Joffrey Ballet brings panache to 'Nutcracker'

Joffrey Ballet
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

By Calvin Wilson

With a dash of Disney, a touch of nostalgia and an abundance of artistry, "Nutcracker at the Fox" is a dazzlingly magical rendering of the holiday classic.

In its much-lauded interpretation, the Joffrey Ballet brings poetry and panache to the tale of Clara, a little girl who's whisked away from a Victorian Christmas and into a wonderland of fairies, toy soldiers and enchanted flowers. More than 1,500 people attended the Dance St. Louis presentation on Thursday evening at the Fox Theatre.

Propelled by the Tchaikovsky score, which must be among the most beautiful ever composed, this "Nutcracker" gets to the ballet's essence, presenting an idyllic vision of family life that seamlessly segues into an appealingly ethereal fantasy.

Abigail Simon was persuasively awestruck as Clara, bringing to the role the required babe-in-the-woods innocence. As the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince, Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels were grace personified. Their pas de deux just before the ballet's finale was more than enough to create some few dance fans. (Each performance throughout the engagement features different dancers in the roles.) Oliver Smith's scenery makes an incalculable contribution to the production. Clara's home is a bastion of warmth, and the Land of the Snow might have drifted in from a Disney film.

"Nutcracker at the Fox" has the kind of artistry that's only to be expected from a company as esteemed as the Joffrey, but also a bigness of conception and approach that calls to mind the glorious excess of Hollywood at its best.

Like "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life," this ballet is among the essentials of the holiday season; even a mediocre production is worth seeing just to bask in its comforting glow. But the Joffrey Ballet offers far more than that. Rather than leaning too much on tradition or the audience's goodwill, "Nutcracker at the Fox" captures the timeless joy of dance.