Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker Continues To Be A Chicago Tradition

December 18, 2011
Eric Hehr


Since it’s debut on Dec. 18, 1892 at The Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, The Nutcracker continues to delight audiences all across the globe. The two-act ballet is well over 100 years old, yet it has managed to endure and become a beloved holiday institution.

The holiday constraints of The Nutcracker often eclipse it’s meticulous craft. While many regard The Nutcracker as a permanent staple of the holiday season, they often overlook the dexterity of the production. The Nutcracker features some of the greatest choreography ever created, and it also features Tchaikovsky’s most popular and memorable compositions, including the “Trepak” (or “Russian Dance”), “Waltz of the Flowers”, and the ubiquitous “Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy.” Tchaikovsky’s score contains a wealth of advanced musicality that is regarded as unsurpassed in both ballet music and The Romantic Period (which was the prevalent style of classical music present at the time Tchaikovsky composed The Nutcracker).

With such an affluent history, it’s no wonder that The Nutcracker still manages to attract universal audiences far and wide every year. While every production of The Nutcracker is slightly different from the next, the ones that adhere to the traditional merits of the original ballet are the ones that continue to successfully carry on year after year. The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker is no exception to the aforementioned, and the production has become one of Chicago’s favorite holiday traditions.

Curtains rose on The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker on Dec. 10, 1987 at the Hancher Auditorium at the University of Iowa, right before the production embarked on a national tour. Since it’s unveiling, The Joffrey Ballet has maintained the most Nutcracker tour dates of any major ballet company in the country.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker first premiered in Chicago in 1996, and is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary at The Auditorium Theater with 20 performances from Dec. 9 till Dec. 27. 118 young dancers from Chicago and beyond join the Joffrey company onstage. Apart from the young dancers, young vocalists from The Barrington Children’s Choir, The British School of Chicago Choir, The Lake Bluff Middle School Choir, The Pro Musica Youth Chorus, and The Providence-St. Mel School Choir perform the choral parts from the magical Snow Scene. In addition, The Chicago Sinfonietta provides the live accompaniment of the classic Tchaikovsky score. For such a grandiose production, The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker handles the performance with a polished sense of elegant control.

Artistic Director Ashley C. Wheater uses a keen eye to sculpt elaborate blocking that comes off as organically fluent. In particular, the opening party scene contains a large set that is inhabited by the majority of the cast. Every character’s role is carefully choreographed, and there is a constant sense of motion. With performers relentlessly weaving in and out of each other and participating in diverse sub-plots, it’s hard to imagine how such dense choreography can come off as so natural and smooth. Wheater also keeps the art direction as traditional as possible, adhering to the established conventions of the original Nutcracker.

Musical Director Scott Speck handles Tchaikovsky adored score with ease, controlling the vast range of dynamics with the passion and skill of seasoned conductor (Speck has collaborated intensively with Carnegie Hall for the fifth time as Music Director of the West Michigan Symphony, as well as being invited to the White House as music director of the Washington Ballet).

The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker is a top-notch ballet that firmly plants itself in the customary attributes of one of the most infamous holiday traditions. It’s a production designed for the young and old, for families and couples. You aren’t going to see anything new or shocking - no modern abstractions or avant-garde arrangements - but you will see a first-class celebration of one of the greatest holiday productions ever.

For tickets and showtimes for The Joffrey Ballet's Nutcracker, visit