The Nutcracker @ Joffrey Ballet Chicago

4 out of 4 stars

In its second year, Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker is a modern classic. The Chicago Philharmonic provides live accompaniment to this celebration of Chicago and its rich history. Set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, this adaption examines the dynamic growth and changes of the city with its expanding workforce and immigrant population increase. Wheeldon’s turn-of-the-century tale focuses on young Marie and her mother, as they host a festive Christmas Eve party. After a surprise visit from the mysterious Great Impresario, creator of the Chicago Columbian Exposition, Marie embarks on a whirlwind adventure with the Nutcracker Prince through a dreamlike World’s Fair. 

Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director, says in a director’s note this work is a “transformative movement in the history of the city when we became aware of the world and the world became aware of Chicago”. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater celebrates ten years of visionary direction with Joffrey this season. Wheeldon’s choreography has a refreshing energy with Peter Ilyrich Tchaikovsky’s music. A new story emerges adapted and written by Brian Selznick, who also wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”. The collaboration harbors an emotional pull and psychology of young protagonist Marie, played by Cara Marie Gary. The story follows young Marie on a grand adventure through dreamland with her faithful Nutcracker. While most Nutcrackers are set in a prosperous home with Marie being showered with holiday gifts, this Marie is the daughter of a single mother, a sculptor for the world’s fair. Though Marie lives in a home filled with love, she longs for a complete family. By breaking down the social barriers of the traditional story, the audience to performance connection expands. A worthy choice in depicting something with more relatable elements for the audience to clasp on to while still enjoying the wonder of the base plot.

Julian Crouch’s dedication to detail is evident through the costuming and set scale. Crouch’s work transforms into a dreamscape with the dynamic lighting by Natasha Katz and puppetry by Basil Twist. Projection design by 59 Productions is the last piece to this visually stunning puzzle. The title shown onto the curtains are a perfect photo opportunity for audience members and create a fun environment. The animated filters layer onto scrims creating depth and extends outside the traditional stage boundaries encouraging an intimate experience. These graphic elements mesmerize and sweep you away into the grandeur of a child’s imagination. Fabrice Calemls (Great Impresario of the Fair) and April Daly (Mother/The Queen of the Fair) perform a stunning duet during the second act. Childlike imagination yearning for a complete family, Marie dreams of a potential happiness and love in this showcased duet. Calemls and Daly complement each other perfectly through their fluid movements, lines and extensions. Their expressions and body language are enchanting, as they fully encompass Marie’s dream. A crowd favorite was by far the talent of Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez as Arabian Dancers at the World’s Fair. Mendoza’s flexibility and control amazed and the duo’s precision in creating shapes was incredible. This production featured not only the Joffrey Studio Company, but the Joffrey Academy Trainees, Joffrey Conservatory Students, and Joffrey Academy of Dance students. The incomparable talent from the children’s cast to the company veterans was an enjoyable blend.  

This performance steers away from the traditional and re-imagines the dreams held by children and adults alike. Discovery is a concept that never leaves us with age. There are always new wonders to find and new ideas to be had. That is what the World’s Fair represented in 1893 and that is what Wheeldon’s work reminds us of today. Share in that joy and magic this holiday season!

The Nutcracker runs now through December 30th at the Auditorium Theater (50 E Congress Pkwy, Chicago, IL 60605). For tickets, please visit or or call the Box Office of the Auditorium theater at 312.341.2300.


Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!