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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Joffrey announces 'Nutcracker' team'
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Lauren Warnecke
2016-04-19

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The Joffrey Ballet, led by Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron, announced the artistic team for the world-premiere production of The Nutcracker by Christopher Wheeldon, winner of the 2015 Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway hit An American in Paris.

Among the members of the team are Tony-nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch, author and illustrator Brian Selznick, Obie and Drama Desk award-winning puppeteer and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Basil Twist, five-time Tony-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz and Tony-winning projection designer Ben Pearcy.

Many of Nutcracker's essentials will remain the same, including the original Tchaikovsky score performed by the Chicago Philharmonic. "Rest assured: Magic will abound," Wheeldon said. The tree will grow, children will be mice, and the snow will fall. But at the heart of our vision for the story lie two important differences."

Wheeldon's ties to Chicago include a number of works obtained by the Joffrey Ballet, including 2014's smash hit Swan Lake, a creative reimagination of the classic Petipa ballet. Until now, Wheeldon had not set an original work on the Joffrey, but the retirement of Robert Joffrey's 1987 Nutcracker ballet seems the perfect occasion to change that. Wheeldon's new Nutcracker embraces the spirit of the Joffrey as a "company of firsts," as leading dancer April Daly described it during the April 11 press conference announcing the new ballet. Long known for pushing boundaries and fostering innovation in ballet, Joffrey's 2016 Nutcracker is more than an update, but a wholly new vision for the treasured coming-of-age holiday classic.

Wheeldon is early on in his career, but has already become a dance legend. The Englishman is most known for a nod from the Tony Awards for his role as choreographer and director of the Broadway hit An American in Paris, but has been making waves in the ballet world for a few decades. Perhaps a modern-day Jerome Robbins, Wheeldon's aesthetic and ability to transcend genres is popularizing dance and bringing ballet to the masses.

Wheeldon has altered the setting, placing it not in a stodgy living room in Germany, but in the heart of Chicago at the brink of its renaissance during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The change in locale is accompanied by a transformation of the ballet's central characters into a working class family, the head of which is a hired hand helping to build the fairgrounds. How ever celebrated the Nutcracker may be, most dance scholars agree that it is a ballet whose plot is loose, at best, particularly in the second-act divertissements.

What is often a shameless display of technical panache dressed in cultural stereotypes, the Kingdom of the Suites' superfluous tour around the world makes sense when placed against a backdrop of the World's Fair. Setting the ballet in a Chicago company at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University ( which opened in conjunction with the Columbian Expedition ) is no accident, and Wheeldon's Nutcracker is primed to become Chicago's Nutcracker.

See Joffrey.org .


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