One of my favorite Chicago holiday traditions gets an incredible update for a new generation. Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet unveils a stunning new version of Tchaikovsky’s beloved classic, “The Nutcracker.”  It’s  set in Chicago at the time of the World’s Fair in 1893.

Joffrey Ballet Chicago unveils new Nutcracker set in turn of the century Chicago.

Joffrey Ballet Chicago’s new Nutcracker is set in turn of the century Chicago. photo courtesy: Cheryl Mann


Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet Unveils a Dazzling New Nutcracker

While “The Nutcracker” is a great way to introduce kids to ballet, most of the audience is made up of adults. Adults like me who love the Joffrey Ballet’s incredible dancers and dazzling costumes. In addition, we love their world-class set design and classic score.

Certainly one of my favorite parts is the music by Tchaikovsky. The world class Chicago Philharmonic performs live. We come to this show year after year. And we’re not alone. Since 1987, this is one of the country’s favorite  “Nutcracker” productions.


Why mess with a good thing? “The reason for a new “Nutcracker” was both necessity and opportunity,” says Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. “We had a production that was nearly 30 years old. The scenic elements were falling apart, the costumes were threadbare. We knew it was time to do a new production.”

Rather than do something similar, the Joffrey Ballet does something pretty radical. They hand over ‘The Nutcracker’  to choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. He’s never done a “Nutcracker.” Luckily, he creates a fascinating new production that weaves Chicago history into the ballet.

New Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker

Joffrey Ballet Chicago unveils new Nutcracker.

The Joffrey Ballet Chicago’s new Nutcracker is set during the time of Chicago’s World’s Fair. photo courtesy: Cheryl Mann

In past years, the Nutcracker was set in an opulent Victorian home. Not this year. Indeed, this year it’s the opposite. Christopher Weldon creates a dark, brooding set.

Dazzling special effects transport guests to the Chicago of 1893. It’s the year of the Columbian Exposition, also known as the World’s Fair.

The curtain opens. We see visitors getting excited about the opening of the fair, still months away. Now it’s time to enter the Christmas party. Unlike past performances, the setting isn’t a luxurious mansion. Instead, it’s the dingy quarters of the migrant workers brought in to work on the fair.

A newspaper headline flashes across the stage. It’s the news of 1892 — “Additional Migrant Workers to Complete Project.” These immigrant laborers share their Christmas customs with each other in a magical way. They create their own holiday parties, sharing what little they have. Indeed, it highlights what’s important about the holidays.

Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre

The Joffrey Ballet performs the "Nutcracker" in Chicago's historic Auditorium Theatre.

The Joffrey Ballet performs the “Nutcracker” in Chicago’s historic Auditorium Theatre. photo courtesy: Cheryl Mann

While  the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” is exceptional, the performance venue is also impressive. The Auditorium Theatre is one of the country’s grand landmark theaters. If you’re an architecture buff, you’ll find it dazzling.

The Auditorium Theatre has landmark status. Indeed, attending a performance in this ornate historic building is a treat. Most noteworthy is the design by the architectural team of Adler and Sullivan.

In addition, lavish murals and mosaics fill the gilded interior of this masterpiece. Maybe you want to see more? You can take a tour of the building on Mondays at 10 a.m. and noon.

Live Orchestra

Since I just love listening to the music, it’s fun to have the live orchestra. The Chicago Philharmonic plays the beloved score by Tchaikovsky. Indeed, hearing this ballet with a live world-class orchestra makes the experience even more spectacular. If the dancing weren’t so dazzling, just the music would be a treat.

In addition, I love bringing my daughter to the orchestra pit during the intermission. Musicians are always happy to show her their instruments and talk.

Chicago’s Christkindlmarket

Finally, after enjoying a classic “Nutcracker” performance, take your kids to see the real thing. Toy nutcrackers are on display at Chicago’s Christkindlmarket. Stop by Chicago’s Daley Plaza and have a glass of Gluhwein (hot spiced wine) at this traditional German outdoor holiday market. Cheers!

Do you have a favorite ballet? Have you taken your kids to a Nutcracker performance? What are your favorite Christmas traditions?