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The Magic Of The Nutcracker 
Reimaged version of the beloved holiday classic continues to highlight the spirit of the season
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   IT is natural––even expected––that comparisons will be made between Christopher Wheeldon’s reimaged version of The Nutcracker and Robert Joffrey’s internationally acclaimed production that, until last year, had been perhaps the world’s most popular Nutcracker since 1987. 
   After last year’s world premiere at the Auditorium Theater, the holiday classic has returned to the theater and runs through December 30, continuing to establish its own identity. Already, critics and theatergoers agree that Tony Award-winning choreographer Wheeldon’s creation compares favorably with the long-celebrated Joffrey production. The magic is still there. It’s elegant. It’s beautiful. And it’s appealing to both children and adults alike.
   Following a request by the Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater to create a new production, Wheeldon, who received his 2015 Tony for choreography in An American in Paris, knew it would be a huge challenge to boldly reimage a Christmas tradition for a new generation. What he envisioned has been described as “spectacular.” In essence, the general themes are similar, but there are differences in Joffrey’s version and Wheeldon’s––beginning with the location and setting. Joffrey chose a 19th century American home as his setting, which was filled with toys and where audiences were acquainted with characters such as Clara, Dr. Drosselmeyer, the Snow King and Queen, the Sugar Plum Fairy and toy soldiers, led by the Nutcracker. 
   Wheeldon’s thoughts were to pay tribute to a magical moment in Chicago’s history and placed the ballet within the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The story focuses on Marie, a young impoverished girl, and her mother, a sculptress who’s creating the Fair’s golden Statue of the Republic, as they host a festive Christmas Eve celebration. A surprise visit from the mysterious Great Impresario, creator of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, develops into a whirlwind adventure for Marie, one in which she and the Nutcracker Prince experience the World’s Fair, a new world where she is exposed to the colorful people, exotic animals and breathtaking scenery represented there. “It was always my wish to create a Nutcracker that belongs specifically to The Joffrey Ballet––a version that accurately represents its dedication to unique repertoire and innovative works,” Wheeldon says. “With the support of today’s best creative minds, we have created a work that will transport audiences to a magical moment in the city’s history."
   Throughout the production, as is to be expected from members of the Joffrey Ballet, the dancers’ performances are stunning, offering an exhilarating display of grace, strength, balance and poise. From Alberto Velazquez (The Nutcracker) to April Daly (The Queen of the Fair) to Fabrice Calmels (The Great Impresario of the Fair) to the colorful ensemble of characters, the parade of exceptional talent expands the beauty of the show.  
    Thankfully, the presentation is still enriched with the captivating music of Peter Ilyich Tchikovsky and performed superbly by the Chicago Philharmonic, conducted by Scott Speck. To further enhance the new production, The Nutcracker comes to life in the hands of an award-winning creative team, including Tony Award®-nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shockheaded Peter), Caldecott Medal Award-winning author and illustrator Brian Selznick (author of the New York Times bestseller Wonderstruck, adapted into the film of the same name, starring Julianne Moore), Obie and Drama Desk award-winning puppeteer and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Basil Twist (The Addams Family), six-time Tony Award®-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (An American in Paris, Frozen) and Tony Award®-winning projection designer Ben Pearcy (An American in Paris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch). 
    In this new version by Wheeldon, who saw his first production of the ballet at age 7, he has infused a new and palpable energy into a beloved annual favorite while maintaining the essential spirit of family that was so important to Robert Joffrey. It is engaging. It is entertaining. It is educational. It is a show with its own identity, but, at the same time, it’s one that can be embraced and celebrated by followers of the popular version it replaced.  

––Walter Leavy
The second year of the reimaged story of the Christmas classic The Nutcracker runs through December 30 at the Auditorium Theatre.
The Nutcracker and the rats make an appearance (above) while (below) Marie is celebrated.
Single tickets, which range from $35 - $165, are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s official box office (located in the lobby of Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph Street), the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University Box Office, by telephone at 312.386.8905, or online at Joffrey.org. 
Photographs by Cheryl Mann