Smile Politely

25 years later, CU Ballet’s The Nutcracker is still capturing imaginations

If you regularly read my articles, you’ll most likely find a similar theme — that I haven’t experienced many of the C-U events that are considered “staples.” One such is Krannert Center and Champaign Urbana Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. Celebrating its 25th year, The Nutcracker is the timeless tale of a young girl who becomes entranced by a nutcracker, gifted to her brother on Christmas Eve. As she drifts asleep, she dreams of the nutcracker coming to life, fighting off a rat queen, and finally joining the nutcracker in celebration as numerous performers dance in victory.

Stepping into the Tryon Festival Theatre, the audience was presented with “The Nutcracker” projected onto the stage curtain, along with animated snowfall. It’s rather beautiful. The production utilizes projection quite nicely, mainly towards the beginning, introducing the mansion where the protagonist Clara’s family lives, zooming into a window as the curtain lifts and reveals an absolutely stunning set. I should note, also, that photos were not allowed, so all of the photos in this article are from CU Ballet’s website.

Photo from CU Ballet’s website.

You can really tell that this is one of Krannert’s most popular events, as the set design was absolutely magnificent. The interior of the house is beautiful, with lit chandeliers, a fireplace, a grand staircase — it felt warm and inviting. The lighting was also incredibly beautiful throughout the show. I loved the colors during the second half, especially when Clara was dreaming and riding the boat with The Nutcracker across the lemonade sea. The blends of purple, pink, yellow, and blue created such a dreamy environment. I also loved the scene in the woods, as the set was filled with giant trees, stretching up out of view, and when the snow fell and fog machines began, it was a stunning sight.

However, what makes this show is just how dang cute it is. The opening party scene had something to watch wherever you looked. Whether it be the men in the back conversing, the children playing with toys and dolls and playing pranks on each other, the maids providing comic relief, there was always something to look at. The cast was a delight, and clearly talented. I attended the Friday night performance and was blown away by the performances of Emily Shunk (Clara), Janie Lee (Sugar Plum Fairy), Kevin Burnside (Cavalier), as well as the two living dolls, William Shunk and Grace Williams-Kim. They were amazing during their solos. However, again, everyone in this cast was an absolute joy to watch, and everyone’s dancing was beautiful. The young children were clearly a standout as well, especially the scene towards the end with the Dairy Queen and the cows jumping over the moon — possibly the cutest and most heartwarming thing I’ve ever seen.

Photo from CU Ballet’s website.

Seeing as though I haven’t attended previous iterations of the Nutcracker, I am not sure if they usually have a live orchestra providing the score, but Krannert’s website did mention that this year’s performance would utilize pre-recorded music. This was a bit of a bummer, as although the performance was still more than enjoyable, the pre-recorded music doesn’t reach quite the same heights as a live orchestra. There were moments where I wished there was an orchestra to grow louder to emphasize what was happening on stage, as the music that was playing didn’t quite do that.

The “scarier” moments of the story legitimately spooked me. I had no idea that the Rat Queen would burst out of the present, and I actually jumped and let out a bit of an embarrassing “AHH.” Also, the rats’ red eyes are really quite eerie. The action sequences were very well done and filled with humorous moments as well. Echoing what I mentioned with the opening party scene, the whole performance really does a wonderful job of keeping every moment interesting and never having a dull moment on the stage. The set is a feat to behold, the dancing was emotive, and the whole performance had a lighthearted, warm, cozy feeling. The cast, filled with a diverse range of performers of all ages brought their A-game, and put on a performance that anyone would enjoy. It’s nice to finally see and understand what I was missing by not attending for all of these years. I look forward to seeing it again next year, and if you’re reading this and haven’t seen the show either, go ahead and mark off your calendars for next year – it will be well worth it.

The Nutcracker
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin Avenue
December 1-4
Top photo from CU Ballet’s website.

Music Editor