Joffrey Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER Review – a new Chicago classic

Joffrey Ballet presents Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker at the Auditorium Theatre.

The Nutcracker is a timeless holiday classic set to Peter Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. Created last year and performed again in 2017, The Joffrey Ballet gives a fresh take on this Christmas tale setting the story in Chicago in 1893 during the Chicago World’s Fair.

Christopher Wheeldon’s contemporary choreography retains the essence of the well-known Nutcracker with a modernized twist, keeping it fresh for audiences. The new Nutcracker also introduces new production elements such as video projections, set design, and new characters specific to the World’s Fair.

The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

A Modest Setting

The Overture begins and the curtain opens to a broken down fence, behind it a massive sign advertising the World’s Fair. Children in tattered clothes and dirty faces play in front of the sign in awe of the magical Great Impresario of the Fair who is shown on the sign.

Two of the children, Marie and Franz, run home to their modest shack where their mother makes preparations for neighbors and workers at the Fair to arrive for a Christmas Eve party. Already it is clear that this Nutcracker paints the story of a much more modest and relatable family compared to the extravagant and upscale party in other Nutcrackers.

As guests arrive they bring decorations including a tiny broken Christmas Tree. As live musicians begin to play, the partygoers start to dance, doing dances that resemble folk dance.

The Grand Impresario arrives with his apprentice and presents the guests a magical shadow show of the Fair. He hands out gifts to the children at the party and gives Marie a nutcracker as a gift.

The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Hometown History

After Marie defeats the Rat King in a battle between the rats and her nutcracker and his soldiers later that evening, her nutcracker turns into a prince and the Grand Impresario whisks them both away in a gondola. When they arrive on the shore they are greeted by the Queen of the Fair and they meet representatives from each pavilion represented in the World’s Fair.

These characters differ from a classical Nutcracker and include Arabian dancers, Spanish dancers, a Chinese dancer, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, masked Venetian dancers, Mother Nutcracker and her little nuts, and visitors at the fair who dance with a giant Ferris wheel projected behind them.

Humor is also incorporated into the dances, especially when the flamboyant Mother Nutcracker and children in giant nut costumes arrive on stage. Buffalo Bill also gets a few laughs with his showgirls and lasso.

Act 2 gives a whimsical look at the history behind the World’s Fair. The World’s Fair and Chicago are put in the spotlight and celebrated throughout the performance. The set design using Chicago’s World Fair as the backdrop makes the ballet even more relatable and special for Chicago audiences.

Children's Cast Members. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Children's Cast Members. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Victoria Jaiani and Amanda Assucena. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Victoria Jaiani and Amanda Assucena. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

New Technology

Another aspect of Wheeldon’s Nutcracker that sets it apart from other productions is the video projections that frame the stage. These projections shift throughout the performance from a light snow falling outside Marie’s family shack, to themed projections for each country represented in the World’s Fair; red flowers while the Spanish dancers perform, and stained glass while the masked Venetian dancers move, and an elegant gold for the Queen of the Fair.

Even though Wheeldon’s Nutcracker was only choreographed a year ago, it already feels like a classic.


Through December 30, 2017

7pm Thursdays-Saturdays

3pm on Sundays



Visit the Joffrey Ballet’s website to learn more and purchase tickets.


The Auditorium Theatre

50 E Congress Pwky

Chicago, IL 60605



Cheryl Mann

Hayley Ross

About the Author:

Hayley Ross graduated from Ohio University in 2016 with degrees in Dance and Journalism. She currently works in the Marketing department at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the Communication Coordinator. Learn more about Hayley at

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One thought on “Joffrey Ballet’s THE NUTCRACKER Review – a new Chicago classic

  1. The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker was a complete disappointment!
    Mediocre performance, primitive costumes, PowerPoint like backdrops.
    The most disappointing was a new concept. The Nutcracker, a beautiful fairytale many-many generations of children of the world grew up with, from the beginning was crudely converted to the socially correct and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist like environment. Absolutely ridiculous idea to tight The Nutcracker with The World’s Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World’s Fair) which was a world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. It feels like an infomercial for the Chicago Office of Tourism (no offense). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Abe dance in (just kidding – I would!).
    The tasteless substitution of the Tchaikovsky’s Russian Dance with a cheap western saloon dancers and cowboy lasso-guns bang bangs demo performed on a Russian motive, left me speechless.
    Dear creatives, please don’t ruin the genius magic created by Tchaikovsky an Marius Petipa! Just come up with your own original ideas.

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