Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker: a holiday favorite at the Auditorium Theatre

Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker: a holiday favorite at the Auditorium Theatre
The Joffrey Ballet performs Christopher Wheeldon’s Chicago-themed reinvention of “The Nutcracker.” (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

The wonderful story of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" written by German author E. T. A. Hoffmann in 1816 never gets old.

The ballet adapted by Alexandre Dumas ("The Three Musketeers" and "The Count of Monte Cristo") from Hoffmann's story, with music by Tchaikovsky was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1892.

From there performances spread across Europe before coming to the San Francisco Ballet in 1954 and  from there to NYC,  small towns, large towns and, of course, Chicago. 

The setting has changed throughout the years from the original production that featured the city of Moscow's famous onion-domed skyline as the backdrop to a variety of settings and performance styles from hip hop to jazz and even burlesque.

For 28 years in Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker, created by founder Robert Joffrey, was the gold standard for the traditional version of the ballet set in a beautiful mansion with a traditional family.

Three years ago, Joffrey choreographer Christopher Wheeldon was commissioned to create a new version the Nutcracker for the Joffrey. With a staggering amount of planning and preparation (check it out on the PBS documentary, "Making of a New American Nutcracker" ) he created a very different Nutcracker.

Wheeldon's reimagined Nutcracker reflects today's sensitivities. It is still danced to the music of Tchaikovsky but is a kinder, gentler, more inclusive and, at times, even humorous production. And perhaps, best of all, Wheeldon has created a Nutcracker that belongs to Chicago.

No longer does the story take place in a mansion with a traditional family. Instead the story revolves around an entirely different demographic--that of the workers constructing the fair and the family of an immigrant single mom, her daughter Marie and Marie's brother who live in a shack just off the Jackson Park fairgrounds that serves as the backdrop for the story.

Wheeldon has made some interesting additions including little girls dressed as walnuts with little boys as nutcrackers chasing them with their swords. 

Buffalo Bill, who played a big role in the World’s Columbian Exposition, has been skillfully added to this Nutcracker in place of the Russian Trepak from the more traditional Nutcracker. The aforementioned mice have turned into a large population of scurrying rats adding a touch of humor and realism. 

The reimagined Nutcracker relies on the magic of digital technology. The larger-than-life Christmas tree is now larger than ever as it is projected digitally across the whole stage and even outside of its confines. The golden goddess statue, designed by Marie's mother towers over the fair while the snowflakes loom over the entire front of the theatre.

The 2018 production comes together seamlessly through the realistic storytelling, the outstanding dance and music all wrapped up in the history of Chicago.

Related events

Nutcracker Afternoon Tea

JW Marriott Chicago executive Chef Michael Reich has crafted a Nutcracker Tea menu that include Fois Gras & Fig Jam Tea Sandwich, Black Plum & Five Spice Duck Steam Bun, and Figgy Pudding Macarons.

The Newberry Library program and exhibit 

The Joffrey's New Nutcracker Panel Discussion takes place today at the library. 

An exhibition at the Newberry, "Pictures from an Exposition: Visualizing the 1893 World’s Fair" continues through December 31, 2018.

Richard H. Driehaus Museum

An exhibition, "Treasures from the White City: The Chicago World's Fair of 1893" features original works and memorabilia designed for and exhibited at the fair in celebration of its 125th anniversary. Through January 6, 2019.

What: The Nutcracker
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
When: now through December 30
Rating: 4 stars
Tickets: 312-386-8905 and online

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