Wheeldon’s Nutcracker World Premiere

Chicago's history is central to the Joffrey Ballet's new production.

The Joffrey Ballet's world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's The Nutcracker takes place this month—a production with a $4 million budget, a creative team of Broadway veterans and a story line featuring the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. It replaces Robert Joffrey's The Nutcracker, which had run continuously from 1987 to 2015.

The Joffrey celebrated its 60th anniversary last season, and the existing costumes, sets and props were in a fragile state. “It was already apparent when I started in 2007 that the beloved production was falling apart—wood was rotting; sets were peeling," artistic director Ashley Wheater says. “It was threadbare, and we were looking at having to build a new production."

So the company commissioned a new version from one of the world's most sought-after choreographers. “A Nutcracker set around one of the most significant cultural events in the city's history was an exciting prospect," says Wheeldon, who received the 2015 Tony Award for Best Choreography for An American in Paris. “Chicago audiences can expect a magical Christmas ride that delivers all the things expected of The Nutcracker, but with a new take on the location of the story and on its child protagonist, Marie. The themes of this production are community and family, and they focus on a poor worker's child rather than on an upper-class family."

Caldecott Medal Award–winning author Brian Selznick, who wrote the book adapted for the Academy Award–winning movie Hugo, rewrote the narrative. “The Chicago World's Fair was a galvanizing center point where millions flocked," Wheater says. More than 25 million people attended the six-month, first all-electric fair in history. Nearly 50 countries were represented, and there were many firsts, including the Ferris wheel, a commercial movie theater and Juicy Fruit gum. It was also the first time Americans saw belly dancing and an electric kitchen—with an automatic dishwasher. “The more we read about it, the more it was a lovely way to tell the story," Wheater says. “There's such a freshness to this production. Wheeldon is creating dance for today, and it's really beautiful."

Tony Award–nominated Julian Crouch (The Addams Family, Hedwig and the Angry Inch) designed the sets and costumes. The ballet also features puppetry designed by MacArthur Fellow Basil Twist (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban); video projection by Ben Pearcy (An American in Paris) and lighting design by six-time Tony Award–winner Natasha Katz (An American in Paris; Once).

Wheeldon's The Nutcracker runs December 1–4 at University of Iowa's Hancher auditorium, and December 10–30 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

For more: joffrey.org

Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet

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