During the holiday season, it seems like there are more nuts than nutty politicians in Chicago. We can count four traditional ballet companies who do the beloved story set to Tchaikovsky's ear-worm-worthy score as well as one version done by dogs, one by horses, one on ice, and one that dispenses with the iconic music altogether and includes a scene with a massive food fight (Christmas cookies being the food in question), and one that allows the audience to dance along.
How to select which "Nutcracker" is for you? Easy. If it's a live orchestra performing that glorious score and dancers whose exquisite technique and emotional expression make choreographer Marius Petipas leap literally life, the Joffrey of Ballet of Chicago is the only game in town. It's not just that the dancing is superior to companies such as Salt Creek Ballet, Midwest Ballet Theatre or the Chicago Festival Ballet. The Joffrey's stage pictures are glorious, a kinetic fantasy land moving from one enchanting locale to the next. There is (apparently) no expense spared in re-creating the lavish Victorian party scene that comprises the first act, from the delicate lace on the ladies hemlines to the swooping ebony cape Drosselmeyer uses to both menacing and magical effect. Clara's Christmas journey to a winter wonderland of dancing toys, pirouetting sugarplums and gallant nutcracker that vanquishes a scuttling bustle of ill-intentioned mice is pure, Christmastime magic.