When the Joffrey Ballet announced that the company was creating a new version of the beloved holiday classic, The Nutcracker, anticipation ran high. As guests entered the Auditorium Theatre, you could feel the crowds’ excitement. People talked about the reimagined production as if they were worried about a beloved family member’s health.
From the moment the theater lights went down, it was clear that this was a very different Nutcracker. Set just before Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, the opening was a bit darker than the traditional version. A group of children interacted in front of a wooden fence with rats crawling on top. A single woman stood in a darkened space working on a sculpture. Even as the guests arrive for the Christmas party, the scene was bleak. This was a party for the workers creating the dazzling White City. They were poor, but that asn’t going to stop them from celebrating the holiday.
The story followed a familiar format, even if the details were updated. Guests arrived for a Christmas party. A wealthy benefactor came bearing gifts, giving the young girl the nutcracker. The young girl, Marie, despaired as her brother broke her nutcracker. As Marie and her brother sleep on the floor in front of a stove to keep warm, the Benefactor arrives to whisk her to a magical world. The Mouse King and the Nutcracker do battle. Marie watches dancers, seemingly coming from the World’s Fair pavilions, perform breathtaking steps which create magical dances. There was a really funny dance with walnut and nutcrackers, but I won’t spoil the fun with any more details. It’s the beloved story with a Chicago-theme woven through every aspect, giving the story some very humorous twists.
What was mesmerizing about the performance were the details. Tony Award®-winning projection designer Ben Pearcy (An American in Paris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Big Fish), turned the stage into an ever-changing light show. As the scenes changed, the “frame” surrounding the stage changed. This was used with dazzling effect in the Divertissement. As the different entertainers performed, the stage frame lit up with glorious graphics.
Christopher Wheeldon, winner of the 2015 Tony Award® for Best Choreography for the Broadway hit, An American in Paris, spent two years creating a uniquely Chicago version of The Nutcracker. It seemed, though, that the story was much older than that. The Joffrey Ballet dancers performed each step as if they had been rehearsing for years. Their graceful movements, intertwined with beautiful sets and lighting, gave the story an “old soul” feeling. We knew it was a new production, but the audience’s anticipation quickly gave way to awe and admiration at the beautifully-layered production.
The Nutcracker has long been a holiday favorite. The Joffrey Ballet reportedly spent $4 million to recreate the classic story. It was clear from the beginning that it was money well-spent. The new Chicago-inspired version adds depth to the tradition with a story filled with darkness and light, reality and dreams. It is a story with the potential to grow with young and old audience members as they grow and change throughout their lives.
Single tickets for Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker start at $35 and are available by telephone at 312-386-8905, or online at joffrey.org/nutcracker. All performances are at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress, Chicago.
Shari writes about life with twins at Two Times The Fun. Images by Cheryl Mann for The Joffrey Ballet.
Disclosure: I did receive media passes to attend the performance. My words and opinions are my own.
Category: Shari's Corner