'Tis the season for joy, gift giving, sweet treats and for assorted productions of "The Nutcracker" to grace stages large and small.
Dance companies across Chicagoland are gearing up to present the seasonal favorite where in a spectacular winter wonderland of holiday magic, a nutcracker and toys come to life, and sugar plum fairies dance.
This year, The Joffrey Ballet celebrates its 25th anniversary presentation of "The Nutcracker. Ashley C. Wheater, artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet, is pleased to be sharing the jubilant silver anniversary of the beloved production.
"It's amazing on many levels (that it's celebrating its 25th anniversary)," Wheater said. "It's a testament to Robert Joffrey and what he saw ahead for the Joffrey."
Wheater said he was actually in the first performance of The Joffrey's "Nutcracker" in 1987 where he played the part of the Snow King.
Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker" will be performed Dec. 7 through 27 at The Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.
The company's rendition of the holiday classic sets it in turn-of-the-century America, Wheater explained, adding that Robert Joffrey, who was "a man of detail" wanted to make it that much more special for American dance fans.
Wheater believes "The Nutcracker" is "ultimately about family, friendship and being together and it's the ability to dream.
"To be able to dream and be able to be transported is something we need," Wheater said.
Every year, the Joffrey Ballet gives local children the opportunity to audition for the production to play soldiers, toys, party girls and boys and other characters. This season, the cast also includes children from the region and Chicago's South Suburbs.
The Ruth Page Civic Ballet will also be transporting audiences to a land of dreams when it performs "The Nutcracker" Saturday and Sunday at Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium in Chicago and Dec. 8 and 9 at Elgin Community College Arts Center.
Local dancer Julianne Kinasiewicz, of Portage, will be dancing the coveted role of young Clara in the Ruth Page version of the ballet.
"It's my first time being Clara," said Julianne, 12, who will also be on stage with her mother Therese, who plays a parent in the lavish party scene.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I'm so happy to be part of it," Julianne said. "Dancing is what I love to do." The young performer said many of her family members and friends will attend the show and she's excited for them to see it. "I know they'll love it," she said.
Julianne's mom Therese, who also studied ballet at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, said she's proud of her daughter.
"She started training at 5 years old and had the opportunity to be in "The Nutcracker" at 6 years old," Therese said. Julianne's first role was a soldier and now dancing as Clara, she'll have more challenging choreography, particularly in partnering sequences.
"It's so exciting that she gets to dance with a partner this year," said Therese, who explained that partnering draws out much different skills.
Another beautiful "Nutcracker" production on the scene is Salt Creek Ballet's version. The show will be presented Dec. 8 at The Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University.
Salt Creek Ballet has mounted its grand production at Governors State University every holiday season since 1998. This year, audience members will see Russian dancers Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov starring in the show.
Dance fans attending the GSU "Nutcracker" will have the opportunity to take part in a free holiday party held from 3 to 5 p.m. The party will feature Santa and other costumed performers. Treats and beverages will be available for purchase.
The following is a list of the various upcoming "Nutcracker" performances:
• Dance-Along Nutcracker, Dec. 9 at Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington. There will be dance workshops at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and performances at noon and 3 p.m. The free event is presented by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. FYI: explorechicago.org
• Robert Joffrey's "The Nutcracker," Dec. 7 to 27 at The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. Tickets are $31 through $132. FYI: (800) 982-2787 or ticketmaster.com
• The Ruth Page Civic Ballet's "The Nutcracker," 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago. (Tickets are $25/$18 for students and seniors); show is also 3 p.m. Dec. 8 and 9 at Elgin Community College Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Drive, Elgin, Ill. Tickets are $32 for adults and $20 for children 12 and younger. Pre-show Clara's Christmas Tea Parties will take place as well at Elgin Community College. Cost for the tea parties are $18 for adults and $15 for children 12 and younger. FYI: (847) 622-0300.
• Salt Creek Ballet's "The Nutcracker," 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 8 at The Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University, 1 University Parkway, University Park, Ill. Tickets are $15 to $50. FYI: (708) 235-2222 or centertickets.net