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Review Tue Dec 15 2009

Review: The Nutcracker @ Francis W. Parker School

nutcracker copy.jpgThe Legendary Prima Ballerina Assoluta Maria Tallchief herself was in attendance at Sunday's performance of the Nutcracker, choreographed by Kenneth von Heidecke. She sat in the front row to witness the ballet that made her a star when she originated the role of the sugarplum fairy in George Balanchine's production with the New York City Ballet in 1954. Her name was whispered by the audience, moving from the front of the house to the back in waves, and when it reached my ears I couldn't resist repeating it myself. After the performance von Heidecke introduced the living legend to the audience, and to the dancers, who stood at rapt attention in her presence.

Despite the absence of a live orchestra due to space constraints, the performance was lively and imaginative, and the three year-old and six-year old who accompanied me were absolutely mesmerized.

There is something astonishing about watching young people perform demanding roles; Sarah Peterson's portrayal of Clara was utterly captivating, and commitment emanated from every young person cast as a mouse or toy soldier. Through their beautifully choreographed steps I could feel the hours of practice and dedication from both the dancers themselves and from their parents.

I have a habit of picking out minor roles for myself whenever I watch a film or a large scale theater production, and I have decided that if I ever perform in The Nutcracker it will be as a mouse. Oh sure, I'm probably too old, and very possibly too big, but that didn't stop me from identifying with the little mice as they cried into their paws with grief when their king, played with gusto by Jacob Brooks, perished dramatically at the hands of the Nutcracker Prince, portrayed by the energetic and adept William Miglino.

My three year-old companion had other ideas; "I didn't like the man mouse," she said when I asked for her opinion on the matter during intermission.
"Why, was he scary?" I asked.
"He had long fingers," she explained.
"Did you like the other mice?" I asked, determined to impress upon her young mind the value of their presence in the piece.
"Only the girl mice," she replied. Fair enough, but if you're not averse to the use of finger-lengthening prostheses for stage purposes, keep an eye out for Brooks, who also appears in the second act as one of the Chinese dancers.

Michael Anderson's dramatic entrance as Herr Drosselmeyer proved troublesome for my young companions; he walked onto the stage wearing a long black cloak that he held deftly in the air for several seconds, creating the illusion that nobody was underneath it. While I found this beguiling, my six year-old companion repeated "what is that?" several times until Anderson revealed himself to be the kindly gift-bearing godfather who presents the nutcracker to Clara. They were easily won over, however, and soon came to see Drosselmeyer as a benevolent soul despite the fact of his wearing what my three year-old companion referred to as a "pirate patch" over one eye.

The only moments in the entire performance that didn't hold my young friends' attention were during the overtures before each act; the house lights had been dimmed and the two or three minutes of waiting for the curtain to lift proved challenging for them, prompting cries of "I can't see anything," and "when are they going to lift the curtain?" I have no doubt that this part of the production will be a completely different experience at the McAninch Arts Center later this week, where the New Philhamonic Orchestra will be performing Tchaikovsky's score live, under the direction of Conductor and Music Director Kirk Muspratt.

On the way home I pressed my young friends for more details on their opinions. "What was your favorite part?" I asked from the front seat of the car.
"All of it," was the reply, first from the six year-old and then from the three year-old. I began musing about the role of the mice to their dad, who had also attended the performance, and when I remarked on how much I was affected by the swordplay between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince, the six year-old piped in with: "the toy soldiers had swords but the mice didn't, that's not fair!" Indeed, it's not, but I suppose it would be going too far to mount a revisionist version of the ballet in which the mice and the toy soldiers participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange with a $10 maximum spending limit rather than engaging in deadly battle.

The Nutcracker will be performed this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage, for information and tickets call (630) 942-4000 or visit the McAninch Arts Center.

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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »


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