Everything Nutcracker

Christopher Wheeldon’s Windy City Nutcracker

From left: Ashley Wheater, Anastacia Holden, Christopher Wheeldon and Joan Sebastián Zamora rehearse The Nutcracker. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that any ballet company worth its sugar plums must have a production of Nutcracker as part of its holiday season repertoire. And for nearly three decades, through its final performance at Chicago's Auditorium Theatre in December 2015, the Joffrey Ballet was well served by its uniquely Victorian-American setting of the classic. It was choreographed by founding artistic director Robert Joffrey shortly before his death, and featured major contributions from Gerald Arpino.

Now the Joffrey is about to get a brand-new $4 million version of the ballet, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. He has assembled a stellar team of collaborators, including set and costume designer Julian Crouch, author and illustrator Brian Selznick, puppeteer Basil Twist, lighting designer Natasha Katz and projection designer Benjamin Pearcy. And while the production will retain the Tchaikovsky score, and many of the ballet's classic elements, the story will be reimagined with a distinctly Chicago backdrop.


The Joffrey Ballet in rehearsal. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Joffrey Ballet.

Set during the construction of the city's fabled 1893 World's Fair, the family at the ballet's center will not be the usual group of upper-class sophisticates. Rather, the story will revolve around the female sculptor who worked on the Exposition's iconic statue of Columbia, and her daughter, whose friends are the children of laborers working on the fair. The character of Drosselmeyer, the magician, will be based on the great urban planner Daniel Burnham, and the ethnic variations will be inspired by the array of international pavilions that were a notable element, including those from Egypt, Germany and Venice.

“This version will be full of surprises and more cohesive storytelling," says Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. “Thousands of Chicago kids come to see our production each year, and I think they don't quite relate to the story as it has been told. This will be a Nutcracker about making magic out of everyday things."

News
Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail Dance Festival

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've rounded up some highlights.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
From left: Duncan McIlwaine and Joseph Markey rehearse a new work by Gemma Bond. Rachel Papo.

The members of ABT Studio Company straddle two worlds: student and professional. On a March afternoon, as the dancers rehearse for a work choreographed by ABT dancer Gemma Bond, they appear more the former: Clean academic leotards and tights reveal coltish legs. But as soon as they launch into the piece (which later had its New York City debut at The Joyce Theater), it's evident how close these dancers are to a professional rank. Their movements and expressiveness grow bolder with each entrance. Soon they're sliding to the ground in floorwork and swirling confidently in daring lifts. "This group is particularly brilliant to work with," says Bond. "Each dancer seems to have something interesting in the way that they move, which made the creation process a little more of a collaboration than some of my other works."

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Karin Ellis-Wentz and Joffrey Ballet Academy of Dance student Elliana Teuscher. Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet.

"Hopping on pointe is a bit of a weird feeling," says Karin Ellis-Wentz, head of pre-professional programs at the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago. But, she adds, it's a skill advanced dancers need "because it's in so many variations." Here, she takes us through the techniques and exercises that help her students master this necessary trick.

Keep reading... Show less
The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

Keep reading... Show less