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May 16, 2017
By Thomas Connors | December 5, 2016 | Culture
The Joffrey Ballet gathers an all-star team to re-imagine the holiday classic with a White City twist.
Behind the scenes: Joffrey Ballet company members rehearse the new Nutcracker, which will feature puppetry elements and sumptuous, all-new costumes.
The Joffrey Ballet has been performing perennial holiday favorite The Nutcracker since 1987, and while it’s been tweaked over the years, it’s tied up with a big new bow this season in a production created by Tony-winner Christopher Wheeldon. The choreographer, whose 2014 rendition of Swan Lake was a huge hit for the company, brings the beloved story home, setting this new Nut during the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
Wheeldon, who took home a 2016 Tony for An American in Paris, promises a “visually dazzling” production, a real spectacle. And he’s assembled just the crew to make that happen: Tony-nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (An American in Paris), and Obie and Drama Desk award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist. What’s more, he’s turned to author and illustrator Brian Selznick—whose The Invention of Hugo Cabret became an Academy Award-winning film directed by Martin Scorcese—to fashion a new narrative for the Joffrey production.
“It’s no longer the story of a wealthy child who goes to sleep on Christmas Eve after having lots of delicious food and opened lots of presents and then dreams of candy," shares Wheeldon. “It’s about an immigrant child whose mother—a sculptress—is a worker at the fair. It’s much more about community, family. It’s a little more socially aware, and so perhaps a little more relatable.”
No ballet connoisseur himself, Selznick threw himself deep into research for this project, reading everything he could on The Nutcracker, listening repeatedly to Tchaikovsky’s great score, and watching seemingly countless productions of the ballet on YouTube. “I was very insecure for a very long time, because I’m not a dancer, I’m not a musician,” shares Selznick. “But ultimately, I think that it’s because I’m outside that world that it worked. This isn’t just a gloss on the ballet, a matter of changing sets and costumes. The way the narrative ties into the creation of the White City gives the story more depth.”
“As choreographer and storyteller, Chris is one of the best,” asserts Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. “He is creating an odyssey for a young girl with limited means, but large dreams. It will have all the magic that people associate with The Nutcracker—the snow, the transformation of the Christmas tree—but at heart, it is the story of human possibilities, of building a family in a challenging world.” December 10–30 at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., 312-386-8905
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TODD ROSENBERG