Mini Whipped and I were over-the-moon when we were offered a chance to review The Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet. We were invited to the opening night performance at 7 p.m. on a Friday. While putting her to bed a week before, I said to Mini Whipped, “I’m a little worried about you being really tired if we go to that Nutcracker performance. It’s after a full week of school and doesn’t even start until 7 p.m.” Her sweet 9-year-old face looked up dreamily at her ceiling as if already imagining the show and said, “Of course I’ll be tired Mom! But, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime!” Often wiser than her years, she was right.
We dressed up in our finery in anticipation of the big night at the Audiotorium theater. Last year the Joffrey ballet debuted their new interpretation of The Nutcracker created by the award-winning choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon. Our date began in the back of a cab heading downtown where we giggled like school girls and admired the city lights. We don’t go downtown in the dark often so Mini Whipped was wowed by the twinkling Ferris Wheel on Navy Pier, the holiday decorations, and the big buildings lit up against the dark sky. One of my greatest joys as a parent is seeing the world through fresh, eager eyes. Her wonder was contagious.
In our casual culture, I find dressing up for The Nutcracker to be a large part of the fun. Mini Whipped wore a velvet and taffeta dress with white gloves that she bought at an estate sales and paten leather shoes. Under the golden arches of the ornate Auditorium Theatre, she looked appropriately dressed for the occasion.
Both of us are lovers of tradition and tend towards nostalgia. We wondered if we would be satisfied with the evolution of The Nutcracker. The main character isn’t even named Clara anymore! And, there isn’t a Sugar Plum fairy! Set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, Wheeldon’s turn-of-the-century tale opens as young Marie and her mother, a sculptress creating the Fair’s iconic Statue of the Republic, host a festive Christmas Eve celebration. After a surprise visit from the mysterious Great Impresario, creator of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, Marie embarks on a whirlwind adventure with the Nutcracker Prince through a dreamlike World’s Fair.
There was no need to fear. This new Nutcracker was better beyond expectation. I described it to someone afterwards by saying imagine you just bought a color TV in the 1960s. You would be very impressed and would likely not even imagine what else you might want. Then, someone shows you a flat screen HD television and only then do you realize all that the color TV could be. The reimagined storyline, the intricate costumes, the visual splendor of the lighting and scenery, and most of all the updated choreography had us on the edge of our seats, gasping in awe, and even shedding a few emotional tears.
Per our tradition of mother-daughter reviews, I interviewed Mini Whipped to get her unique take on the experience:
Was the new Nutcracker a lot different from the old one or not?
Yes it is different but it did relate to the old one in in many ways too. It was still about a girl that went to meet a lot of new people from different places. I liked that some things were the same so you can still recognize it for what it is. It’s also still full of Christmas spirit.
What did you like most about this version?
I don’t have anything I liked most about this version. One highlight though was the puppet rats. They were really funny.
What did you think of the quality of the costumes?
I think the quality of the costumes was really amazing. The costumes were new and modern. Usually, when you think of the Nutcracker, its all about big tutus. The characters in this story were less fancy. But in a good way.
Did you think it was cool that it featured the city of Chicago?
Yes, that was cool because I could really recognize it. We could even see the Navy Pier Ferris wheel in the cab on the way to the ballet so it was extra cool to then recognize the first Chicago Ferris wheel in the ballet showing the world’s fair.
Overall, would you recommend The Nutcracker to other people?
We are planning to make the new Nutcracker part off our holiday tradition. Next year, we will expand our troupe to include my mom and my youngest daughter. Even if you haven’t been to this holiday-themed ballet in years, it’s time to revisit it. What is old, is new again.
Go see The Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet:
Tickets range from $35-165
All shows through December 30th are held in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre at 50 E. Congress Parkway. Buy tickets and find more information at Joffrey.org or call the box office at 312.386.8905