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.

All alone on Turkey Day with so much to do

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

 

At one time, Thanksgiving was a day for families to come together over food and enjoy each other’s company. These days, that’s not necessarily true for everyone. The holiday can be fun for the solo celebrant because Thanksgiving Day is as much a public holiday as it is a private holiday.

If you are alone, Thanksgiving could be a great opportunity to spend time catching up on reading, binging TV shows, going for a nature walk or doing whatever else you might want to do by yourself. But, for those who want company, you don’t have to spend the holiday alone.  These days, plenty of restaurants, bars, movie theaters and retail stores take advantage of the holiday and open their doors, so you will really only be as alone as you want to be.

First, if you have friends you know will be free, pick up the phone and call them. Don’t be afraid to set up a day for you and all your friends who couldn’t—or didn’t want to— leave the city to see their families.

Or don’t. Feel free to pamper yourself with a solo self care day; it is, after all, a holiday.

If you’re the athletic sort, join the flock and do the Turkey Trot, Chicago’s annual five or eight kilometer race. To avoid late fees, register as soon as possible www.turkeytrotchicago.com.

If standing still is more your style, don’t miss the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade. The parade winds its way along State Street from Congress to Randolph. If you plan to see it live, get there before 7 a.m. to find a good spot and expect to stay through 11 a.m. if you want to catch the whole thing.

Once the parade ends, you will have several options for turkey day fun.

If you’re a sports fan (well, a football fan to be precise) then you have one goal—catch the game. There’s no need to sit at home and watch television,  as plenty of bars will be available for the Bears versus Lions game at 11:30 p.m. ET. In the afternoon, stick around for the Cowboys versus Redskins, and if you want to make a whole day of it, don’t miss the Falcons versus Saints, kickoff scheduled for 7:20 p.m.

Not a sports fan? Entertain yourself by dining out. Plenty of restaurants will be open the day of Thanksgiving, so if you don’t feel like cooking for yourself, don’t sweat it. For a full listing of what is available, check out the website www.opentable.com.

By the time the afternoon rolls around, you might be feeling ready to relax. Good news! Hollywood typically releases some of its most anticipated offerings in late November, and this year is no exception.

Opening the week of Thanksgiving, get ready for Creed II, Ralph Breaks the Internet or Robin Hood, an action movie based on the famous legend of English folklore. Want something a little subtler than a big blockbuster? How about The Front Runner, Jason Reitman’s chronicle of Gary Hart’s doomed presidential campaign, or Peter Farrelly’s The Green Book, the highly anticipated period drama set in the Jim Crow-era South. Finally, if Thanksgiving kicks off your Christmas spirit, check out The Christmas Chronicles, the first Christmas film of the season, opening Thanksgiving Day.

And of course,there is always retail therapy. Whether you’re shopping for yourself or for someone else, there are plenty of opportunities Thanksgiving Day. Want something traditional? Check out the Christkindlmarket in Daley Plaza, open Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Grab a glass of Gühwein and browse handmade wonders from around the world. Want something a little more name-brand? Wander down the Mag Mile and enjoy early Black Friday sales on your favorite merchandise.

If service is more your speed, there are homeless shelters and food pantries all over the city that need volunteers. Go online, find a nearby venue and spend your turkey day doing good.

EXPO CHICAGO brings top international art to Navy Pier

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

September 4, 2018

Artists, critics, collectors and connoisseurs will converge on Chicago this month for the seventh annual EXPO CHICAGO at the Navy Pier.

The international Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art will run Sept. 27–30 and will showcase the work of artists from 63 cities in 27 countries.

The international work was chosen by world-renowned gallerists including Chicago’s own Kavi Gupta, Rhona Hoffman, John Corbett and Jim Dempsey. Eleven Chicago galleries will be included, along- side art from cities like Seoul, Cape Town, Paris, Athens and Singapore.

“With over 3,000 international artists represented, there will be a wide variety of artwork for sale at EXPO CHICAGO this year,” said Tony Karman, President and Director of the EXPO.

The annual EXPO CHICAGO will unveil hundreds of top art pieces for audiences at Navy Pier. Photo courtesy of EXPO CHICAGO

“Most importantly, the artwork is always provocative. Whether it is evocative of sheer beauty or challenging in its content, the artwork presented at this year’s fair will do what contemporary artwork has always done—capture the moment and reflect what is happening in the world today,” Karman said.“That is what I always look forward to.”

This year, the EXPO will feature four sections of exhibits.

The “Exposure” section will give new artists a chance to shine with exhibits that will feature presentations from galleries that have been around for eight or fewer
years.

The “Profile” exhibits will focus on more established galleries and will present solo booths, focusing on major projects artists. The “Editions and Books” exhibit will showcase limited editions and publications by established and emerging artists. The “Special Exhibitions” will focus on non-profits based locally, nationally and internationally, including 11 Chicago-based organizations, like the Hyde Park Art Center and the University of Chicago Department of Visual Arts.

Karman said the Profile section of solo artists projects will be a definite highlight this year, along with the curated programmatic sections In/SITU and EXPO Video.

The EXPO will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sept. 27–30 and and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 30.

Chicago Gourmet gets set to sizzle

By Jesse Wright | Staff Writer

Published September 4, 2018

With September comes Chicago Gourmet, a multi-day celebration of food, the city and, new this year, music.

This year’s event, set for Sept. 26–30 and themed Rock the Fork, is pairing music with the food, said Sam Toia, president and CEO of the Illinois Restaurant Association, and founding producer of the event.

“What goes better with food than music?” Toia asked.

Chicago Gourmet will offer the usual days of cooking demonstrations and tastings, all of which will be set to the sounds of DJs, blues, jazz, rock and other musicians.

“From blues to rock to you name it, we’re going to have it,” Toia said.

But, of course, front and center will be the food.

Toia said he expects Chicago Gourmet to again be the premier food and wine show
in the country.

Toia said Chicago Gourmet has gotten bigger each year since its start 11 years ago.

“When we originally started it was kind of a smaller event, and each year it keeps getting bigger and bigger, with more ancillary events,” he said.

Typically, Chicago Gourmet draws more than 16,000 people.

Toia said, “We’re just very happy.”

The event this year will feature 250 restaurants and chefs, along with premier wines. Area restaurants to be represented include III Forks, The Columbus Tap and Mariano’s.

Much of the action will be outside, in and around Millennium Park, and Toia said the setting is what makes the event popular.

“That’s one of the reasons we chose the last weekend in September, because historically it’s a very, very nice weekend,” he said.

For information about food, the events and tickets, go to chicagogourmet.org.

Heartbreak Hotel offers a look at early Elvis

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Published August 30, 2018

As the name might imply, the musical Heartbreak Hotel, isn’t always happy.

Yes, a young man realizes his ambitions. Yes, he gets a Cadillac. And yes, Elvis Aaron Presley, a truck driver from Mississippi, becomes ELVIS.

But he loses his girl.

He loses his mentor.

He loses his band.

He loses his friend.

In exchange, he gains a manipulative weasel, Colonel Tom Parker who makes the man a god.

The musical is not a sob story. Presley was the first pop star, after all and Heartbreak Hotel never lets its audiences forget it: This is the story of ELVIS. And it’s a fun story.

Edding Clendening as Elvis in the musical Heartbreak Hotel. Photo courtesy Broadway in Chicago.

The star of the show is Eddie Clendening, a musician who first took up the role of Presley in the hit Broadway musical The Million Dollar Quartet. That musical tells the story of one December day in 1956 when Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Presley got together for a jam session at Sun Records. By then, Presley had signed to RCA for a year and he was already ELVIS.

Heartbreak Hotel is a prequel, and it tells the story of Presley’s early days.

Clendening said the run so far has been great, and he’s had a good time with the character over the course of two musicals.

“I grew up loving music from the ‘40s and ‘50s and ‘60s,” he said. “Elvis is always what I loved.”

Besides the music, Clendening said it’s no surprise the story still resonates.

“His is the quintessential rags-to-riches a self made man American tale,” Clendening said.

Clendening added that the celebrity cult that developed around the marketing of ELVIS is still relevant. He was the first rock star, and that’s still interesting to audiences.

“That’s the fun thing about Elvis, at least, what I like, is that he’s still a human being and he’s turned into this character,” Clendening said. “But at the time there was no sort of road map on how to navigate that sort of stuff. He wasn’t the first person to be treated like a product. The Hollywood studio system had been doing that for a while; but he was the first one to get to that level … The climate was totally new and these record labels were trying to squeeze every penny out of every product.”

The musical will continue through Sept. 9

Individual tickets for Heartbreak Hotel at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut) are on-sale now. Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at 312-977-1710 or emailing GroupSales@BroadwayInChicago.com. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

City backgrounds make social media users Insta-winners

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

From the iconic “Greetings from Chicago” graffiti to three blocks of murals in the West Loop, we scoped out the most Insta-worthy street art that is sure to earn the most likes on your next post.

Tucked behind a building in a parking lot at 2226 North Milwaukee Ave. is a bright blue wall with the city’s name written in big bubble letters, filled with colorful renditions of our city’s most celebrated icons like Chicago-style hot dogs, the Willis Tower and the so-called “Bean,” A.K.A. “Cloud Gate.” Rep your city with a post in front of this not-to-be missed Palmer Square spot and make sure to take all your visitors to see “Greetings from Chicago” so they can show off their travels. 

While our beaches are lovely, they don’t exactly offer Caribbean blue waters. Instead, if you do want to add a pop of turquoise to your feed, check out the mural of a bright pink flamingo in River North. On the wall of the Flamingo Rum Club at 601 North Wells St., the tropically colored wall has a bright flamingo that will tower behind you, topped with a tiny crowns to add a regal touch.  

For pizza lovers, Parlor Pizza’s two locations have unique, iconic art. First, in Wicker Park, there’s the “Pizza Bear” mural, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. On the side of their restaurant, located at 1824 W Division Street is a mural of a big, yellow bear, looking super satisfied as he munches on a cheesy slice of pepperoni pizza.  

If you’re in the West Loop, another Parlor Pizza spot also has a smaller version of “Pizza Bear,” and offers visitors an opportunity to pose in front of a wall that makes them look like some sort of pizza angel. Who doesn’t want that?

On the corner of North Green Street and West Washington Boulevard, strike a pose in front of a gray wall covered with clouds to wear your golden crown and angel wings made from cheesy pizza slices.

Other photo-ops include a mural of a woman bathing in a wine glass in Lincoln Park, a series of colorful, diverse murals that makes up the Hubbard Street Murals, and a Cheshire Cat grin from Alice in Wonderland looking over Wicker Park.

Singing for their supper: Best of Mag Mile street performers

By Elizabeth Czapski | Staff Writer

One of the most exciting parts of the Michigan Avenue experience is its street performers. Whether they’re playing music, miming or doing magic tricks, the street’s “buskers,” as they’re called, strive to astound, surprise and entertain—and make a little money doing it.

To find out more about this interesting career, we talked to three of the best. Jonathan Fin has been a musician for about 10 years, and a few years ago, he took his talents to the streets. On a Thursday in late July, he stood in the plaza in front of the Apple Store, 401 N. Michigan Ave., with an electric guitar strapped to his body, surrounded by sound equipment and signs that read, “Karaoke – Sing Your Song!” and “Please Help Me Feed
My Kitties.”

Fin, 42, said his original songs are “singer-songwriter stuff,” but when he’s busking he plays a lot of covers and, like his sign advertises, does karaoke.“I let people sing whatever song that they wanna sing, and I pull it up on my YouTube and try to play along with it while they sing,” he said.

The number of people who brave the microphone varies every day, he said. “Sometimes there’s 10–15 people that do it, sometimes there’s none.”

Fin got his start as a street performer when he was hired by TC-Helicon, an audio company, to make videos where people could test out the company’s vocal effects equipment.“I got a street performer’s license so I could film those videos, and I haven’t stopped playing outside since,‘cause it’s just so much fun,” Fin said.

Kenneth Stringer III, known as “The Original Chicago Tin Man,” does another kind of street performance. Wearing a suit, hat and sunglasses with his body painted entirely silver, Stringer was stationed in front of the AT&T store at Michigan Avenue and Ontario Street on a busy summer Saturday. The speaker he stood on top of blasted music, and sometimes Stringer would break his statuesque stillness, only to whip out a couple of dance moves.
His sign read, “The Greatest Mime of All Time.”

Stringer said he’s been doing this since 2002. “I was working job after job after job, and I was always making money, but the guy that was above me was always making more,” he said. Stringer decided to try out street performing, and it paid more than he made at his day job.

“I quit my job, I quit school at the time, I moved out of my parents’ house, and this has been my profession ever since.”

Stringer doesn’t only stick to the streets. “I do a lot of other stuff as a tin man,” he said, including delivering roses and doing dating consultations. “I wouldn’t call it relationship

Andreas Tsantilis prepares to wow an audience with his street magic show. Photo by Elizabeth
Czapski

advice; it’s more about building yourself and then you’ll be stronger within a relationship,” he said. He also has a stand-up comedy routine.

In front of a table lined with velvet, Andreas Tsantilis stood at the entrance to the Plaza of the Americas at Michigan Avenue and Hubbard Street and made mini-soccer balls disappear and reappear beneath three brown cups he moved around the table. An astonished crowd watched his every move. Eventually, the balls were upgraded to oranges, and at the end of his show, he picked up his bowler hat to reveal a whole squash that hadn’t been there before. A black case in front of his table was painted with the words “Vaudeville Magic Show.”

Tsantilis, 41, introduced himself as being “all the way from South Africa” and said he has been doing magic for about 15 years. He came to Chicago in 2008 and started performing on the street two years later. Before that, he used to do “close-up magic” in bars and cafes when he lived in Greece.

Now, he does magic for the public on the weekends. “The street is freedom,” he said. “No one will arrest you. You do this, it’s like, an allure to get people to stop, make them watch and make them pay you.”

His favorite part, he said, is meeting people from all over the world. His least favorite part? “People that just walk away after the show and don’t even say thank you.”

Published August 2, 2018

Streeterville mural adds a touch of green to area

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Published July 9, 2018

Streeterville’s got a brand new shine.

 

In mid-June, after six weeks of work, the Nancy Pochis Art Studio unveiled the new art piece, “Urbs in Horto,” Latin for City in a Garden, Chicago’s motto. “Our goal was to depict botanic places in Chicago,” said Nancy Pochis Bank, the owner of Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio, the group behind the mural. “We really wanted to brighten up that entryway,” she adds.

 

“This permanent, painted mural will be nine feet tall and a full city-block long (nearly 200 feet),” according to an email released from Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio. The mural depicts Chicago covered in greenery, including flowers, butterflies and cornucopia. “It starts with the Logan Square Farmers Market, from south to north,” says Pochis Bank. The mural then depicts herbs as a transitional element—as Embassy Suites grows their own herbs. It also includes the tulips from Michigan Ave., the Illinois state flower, the violet, mums which are Chicago’s flower, and the Illinois insect, monarch butterflies.

 

The mural is located at the Embassy Suites’ valet drop-off, east of Columbus between Illinois and Grand, next to AMC River East.

 

According to NPB’s website, “NPB Studio Artists work as a team to create original large-scale artwork that has maximum creative impact.” Their process includes a brainstorming session with the client, a thumbnail sketch, a finalized sketch and the execution of artwork, according to the NPB website. A team of two to six artists ultimately works on the design and implementation. Four female artists from Nancy Pochis Bank Art Studio worked on the Streeterville mural, including Pochis Bank herself, Shayne Taylor, Brandin Hurley, and Brittney Leeanne Williams.

NPB Studio has several projects featured around Chicago, including a chalkboard world map at Wicker Park’s Wixter Fish Market and lettering on the entrance to the press box in Wrigleyville.

 

The studio also does live mural or chalkboard paintings, including a Hungry Caterpillar chalk design at the Lakeview Chamber of Congress’s Sunday Spot event. NPB also created a live mural at Vitromex’s 2016 Tradeshow at McCormick Place.

 

For more information on NPB Studio, visit nancypochisbank.com.

 

Best places to view fireworks in Chicago

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Published July 4, 2018

The Fourth of July is upon us and Chicago is about to light up the sky for a grand celebration of America’s birthday. Here are the best spots to catch the shows.

Navy Pier

The fireworks display at Navy Pier is a must-see. Head to the Pier and visit Chicago classics like Harry Carry’s Tavern, or fun-themed places like Bubba Gump Shrimp Company or Margaritaville. Nearby beaches are also great places to take in the view. The free show starts at 9:30 p.m.

Rooftops

For a more adult scene, check out the J. Parker on the rooftop of the Hotel Lincoln at 1816 N. Clark St. The rooftop has views of North Avenue Beach, Lincoln Park and the fireworks show.

On the water

For an active experience, head over to Urban Kayaks on the Riverwalk. They offer a Fourth of July Fireworks Show with a 90-minute tour of the river while a guide gives a history lesson. For more water options, check out one of the cruises.

Odyssey Cruises offers three to four cruises throughout the holiday weekend
with brunch, lunch and dinner options from $56.90. On July 4, take in the fire- works on a two-hour dinner cruise with an on-board DJ and dance floor for $189. This 21+ event offers an open bar and din- ner. Boarding begins at 6:30 p.m. and the cruise goes from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. For more information, visit the website odysseycruises.com

Shoreline Sightseeing offers two-and-a-half hour Red White and Brew Cruise. The cruise features craft beer from Revolution Brewing. This 21+ birthday celebration will also feature food, a live DJ and a view of the fireworks for $119. Cruises will depart from the northeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge alongside Pioneer Court at 401 N. Michigan Ave. at
8 p.m. and will return at 10:30 p.m. For more information, go to shorelinesightseeing.com

Spirit of Chicago, which also launches from Navy Pier, has a dinner cruise on July 4 with an open bar, music and dancing for $149.90. This three-hour cruise which takes off at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to spiritcruises.com

To keep the celebration alive, check out fireworks at Navy Pier all summer. Through Labor Day, the Pier has shows Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 10:15 p.m.

Streeterville Social, Flavor by Loews hits rooftop scene

By Gianna Annunzio, Staff Writer

Streeterville Social’s “Flavor by Loews” event on June 6 offered a range of food and beverage samples from partnerships with the Loews Hotels & Co Flavor program, including products by Chicago Honey Co-Op, Here and Revolution Brewing. As the sun set overhead, the gorgeous rooftop and bar exploded into an atmosphere of unique food and drink.

 

Streeterville Social rooftop. Photo by Gianna Annunzio

As the night began, the restaurant’s full-service bar served cocktails that incorporated honey from the Chicago Honey Co-Op’s local hives, offering a sweet honey-lemon flavor to all who wished to try. The group has three apiaries (bee farms) around town, where honey is harvested and taken to local farmers markets. The sources of nectar from flowers in Chicago’s city parks gave the honey deliciously complex flavors.

The locally sourced cold-pressed juices by Here were on offer and guests were able to take bottles of their favorite flavors home with them. The group also brought coupons and plant-related pins to give to attendees, hoping to spread the word about locally sourced and produced food.

Honey from local apiaries are in corporate into cocktails at Streeterville Social. Photo by Gianna Annunzio

Revolution Brewing, Illinois’ largest independent craft brewery, also offered samples of their classic brews along with pins and souvenir glasses. While dozens of their drinks are brought to life each year, ranging from IPAs to Belgian-style ales to pilsners, guests experienced a beer made exclusively for Loews Chicago Hotel. The beer, Zephr, is a low ABV golden ale that’s mild and crisp, with a delicate hop finish.

Loews Chicago Hotel looks forward to welcoming guests both old and new back to the hotel and Streeterville Social this summer.

Streeterville Social 

455 N. Park Dr.

Chicago IL, 60611

(312) 840-6617

streetervillesocial.com

 

Published June 6, 2018

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