Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker” isn’t about thinking, it’s about feeling. The sprawling show often surprises and doesn’t always make much logical sense, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. The Joffrey Ballet’s production follows in that same vein with a mostly enchanting, sometimes confusing production of “The Nutcracker”, a holiday tale about the mystical midnight adventures of young heroine Clara.
The show opens at a joyous holiday party at Clara’s house during which a throng of children receives Christmas gifts. Artistic director Ashley C Wheater has cast young local dancers for the roles of the party’s guests-of-honor, their innocence and energy enhancing the already inherent charm of the scene. But unfortunately, the Auditorium Theater’s stage becomes so stuffed with dancers that it’s hard to notice the fabulous footwork of the gifted performers. This happens later too as the crowded, frenetic fight between the gingerbread soldiers and the rats blurs by. But once Clara and her godfather Dr. Drosselmeyer embark on their colorful journey to the land of the Nutcracker Prince and the crowd thins, Robert Joffrey’s streamlined choreography comes clearly into focus and really resonates. It allows time for each movement’s emotion to settle in and every step is its own morsel of visual delight.
What doesn’t appeal as much to the eyes is costume designer, John David Ridge’s, innovative yet risky approach to color. He uses numerous palettes (gem tones, neutrals, pastels, neons). Alone each of his costumes is gorgeous, but together they often distastefully clash with one another. Set designer, Oliver Smith also takes a visual risk with unsophisticated, cartoonish sets that seem straight out of a psychedelic children’s book and do not take into account the colors of Ridge’s costumes.
Luckily the impeccable cast and sharp sound of the Chicago Philharmonic steal the attention away from any eye-soring setbacks and coalesce as a beloved ballet that will remain beloved for years to come.