Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Equestrian Thespians

My parents came to Chicago for the first time, over the holidays, after I spent the last 20 years driving to them.   However, they postponed coming until December 29, due to snow, and when I started to search out the plethora of nutcrackers, Christmas carols, snow queens, and holiday productions that had been playing since November, I found that just about everything had ended!

Then I spotted The Nutcracker on Horseback at Noble Horse Theatre running through January 9th.   I'd gotten mailings about their productions for years, but we'd never checked them out.   When we first opened the castle like wooden doors to the historic riding hall, built in 1872 and renovated in 2001, I felt like we were transported to turn of the century England.   They had two wood burning stoves stoked with roaring fires, and costumed characters to show us to our seats.   Inside, the English Tudor architecture, painted shields and European flags lining the performance space added to the illusion.

The grandparents declared the show "unique" and were impressed by the equestrian antics.   They were not crazy about the mix of song choices which blended familiar Tchaikovsky numbers with assorted Christmas carols and other miscellaneous, upbeat instrumentals, but enjoyed the show nonetheless.

If you're expecting ballet, the show doesn't feature any.   But Noble Horse takes pride in its historical production of The Nutcracker in the original version. This is an exciting rendition of the classical holiday tale as it was performed over 175 years ago.  It was not until 1892 that the more common ballet version came to be.

Originally titled "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," this short story was written in 1816.  The Nutcracker was performed throughout Europe on horseback in the 18th century.  The Noble Horse is the only theatre in North America to perform the historic version of "The Nutcracker" on horseback.   If you want to see acrobatics on horseback, a dancing Lipizzaner, and a horse and rider jumping through a burning ring of fire, you're in the right place.
The kids recognized one of the acts from our summer fun at Bristol Renaissance Faire, in spite of the trainer's more demure, holiday attire, this time around. 

Her gorgeous, white Lipizzaner was unmistakable.   They performed a similar routine for the Noble Horse Nutcracker (the lighting was just much better outside in August, so I'll include those shots instead).

The wind chill Saturday was 4 below zero, so the indoor performance space was a bit nippy, but not coat wearing cold.   Once the show started, we forgot all about the frigid temps.   Nutcracker on Horseback was enjoyed by all 3 generations of our family.   The kids emphatically stated they'd both like to come back for the spring production of Quadrille and for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the fall.

After the performance, everyone was invited down to meet and pet the horses while they munched apples and healthy horse snacks.   Free carriage rides and $5 horseback rides were available.  Check out their website for more info and upcoming shows.

We made a whole day of it, with dinner at nearby R.J. Grunts, the first Lettuce Entertain You restaurant.   My Dad was excited to order the temperature soup, which they sell you for the daily temp.   He got it for 10 cents!

Then we headed across the street to Lincoln Park's Zoo Lights and had a great time in the light crowds.   Everything looked magical through the stylin' Zoo Lights shades, that make you see Santa in every light.  Everyone was too cold to stay long, but we made fridge magnets and antlers in the small primate house,

enjoyed the multicultural themes and a live orchestra in the cat house,

and power walked past the ice carvers

and millions of colorful lights.  

The kids made a few runs through the climbing rain forest canopy and rescued a reluctant toddler, whose pregnant Mama couldn't climb in to get her down.

 Even the cold blooded reptiles were active on this chill, winter night.

Finally, everyone was happy to call it a night and head home for hot cocoa with whipped cream by our hearth fire.   It was a great way to start off a new year and a new decade. 

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