker": 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, Rosemont Theatre, 5400 N. River Road, Rosemont. Moscow Ballet's touring production. Tickets start at $49. (800) 745-3000 or www.nutcracker.com
Ruth Page Civic Ballet's "The Nutcracker": 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts at the College of Lake County, 19351 W. Washington St., Grayslake. $10-$25. www.jlcenter.clcillinois.edu/the-nutcracker.
"The Nutcracker" at Woodstock Opera House: 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14 and 21; 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15 and 22, Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock. Judith Svalander Dance Theatre production. $19-$26. (815) 338-5300; www.woodstockoperahouse.com.
"The Nutcracker" at ECC: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, at Elgin Community College Blizzard Theatre, 1700 Spartan Drive. Wheaton's Alma Dance School performances. $25-$38. tickets.elgin.edu or (847) 622-0300.
"The Nutcracker" in Lake Zurich: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 19-20; 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21; and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, Lake Zurich Performing Arts Center, 300 Church St. Illinois Youth Dance Theatre's 20th annual production. $17-$27. (847) 438-4500 or www.iydt.org.
Engage Dance Theatre: 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, and 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, Norris Cultural Arts Center, 1040 Dunham Road, St. Charles. $23-$38. (630) 584-7200 or norrisculturalarts.com.
The Joffrey Ballet Presents "The Nutcracker": Various times and dates from Saturday, Nov. 30, through Sunday, Dec. 29, at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive, Chicago. The Joffrey Ballet presents the re-imagined classic by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. $35-$179. joffrey.org/nutcracker.
"The Art Deco Nutcracker": 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6; 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7; 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, Studebaker Theatre, 410 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. A&A Ballet performances with an Art Deco style. $30-$50. www.aacenterfordance.org/box-office.