Hancher and Joffrey Ballet announce collaboration for new ‘Nutcracker’ set in World’s Fair Chicago

In 1987, Robert Joffrey’s Chicago-based ballet company held the world premier of their production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker at The University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium. At a press conference held Tuesday on stage at the nearly completed Hancher Auditorium — nearly eight years after the original facility was destroyed by historic floods — Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson announced that the facility will host the debut of a newly imagined Joffrey Nutcracker for the 2016 holiday season. “We’re creating history today,” Swanson said.

Speaking to a group of press and benefactors, amid caution tape and hard hats, Joffrey Ballet Company Artistic Director Ashley Wheater described the new facility as “world class.” The new theater will seat up to 1,800 guests and is expected to open in the fall of 2016. The full season is expected to be announced in June.

Photo by Tim Taranto

Nearly thirty years after the initial premier of The Nutcracker in Iowa City, this new production will include the beloved Tchaikovsky score, as well as a few new twists. The production’s Tony Award-winning choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, has been working with author Brian Selznick (himself a Caldecott Award winner) on a reimagining of the classic ballet. One significant change is that the setting for this ballet will be Chicago 1893, on the eve of the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition. The young heroine will be the daughter of an immigrant family, with her father working as a laborer in the construction of the Fair.

The show features a stellar artistic team. The puppeteer, Basil Twist, is a recent recipient of a Macarthur Genius Grant, and the set designer Julian Crouch is formerly of the Metropolitan Opera. Lighting designer Natasha Katz has been the recipient of multiple Tony Awards.

Photo by Tim Taranto

“Coming to Iowa is coming home,” said Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet Company. Wheater danced in the first Hancher Nutcracker in 1987. Leading dancer for the Joffrey Ballet April Daly was also part of that original cast. “I started as snowflake and flower number 6 and I’ve since danced the Sugar Plum Fairy,” said Daly.

Tickets for the performance will go on sale for Hancher members April 25, and June 10 for the general public. The show will run this December.

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