Joffrey Ballet brings 'Nutcracker' back to L.A.

November 24, 2011
Jeff Favre

Joffrey Ballet brings 'Nutcracker' back to L.A.

A flurry of fantasy



The "snow" that drifts down in Joffrey Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" is made of flameproof paper bits. To add sparkle, pieces of hand-cut silver paper are added to the mix.

Contributed photo

The "snow" that drifts down in Joffrey Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" is made of flameproof paper bits. To add sparkle, pieces of hand-cut silver paper are added to the mix.

'Nutcracker' by the numbers

100 Yards of fabric required to make Mother Ginger's huge dress.23Height, in feet, of the giant Christmas tree on stage. It's 16 feet wide at the base.

46 Number of wrapped presents underneath the tree.

50 Weight, in pounds, of the flameproof, paper-punch "snow" the company will use during its four-show L.A. run.200Number of costumes in the show.

172 Number of boots and shoes used.42Total number of company members, plus 70 local children and 40 musicians.

1 Number of snow-glitter ponies in the show.

Joffrey Ballet

For some folks, the start of the holiday season begins when they first put up decorations. Or when they hit the malls on Black Friday.

For others, festivities begin with a production of "The Nutcracker," the famed ballet set to the universally known music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. And perhaps no other version is more highly regarded than the 1987 version created by Robert Joffrey, with key additional choreography from his longtime collaborator Gerald Arpino.

Los Angeles was one of the first cities to host the Joffrey Ballet's heralded "Nutcracker," but it's been 17 years since the troupe performed it here. Next week the opulent production, under the artistic direction of Ashley C. Wheater, is coming back for performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Each show will feature 42 company dancers, 70 children and 40 musicians.

"I think it's hugely important to come back to Los Angeles, which has always had a mutual love affair with the Joffrey Ballet," said Wheater, who joined the company in 1985. "To return with this timeless ballet is very appropriate."

Wheater remembers the summer of '85 when Joffrey was first putting together "The Nutcracker," which was one of the last shows he choreographed before his death in 1988. Joffrey enlisted Arpino to create the "Land of the Snow" and "Waltz of the Flowers" dances.

"I think it's the best of Robert Joffrey, who had such an eye for detail, and the best of Ballet Russe (the company that inspired Joffrey's version)," Wheater said. "It's also the best of Gerald Arpino, whose dances are athletic and beautiful. All of these elements together, I think, are why people are so captivated by it."

This version is set in the Victorian era, and Wheater's favorite touches by Joffrey come in the Party Scene, which includes a 23-foot Christmas tree with 46 wrapped presents underneath it. It's also a favorite of Derrick Agnoletti, a Joffrey veteran who has danced various roles in previous "Nutcracker" productions. This year he's playing Fritz, the Snow Prince, Tea from China, Nougat from Russia and a soldier.

Joffrey Ballet

The Chicago-based troupe will perform "The Nutcracker" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2-3, and 2 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. Tickets are $34-$125. Call 213-972-0711 or visit Joffrey Ballet's website is

The first time he appeared in a Joffrey "Nutcracker," he played the Butler.

"It's a tasking part because you run the entire party scene along with another butler and two maids," Agnoletti said. "You have to be in the right place at the right time and are in charge of all toys and props. And if anything gets mixed up on stage, it's your job to fix it. Taking care of the party scene is a fun task. I also remember watching artists who are now retired dancing the 'Nutcracker' with such passion and care."

One element that Agnoletti said separates this "Nutcracker" from others is the number of dances performed by male company members.

"The men not only do the usual party (roles) and the soldiers, but they also get to be snow winds in the snow scene and cavaliers in 'Flowers,'" he said. "The choreography by Arpino is challenging. It changes direction fast, and the musicality is one that even today I still struggle with. It's also danced at fast tempos, which makes it a little edgy and exciting."

Though Joffrey is noted for premiering new works, Wheater said it's important that the company keep its most important classics alive.

"This has always been a company that treasures the best of 20th century work," he said. "And I believe that this ballet is timeless and one that people will continue to want to see."