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."

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Ma Cong in the studio with Tulsa Ballet. Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Without him we wouldn't have The Nutcracker, Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty. But how much do you know about Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the man behind classical ballet's most recognizable music? Did you know that the Russian composer hid his homosexuality for much of his life? He also struggled with depression; there's been speculation that his death in 1893 was in fact a suicide.

Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong dramatically recounts his life in a new full-length ballet titled Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music, premiering March 29-31. If you think a story ballet about the most renowned composer of story ballets set to, yes, a Tchaikovsky score, is a bit meta, you wouldn't be wrong. But considering the renewed importance of LGBTQ rights in society, it's a ballet perfectly timed to our era. In Russia, censorship still asserts that Tchaikovsky was not gay. The subject also calls to mind backlash surrounding an LGBTQ-themed work at Louisville Ballet just last month.

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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?

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