Design Shines in Joffrey’s NUTCRACKER

Design Shines in Joffrey’s NUTCRACKER

The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Joffrey Ballet’s new production of THE NUTCRACKER is a visually stunning creation. This is a reimagined (and what I love most is) Chicago-centric design that preserves all the elements of The Nutcracker’s much-loved tradition but breaks away from past Robert Joffrey productions. With a story by Brian Selznick, set and costume designs by Julian Crouch, puppetry by Basil Twist, and projection design by Benjamin Pearcy, the show is beautifully designed, even if the choreography tends to be a bit underwhelming.

Christopher Wheeldon’s NUTCRACKER opens on Christmas Eve, 1892. Marie and her younger brother, Franz come home to a small shack where their mother, a sculptress, is creating a golden monument that will stand overlooking the Chicago Columbian World’s Exposition. Workers from around the world arrive for a Christmas party and among them are the architect of the White City, the Great Impresario, and his young apprentice Peter. They bestow wonderful gifts to the workers, toys for the children and, of course, a nutcracker for Marie. The evening draws to an end, and the party goers leave. Marie heads to bed but awakes to realize that her brother has been kidnapped by the Mouse King. The battle between the toy soldiers and mice begins only to end with Marie saving the day. The Great Impresario arrives and takes the Nutcracker – now a prince – and Marie on a gondola ride into the night.

As Act II begins, they arrive on the pier and are welcomed by the Queen of the Fair, a dream version of Marie’s mother. The audience is now introduced to a dream version of the World’s Fair. The group visits different pavilions, each representing a different region of the world. As the time comes to an end Marie realizes that the Great Impresario and the Queen of the Fair have fallen in love, she awakens to find it is Christmas day and she is home.

While there were some delightful pieces, such as Buffalo Bill (Dylan Gutierrez) and his cowgirls, Wheeldon’s choreography felt uneven. There was no single number I went home wishing I could see again. Adding folk dancing to the party scene was an interesting choice, but the change in music was disappointing. The Spanish dance was not Spanish, and the Chinese dance had two gold dragons that, although great to watch, pulled focus. This might have been intentional, as the dance was uninspired.

Beyond the choreography, the use of the projection as part of the set design was striking. For each pavilion that Marie and the Prince went to, the projections on the backdrops and proscenium changed to illustrate where the dancers were from. Lighting, projection, and impeccable sets worked together to bring the White City to the stage. Scene by scene, the design matched the exuberance of the dances. In the end, it is the design that will be remembered the most.

About author

Simone Nabicht

Simone Nabicht spent 10 years directing, choreographing and instructing children and young adults in theater. Simone believes that behind every curtain is a new world to explore, and she often does so with her 3-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter, and child-at-heart husband.