Inside Joffrey Ballet’s New “Nutcracker”

By Michael San Gabino |

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The Joffrey Ballet performs “The Nutcracker” in an original production featuring choreography by Christopher Wheeldon (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Earlier this month, Joffrey Ballet gave the world premiere of a fresh take on a beloved classic, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago.  In Joffrey’s new Nutcracker, the story is set during the Columbian Exposition of 1893, a milestone in Chicago history.

Joffrey’s Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and dancer Christine Rocas joined WFMT Program Director David Polk in an Arts Conversation to discuss the new production, a show 10 years in the making. Through musical highlights, Wheater and Rocas explain changes Joffrey and Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon made to the ballet.

They also discuss the stakes involved in rethinking The Nutcracker, which is not only the entry point to ballet for many dancers and audience members, but also a vital source of income for the dance company. Since the new story follows the lives of immigrants during the World’s Fair in Chicago, Wheater and Rocas also discuss the themes of immigration and community, and how they resonate with a 21st century audience.

Hear their conversation and enjoy images from the production below. For photos during the rehearsal process, click here. WFMT presents conversation and music about the arts Monday evenings at 10 pm.


The original setting of Act I in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is a lavish home, though in Joffrey’s new production, is transposed to a humble house of an immigrant living in Chicago (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

In Joffrey’s Nutcracker, Marie (Amanda Assucena) admires a Nutcracker toy (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Alberto Velazquez as the Nutcracker in Joffrey's production of Tchaikovsky's ballet (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Alberto Velazquez as the Nutcracker in Joffrey’s production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

In Joffrey’s new Nutcracker, Act II takes place during Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893 (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Collaborative arts programming is made possible by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Artistic Collaboration Fund.