I have always loved the Hyde Park neighborhood for its vivacity and artistic sensibilities. So I was really pumped about getting to preview the Hyde Park School of Dance (HPSD) production of The Nutcracker. I was not prepared for how cool the show is going to be if rehearsals are any indicator. First of all, the artistic director for HPSD is none other than August Tye who is the ballet mistress for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There are several guest choreographers for the reimagined sections of this classic ballet.
Jonathan St. Clair and Amber Echols choreographed the battle of the Mice and the Toy Soldiers with a twist. He also plays the mysterious Drosselmeyer who brings magical toys and dreams. There is no sword fighting in this version. Instead, there is a hip-hop dance-off like back in the ’80s and it is fantastic. The Mouse General is played by a young woman -Mackenzie Gowans—who leads her mice into a battle royale of twists, bends, and freeze poses. The Toy Soldiers are led by the Nutcracker and danced by David Gonzalez. These are breakdance moves that require some fearlessness in addition to mad skills.
The party at Clara’s home is populated with adults from the Hyde Park community. Some are parents and some are community movers and shakers, In the past, there have been local politicos, and executives like Caprice Lindsay, the vice president and marketing director of Hyde Park Bank. Victorian costumes are beautifully made with sumptuous materials and rich colors by a volunteer costume designer Mary McCarthy. Her work should be on the professional stage if it already isn’t. The mice and doll costumes are designed by Jackie Sanders who is a staff member of HPSD. They are fun and well-made. The authenticity and whimsy in the costumes are matched by the talent and enthusiasm of the young dancers.
Founding artistic director August Tye says that this is a much-anticipated return for the youngest dancers who could not get vaccinations until this year. “We have not had our youngest dancers involved since 2019, so the energy and excitement are palpable. We are also thrilled to add our new African dance scene as a highlight of the many countries we celebrate in The Nutcracker. Our Chinese Dance will feature all-new traditional Chinese dance choreographed by guest artist Angela Tam, artistic director of Yin He Dance. We are happy to maintain our reputation of presenting the tradition of The Nutcracker while innovatively updating the program for a modern-day audience to enjoy and appreciate.”
I will be looking for these young people to be on the professional stage soon. The two Claras—Taylor Patterson and Isabel Easterly—are poised and elegant dancers who are at ease en pointe. Young Davis Dyson and Kalista Ramos are delightful as the mischievous siblings Fritz and Francine who plot to nab Clara’s nutcracker. This production is a wonderful Hyde Park tradition that could be a new tradition for the whole family. A bonus is that it is in the beautiful Hyde Park neighborhood, home to the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Promontory. Also, I hear that there will be a Presidential Library, which is almost as exciting as having a president from Chicago.
The Hyde Park School of Dance presents The Nutcracker at Mandel Hall, 1131 E. 57th Street. Performances will be Friday, December 9 at 7:00 pm, Saturday, December 10 at 1 pm and 6 pm, and Sunday, December 11 at 2 pm. Tickets are $33 for general admission, $25 for seniors (65+), and children 6-19; and student admission is $13 with ID. Children under 5 are free with an accompanying parent or guardian.
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