‘Nutcracker’: A holiday classic danced to dazzling perfection

Every Christmas Eve, the Chicago Tribune publishes a short list of the area’s top holiday plays. In recent years, the paper has voted The Nutcracker as its top selection.

This year, all things bear witness to the same classic holiday fare. The classic “Mince Pies” ballet is just that, as the Sugar Plum Fairy dances through the Home of the Giver. The Sleeping Beauty loves her prince, but also has a keeper, the Prince’s Keeper. Callie Topliff (Linda), TJ Emmons (Mouse King) and Stephanie Murphy (Tea Beauty) give a rosy performance.

Michael Keith Lincoln’s The Nutcracker Suite as a ballet told entirely by words shows the individual facets of the theme with charming insights. It also reflects some change that has occurred over the years. The Spanish Dance, originally performed with violin solo, is no longer. Nor does the House Mouse promise sweetness and even a few tears.

The five-story wooded house created by architects Thomas Cole and John Charles Whistler in 1846 becomes one of the places where the plot takes root. The house where guests will find the Nutcracker, who meets Clara (Callie Topliff), his mother Mother, father the Soldier, little brother Fritz, his defeated shadow, and party guest Rapunzel. It is then that the ballerina will be crowned Mother of the Ball. Clara will give her medals to the various dancers representing each court as they come and go in the huge piazza. They, too, will receive medals, many of them in Turkish.

The story is told in several scenes around the square, the core of the story taken up by the dancers performing the elegant holiday number named for the lead prince, Magnus to Luther B. Larson’s music. On stage, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago remains amazingly consistent, with a huge corps that presents a consistent flow of aisles and back rows of gymnasts.

The Nutcracker Suite at Theatre Ballet de Monte Carlo performed Nov. 10 through Dec. 23. If you’re like me, you go to New York and Montreal more than anywhere else. In 2018, Thomas Kane’s Sir Peter Hall’s Maurice Sendak’s “Nutcracker Suite” at New York City Ballet keeps a secret ballroom in a never-never land along with a sea of ruffled costumes and a dress. Among the intricate combinations is a pas de deux that has a full orchestra projected against one another to create a huge orchestra pit. Timing matters, and the directing of Peter Martins does as much as his dancers to make his work mysterious.

The Nutcracker Suite at The Colony Theatre, Nashville, provided by MerryMusicalFringe.com reviewed Nov. 5. Thirty year since its last sighting, this Nutcracker arrives after a long, miserable winter away from the Grinch fest in Chicago. Audiences are again lucky enough to experience the unforgettable Handspring Puppet Company puppets, in beautiful and moving projections that create Santa’s sleigh, the stage and the vast windowspan, shot by the company’s magic paint-shaking camera. Watch the serene “Swans of Bethlehem” performance, with all of the wonderful puppets and endearing set pieces, sung by seasoned mavens in period costumes like Joshua Shaw as Her Royal Highness and Ryan McLaughlin as Master of Ceremonies for a wonderfully Dickensian show. This old friend, scheduled to move to a new home in Atlanta next fall, has a robust comeback in Nashville.

If you’ve got a side of eggnog to call your own, the New York City Ballet presents The Grand and Mighty Nutcracker on Dec. 22. The tour is most desirable because of the focus on children ages five to nine. It’s a family tradition, and the one you need to pursue if you can go all the way to London. The choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov seems better with time: it tells a history of a story. One important change though, so that an impressionable audience will remember its haunting message, is a less enthusiastic soundtrack that lists people who have died, some as they come to their deaths.

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