Joffrey Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’ wows audiences, wins documentary award

By Stephanie Racine | Staff Writer

 

Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker premiered Dec. 1 at the Auditorium Theater.

The production is an adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, but with a Chicago twist. The ballet takes place in Chicago during the building of the World’s Fair in 1892. The story follows the same plotline as the original Nutcracker, as the protagonist—who is named Marie—is led through a dreamland adventure.

The ballet maintains a dreamlike visage throughout. The production features eccentric dancers like The Great Impresario and the Rat Catcher, who both leave a lasting impression on the events of the play. The Great Impresario joins Marie’s family and the rest of the immigrant workers of the fair for a Christmas celebration, gifting Marie a Nutcracker. The juxtaposition between the simple family celebration in 1892 again an elaborate fantasy sequences amplifies the otherworldly grandeur.

The set design features a combination of real elements and projections, creating elaborate and believable scenery. The staging is especially breathtaking during a frozen scene with a company of dancers in ice blue costumes, as snow falls from above, both digitally and physically. Once The Great Impresario takes Marie and to rescue her kidnapped brother from The Rat King, they are transported to The Dream Fair. There, the Queen of the Fair and groups of dancers from around the world are introduced. The audience was particularly impressed by the complex pas de deux with Arabian Dancers. The Great Impresario’s elegant and precise dance with The Queen of the Fair also received great praise. Child dancers were also applauded as mini Nutcrackers and mini walnuts.

Award winning design

Cara Marie Gary with The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann

The design is so good, it is the subject of an award-winning documentary, Making a New American Nutcracker, produced by WTTW and The Joffrey Ballet.

The documentary was honored in November with a 2018 Chicago/Midwest Emmy Award in the category of Best Documentary, Cultural.

Making a New American Nutcracker—which premiered in 2017 on WTTW11 and the companion website—was also offered to PBS stations nationwide for the upcoming holiday season.

“It was an unforgettable and inspiring experience to work with the talented people at the Joffrey on this unique production, which preserved the magical quality of the original story while also shining a spotlight on the vital role that local immigrants played in the creation of the Fair,” said Andries.

The documentary will return to WTTW11 and WTTW Prime during the holiday season beginning Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. The documentary can also be viewed at any time through the PBS/WTTW video app or on wttw.com.

Many avenues to help the homeless this season

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Homeless people are a part of downtown.

When walking downtown, every street corner seems to include a cup outstretched, and every awning seems to cover a pile of ragged blankets sheltering a homeless person who may be in need of a helping hand this holiday season.

The Chicago Tribune reported over the summer that there may be over 4,000 homeless people in the city, with 1,500 of those living outdoors. During the winter months and at Christmastime especially, many may feel a need to do something—to offer a sandwich or a few bucks to a homeless person, to donate a few cans to a food pantry or to give their time or money to a charity. But what’s the best course of action?

“I’d like to adopt an all of the above approach,” said Michael Nameche, the director of development for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, located on Lake Street near the New Eastside.

Since 1980, Nameche’s organization has worked to prevent and end homelessness in the city, and Nameche said he’s learned two things—that there is no one solution and that everyone can do something.

“[Homelessness is] a big problem, and so most homeless service agencies will accept help at whatever level someone can give,” he said. “If I were to make suggestions, there are choices. There is no wrong way. That’s the important thing. Some folks choose to donate money and that is very effective because it’s the most liquid of help so it can be addressed toward whatever is needed at the moment…Others like to donate their time and that is also very valuable.”

That said, Nameche compared volunteering to working out: It is most effective if people do it more than once. “When a nonprofit makes an investment in a volunteer, they like them to stick around for a while,” he said. “If you know you can’t sustain it for a while, maybe that’s not the best avenue.”

If you don’t think you can sign on to a long-term commitment, never fear; there are other options. One route, especially for groups like residential buildings and neighborhood organizations, is hosting a drive for clothing, food or money. “Drives for things that are needed are good; however, I think it’s always best to have a conversation with a local nonprofit to come up with someone that you know will be received well.,” Nameche said.

Nameche said sometimes nonprofits get surprised with a truckload of donations they don’t need or cannot use, and it can be hard to turn away someone’s genuine desire to help. “It’s terrible if someone brings you a shipment of hats and scarves if you’ve just got a whole bunch of hats and scarves,” he said.

Nameche said another benefit of talking to a local nonprofit is would-be donors may be inspired to collect things that would have never occurred to anyone. Nameche said donations like CTA passes could mean the difference between a job and unemployment for some homeless people.

“People of very modest means might not have a dime to them, but they might have to get across town to get to a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. Imagine if you have a job interview but you can’t get to it because you can’t get on the CTA,” Nameche said.

He also said a winter or holiday drive is a great start, but organizations that do routine work with local homeless nonprofits could make a real difference in their neighborhoods. This goes for individuals, too. “Much like going to the gym, it’s a good idea to establish relationships with an organization you feel a connection to because it’s doing good in your community,” he said.

Nameche said volunteers and organizations should feel free to shop around to find a good fit.

“Finding a good volunteer gig is like getting on the dating scene; you have to find a good match,” he explained. “Much like dating, you have to be patient, and you have to put yourself out there, and if the first time you contact a nonprofit and they don’t seem to jump on what you have to offer, don’t get discouraged just because it’s not the right fit.”

Nameche said there is something out there for every volunteer. Some nonprofits need volunteers in the evening as tutors, others need help during the daytime and some just need volunteers on the weekends. Volunteering could be a great way to help for retired residents and anyone on a fixed income who doesn’t want to make a financial commitment—especially those who have time during the day.

“If somebody is available during the day, that’s the rarest kind of volunteer,” Nameche said.

He said there are also groups, like his, where volunteers don’t even need to work directly with the homeless population, if that is a concern. Organizations like Coalition for the Homeless need volunteers to do simple office jobs. Volunteers could make a real difference “stuffing envelopes or doing office work so we don’t have to pay people to do that,” he said.

No matter what one does, it all makes a difference, Nameche said.

“Sometimes when people ask, ‘What can I do to help the homeless?’ What they’re asking is, ‘Should I give to people in the street?’ That’s a very personal decision and we don’t have a position on if it’s right to give to people on the street,” he said. “It’s right for some people. Some people carry cash, some people don’t. … Some people like that face–to-face interaction.

“If you’re troubled by seeing people on the street as most people should be, then come up with your own response. Just know that the best thing is to get folks who are in dire need of help connected to professional services. That’s sometimes something you don’t have time for, but you do have time to slip them a couple of bucks. It’s not wrong. But don’t be a cynic and find your response to that issue. It might be buying them a sandwich once a week or it might be volunteering once a week. Everybody has their own pathway, and if everybody did something, then the needle would move.”

Nameche said anyone who wants to get started finding a local nonprofit to get involved with can visit www.volunteermatch.org and see what is available close by. Visit www.chicagohomeless.org to find out more about the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

Cloud Gate choirs set the soundtrack to the season

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

The Christmas season means cold weather, good family, friends, warm wishes and…music.

No matter the age, the political bent or, heck, even the religious beliefs of so many people, classic Christmas songs like “Silent Night” and “White Christmas” still strike a chord. In Chicago, these songs—as well as more modern fare—are best heard by the Bean, or Cloud Gate, in Millennium Park as part of the city’s annual Caroling at Cloud Gate program.

“I would just say Chicago is a fabulous city with so many fantastic artistic opportunities,” said Kayleigh Dudevoir. “Just go. It’s really fun to introduce yourself to music that’s less accessible and to learn more about what the city has to offer.”

Dudevoir should know—she is the executive director of the Chicago Chamber Choir, the group slated to perform at Cloud Gate Dec. 7. She offered a peek behind the scenes of the choir circuit, and she said her choir has been busy preparing for months. “Usually our official season begins in October, but we get Christmas requests as soon as mid-November,” she said.

This month at Cloud Gate, Dudevoir said guests can expect to hear a mix of Christmas music.

“Some traditional Christmas carols like ‘Silent Night,’ ‘Deck the Halls’ and so on, as well as Christmas-themed but not traditional carols” will be sung in the park, she said.

Dudevoir said the choir has been performing at Cloud Gate for several years—it’s her sixth season with the group—and she said it’s always enjoyable for the choir and for the attendees. “We’ve done a number of performances there and there are always lots of children,” she said.

Guests will bring hot chocolate to sip while they listen and, Dudevoir said, if it’s not too terribly cold, the choir tries to wear festive sweaters, so it’s not so formal.

The city invites folks to hear some of the best choirs in the city perform Christmas carols for free at Cloud Gate.

The Chicago Chamber Choir will kick off the December Cloud Gate events on Dec. 7. All performances begin at 6 p.m. and wrap up by 7 p.m. Admission is free. The other performances will be Dec. 12 and Dec. 14 at the same times. To check out the Chicago Chamber Choir, its website, www.chicagochamberchoir.org/season, includes all upcoming dates.

Cold weather, hot chocolate: Getting the most from your mug

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

When the weather gets cold and the Christmas tunes start playing, nothing gets the body warm like a mug full of hot chocolate. For the best tastes, check out:

Hot Chocolate Bakery, 125 S. Clark St. (inside Revival Hall)

Start with the Medium for a basic milk chocolate flavor with a touch of caramel, then move on to the Dark, made of 72 percent dark chocolate. Mexican hot chocolate is also available at  $6 per cup. Drinks include a house-made marshmallow that takes up almost the whole mug and adds a milky sweetness as it melts. Adults can try the drink with cognac, whiskey, rum or brandy.

Ghiradelli 400 or 830 N. Michigan Ave.

At Ghirardelli, try the Lombard Street Hot Cocoa for $4.25—a cup of hot steamed milk served with four of the chocolate shop’s sweet milk chocolate and truffle squares to mix into your drink, or try the Sea Salt Caramel Hot Cocoa topped with whipped cream,swerved with milk chocolate caramel squares.

Dylan’s Candy Bar, 663 N. Michigan Ave.

Chocolate—hot or frozen—runs for $6, topped with whipped cream, hot fudge and mini marshmallows.

Bombo Bar, 832 W. Randolph St.

The West Loop’s hot spot’s “hotter chocolates” are overflowing with toppings and flavor. Snap some photos of these Instagram-worthy treats before you start sipping. The Hotter Chocolates, $9 each, come in two flavors—S’mores and Party Monster. The drinks may be spiked with Baileys, Stoli Vanilla Vodka, RumChata, Jameson or Grand Mariner for $8.

L.A. Burdick, 609 N. State St.

This 30-year-old New England chocolate shop and cafe has but one Midwestern location—and this is it. The Chicago shop opened in 2017, and though  they are known for their European chocolates, L.A. Burdick also offers a variety of hot cocoas—dark, milk, white or spicy—that start around $5.

MCA exhibit offers up Midwestern sensibility in Western setting

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

In November, the Museum of Contemporary Art opened a new exhibition, “West by Midwest,” showing works by a collection of artists from the Midwest who migrated West in order to develop their artistic vision.

The art in the collection spans much of the middle part of the 20th century and the early parts of this century, and the media varies from sculpture and photography to painting and knitting. In total, the exhibition includes 80 pieces from artists like Billy Al Bengston, Andrea Bowers, Judy Chicago, Anna Halprin, David Hammons, Mike Kelley, Senga Nengudi, Laura Owens, Sterling Ruby and Ed Ruscha.

This exhibit represents a diverse crowd creating over a long period of time, and Charlotte Ickes, a post-doctoral student and MAC Curatorial Fellow for the exhibit, explained that viewers should avoid being reductivist in looking for common themes when visiting the collection.

“[The exhibition] can mean many different things because it’s many different artists,” she said. Not only did the artists work in different media across different times, but some were expressly political, and even that political emphasis shifted throughout the decades.

Ickes said the only real connective through-line in the exhibition is the constant attempts by each artists to do innovative work in whatever medium they’re working in.

“Those are the shared concerns you’ll see throughout the show,” she said.

Rather than emphasizing any sense of shared aesthetics or point of view of the Midwestern artists, the collective exhibition illustrates how regional artists impacted the national art scene—or at least the California scene in response to their individual concerns and aesthetics.

For a deeper dive, don’t miss a talk on Dec. 9 led by artist Barbara Kasten. Kasten will lead a walkthrough of the exhibition with Ickes and will talk about her work, as well as the work of her favorite fellow artists. This begins at 2 p.m. and it is free with museum admission.

The exhibition is on display now through Jan. 27, 2019 at the MCA. The MCA is located at 22 E. Chicago Avenue and is open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.,Wednesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Christmas and New Year’s Day.

 

John King, the December Doorperson of the Month for the New Eastside

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

 

John King is a doorman at The Tides at Lakeshore East at 350 E. South Water St. – a job he worked his way up to earn. After working for a year as an overnight janitor at 400 E. South Water St., King applied to be a doorman at The Tides and was accepted, he said. That was nine years ago.

Since then, he has dedicated his career to the Tides –dealing with movers and deliveries each day, as well as greeting every resident who comes in the door.

“It makes a difference that they have a nice greeting in the morning and a pleasant smile, and I try to do that every morning,” he said.

King, 52, said the main reason he likes is job is the people he meets, especially the children in the building. He enjoys “just seeing them and how their lives are evolving, people that have children and watching them grow up, and just meeting so many people from so many different parts of the world is exciting as well.” he said.

King said The Tides has many “very nice” long-time residents and that he likes knowing that the families there feel like they can depend on him to take care of them. He’s successful, he said, because he’s a people person.

“You have to love people, and you have to love helping people, and I think that is what makes me good at my job,” he said.

His advice for aspiring hospitality workers is simple: have patience and kindness. He said sometimes people can be temperamental and it’s important to know how to deal with that as well as understand “sometimes people react differently when they’re in a situation that is unfamiliar to them,” he said.

“You have to be able to adapt, and that takes patience, and it’s always being kind. No matter what’s going on, you have to be kind because that can temper a lot of situations, and it can really calm a situation down and get the results that you need at that moment,” King said.

King said that when he’s not at work, he serves as a Christian minister teaching people the Bible.

 

To nominate your favorite doorperson, email info@neweastsidecommunity.com with the door person’s name and why you think they should be the doorperson of the month. Each winner will receive a $25 gift card to Mariano’s.

What’s new at the Christkindlmarket

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

Since 1996, the Christkindlmarket in Chicago has been delighting visitors with holiday food and wares with European flair. Modeled after the famous Christmas market in Nuremberg, Germany, Chicago’s version hosts vendors from Illinois, Germany and even as far away as Bethlehem and Nepal. This year’s market offers a mixture of the familiar with some new additions.
Here’s what’s new this year, according to Kate Bleeker, director of expansion and market development for Christkindlmarket Chicago.

The Mugs
Christkindlmarket’s signature mugs have become a collector’s item over the years, and this year the market will offer three-packs of mugs representing each of the market’s locations—Chicago, Naperville and Milwaukee. Individual mugs are also for sale; fill one with Glühwein to warm yourself up. For kids, there’s a special “Oma” (Grandma) snowman mug.

The Vendors
More than 50 vendors from all over the world will be at the market selling handcrafted pieces, Christmas decorations, food and beverages. New this year is a pop-up booth that will rotate vendors every few days to give guests a unique experience every time they visit.

Who’s hungry?
Cheese lovers rejoice! Food vendor Brunkow Cheese will be offering an indulgent new food item—Raclette sandwiches. Raclette cheese is melted, then spread onto fresh bread and finished with the toppings of your choice. Look for it at the Baked Cheese Haus booth.

This year, Christkindlmarket Chicago is partnering with Hannah’s Bretzel. The sandwich chain will have its own “Official Sandwich of the Christkindlmarket,” and the market’s souvenir mugs will be available for purchase at all Hannah’s Bretzel Chicago locations.

For a full list of vendors and events, see Christkindlmarket.com.

Navy Pier offers fireworks, music for New Year’s bash

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Navy Pier will put on a free fireworks show set to music.

Payal Patel, with Navy Pier’s media relations, offered a sneak peek of this year’s music selection. According to Patel, the soundtrack is put together by Navy Pier’s music program coordinator and other members of Navy Pier’s art, culture and engagement team.

Here are the 14 songs Navy Pier will use to bring the new year:

Auld Lang Syne – Mariah Carey

I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston

Good Feeling – Flo-Rida

Move Your Feet – Junior Senior

Give Me Your Love – Sigala

Give Me Everything – Ne-Yo & Pitbull

That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Lights Down Low – MAX

Freedom – George Michael

Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder

Shake A Tail Feather – Ray Charles

In The Midnight Hour – Wilson Pickett

Chicago – Tony Bennett

Sweet Home Chicago – Blues Brothers

The fireworks show will take place Jan. 1, 12-12:15 a.m., free, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave, 312-595-7437, navypier.org.

Unique gifts and experiences for the pickiest people on your list

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

It’s December and the deadline looms for Christmas shopping. That one person remains without a gift. That person who has everything. What to do?

Get crafty with it…

On Dec. 6, stop by the Sauced Night Market from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. at 12 S. Michigan Ave. for a variety of arts and crafts. Pick up a hand carved cooking utensil, tray, cutting board or serving platter from Wild Cherry. All of their products are created “from urban domestic lumber,” said Tim McGuire, owner and artisan. Check out their Facebook page here.

At Prism Homegrown, owner Katie Widmar designs “modern bohemian jewelry using raw gemstones and gemstone beads” to create one-of-a-kind pieces, while the folks at The Bitter Ex Bitters Company create one-of-a-kind drinks. Ryan Rezvani, owner and co-founder, produces original bitters, which can be used to liven up desserts, coffees and cocktails. Check out their website here.

Finally, stop by Slapass creations for art to brighten up any space or closet. Matt Sczech, creates vibrant art sold on pins, prints and clothing.

Although the Made in Chicago Market has passed, it’s never too late to visit the businesses featured in the market.

Louisa Mahoney at Bettyplum Homemade Confections aims to carry on her family’s legacy of homemade holiday candies with toffee, caramels, toffee cookies and bourbon toffee truffles. Check out their website here.

Or check out Lauren Bautista’s Pi Design Prints which feature handmade drink coasters decorated with typography and patterns are a great addition to any table.

If you want to support young people, swing by Shop, Jingle and Mingle, a crafts fair featuring pieces made by teen artists in after-school and summer programs. The items include soaps and candles, canvas paintings, glass mosaics, jewelry and other fashion accessories. The fair is two evenings, Dec. 5 and Dec. 10 and runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the After School Matters Gift Shop at 66 E. Randolph St.

Or set a course for crafting…

The Chopping Block at Merchandise Mart offers a variety of cooking, baking and wine-pairing classes sure to improve anyone’s skills in the kitchen.

Choose from classes like “War and Wine,” which gives a lesson on the history of WWII and battles over European wine cellars. Learn how to master a pasta roller and serve up the perfect plate of pasta with “Pasta Boot Camp,” or discover the art of bread with “Artisanal Breads.”

The Chopping Block website is here.

 

Young Professionals Streeterville mixes services with mingling

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

This November saw the start of something in Streeterville when the first meeting of Young Professionals Streeterville kicked off.

The group is in part the brainchild of Mario Hollemans, an attorney, who was installed as president of the group, though he is far from the only young professional eager to kick off a networking group in Streeterville for the under-40 set.

Vice President Casey Doherty said he’s lived in the area since graduating from college in 2017. These days he is in law school and hopes the organization will give young people an opportunity to socialize and volunteer in the neighborhood.

“There is a strong young demographic in the neighborhood that wants to give back. We wanted to showcase the talents of young people and we wanted to create a vibrant community of young professionals in the neighborhood.”

Doherty said that while the group is a younger demographic, it is professionally diverse. Another member, Dr. Valerie Mayuga, is a physician who is also in charge of the group’s philanthropic efforts, and Doherty said it’s just nice to know people who share common interests and hobbies.

“It’s nice to have strong community connections,” he said.

Hollemans said he did little to plan the group; the whole organization sprung more or less fully formed by the membership who wanted to formalize something. That said, the group will hold monthly mixers to attract more members and to network—but also to do more for the neighborhood.

“There are a lot of young professionals in the neighborhood looking to give back,” said Doherty. “I think young people have always wanted to get involved and give back to their communities, and recent times have shown how important that really is.”

Anyone looking to get involved with the group can email Hollemans at ypstreeterville@gmail.com or check out their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/YPStreeterville.

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