For many Chicago area families, a trip to see the Joffrey Ballet's, "The Nutcracker," is a must-do holiday tradition.
It's something Ashley Wheater takes to heart as he works to maintain the vision Robert Joffrey had when he created the annual production 25 years ago. Wheater was in that first production and now serves as Joffrey's artistic director.
"The performance has withstood the test of time and I think his production has managed to maintain its enchantment," he says.
Expect that to continue this 25th anniversary year.
The dancers and the children's cast members are currently in rehearsals for the performances, which begin Dec. 7. "I think the company is dancing it as well as it's ever been danced," Wheater says. "They are really committed to it."
Willy Shives, ballet master of the Joffrey's children's cast, says these very diligent young dancers rise to the challenge. They have been in rehearsals since October for this 25th anniversary Nutcracker season.
"I'm having a blast," says Shives, a dad of two dancers who also spent years in the children's cast and who admits The Nutcracker is his favorite ballet. "I love working with the children. I absolutely love it."
The children help make The Nutcracker so successful. "It becomes one big, beautiful picture," Shives says. "At one point, the children are the picture you see and the company members become the frame for the children. But then it swaps. The company becomes the picture and the children become the frame for the company."
Robert Joffrey's eye for detail remains everywhere, Wheater says about the story, which at Joffrey is set in America, not Germany.
Every performance, Wheater sees for himself the impact the production has on audiences.
"You realize it is family and I think that it's also part of the moral of the story of The Nutcracker, which is about the value of family. It is about watching a family come together and celebrate," says Wheater.
We visited Joffrey Ballet to meet some of the young dancers taking the stage in this year's performance of The Nutcracker. The older dancers perform as both the mice and the polichinelles, while the younger dancers transform into the dolls. All photos in the slideshow by Erika Hildegard-Johnson.
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