Smile Politely

Twirl into the holidays with The Nutcracker

(Above: Maggie Tewksbury with Kevin Burnside as Clara and the Nutcracker.)

The Champaign-Urbana Ballet presents their reboot of the classic holiday ballet this weekend at the Krannert Center. Though the costuming, sets, and choreography may be all new, the sense of charming winter magic remains.

The Nutcracker is almost certainly the most well known ballet in the U.S. Though it has its hallucinatory and even frightening moments, in the end it is explicitly for children, and we take our children to it en masse. It deals with many of the fascinations of childhood: grownup parties, presents, toys come to life, candy. And it’s a show where kids get to see themselves on stage.

Maggie Tewksbury as Clara with her friends.

The kids are out in force in this performance, of course, and they make for delightful and spirited performers. The cheerful chaos of the Act I Christmas party is expertly rendered, the battle with the mouse army is deliciously perilous, and the many ensemble dances of the second act are sweet or arresting by turns. In addition, the pas de deux and supported work by the company’s more advanced dancers (mostly present in Act II) are genuinely lovely. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Cavalier (played for Thursday night’s performance by Taylor Feddersen and Kajetan Haas) were particularly skilled, though all of the partnered work was excellent.

Taylor Feddersen with Kajetan Haas as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier.  Act II.

It would take too long to name all of my favorite ensemble pieces, but the Act I party and battle with the rats, and Act II flowers and Arabian dancers all certainly make the list. Audience members on the lookout for particularly tiny and adorable dancers will want to keep an eye on the naughty boys during the party and the rat army battle in Act I. In Act II, not much can beat Mother Ginger’s wee Polichinelles.

As we have reported previously on Smile Politely, the costuming and sets are all new for this year’s performance. Though Act II always features the most vivid and dreamily confectionary costumes, I found myself particularly drawn to the beautiful party dresses and frankly eerie rats from Act I. Other highlights include the delicate snowflake dancers and of course Clara’s flowing, girlish nightgown. The sets added an extra magical touch, particularly the detailed front hall during the party scene. A little later on, keep your eyes peeled for the owl. (Trust me, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.)

Those familiar with the ballet will know that some of the small ensemble pieces from Act II typically employ stereotypical cultural symbols. These dances are on the program, but the use of symbol, while still present, is reasonably respectful. Some attendees may wish to note, however, that the Arabian dance features a beautifully performed but somewhat sensual harem dance.

Dana Backes with Ben Chapman as the Arabian Princess and Arabian Prince.  Act II.

The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for good reason. True, the story itself could be considered strange. (Falling in love with a nutcracker? Human-sized rats? Personified candy?) But when performed, the ballet tells a story of dreamy beauty and cheerful spectacle, the perfect confection to kick off the holiday season. This performance is no exception.

The Nutcracker will run through Sunday at Krannert’s Tryon Festival Theater. Showtime is at 7:30 pm, with additional 2 pm matinees on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $42 general admission, $28 for non-U-of-I students, and $20 for U of I students and youth (high school and younger). Flex and series pricing are also available.

Images courtesy Darrell Hoemann, with extraordinary thanks. 

Related Articles