Hancher and Joffrey Partner on New Nutcracker


Iowa City – Hancher Auditorium commissioned Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker in 1987, fulfilling Joffrey’s dream of creating a distinctly American Nutcracker. Twenty nine years later, Hancher and the Joffrey Ballet will partner to create an all new Nutcracker, previewing it in the newly built Hancher Auditorium in December, which replaces the building destroyed in the 2008 flood.

The new version of the Nutcracker will be set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and will be seen through the eyes of an immigrant girl whose father is a worker at the Fair. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon is the creator of this show. Brian Selznick, author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (later the major motion picture Hugo), will write the book for the ballet.

At the press conference today, Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater read a statement from Wheeldon expressing his idea of this new Nutcracker:

“No longer set in the home of a privileged Victorian family, but in a simple worker’s hut… this is to be the story of an immigrant worker’s child, a dreamer who has very little, but through the epic magical journey of Christmas, gains a great deal.”

Wheater, who danced in the original production in 1987, also expressed that this would be a more modern approach saying that a lot has changed in dance in the past thirty years. One thing that will not change is Tchaikovsky’s classic score.

Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson indicated that local children will be part of the cast. In fact, Swanson and Wheater humorously noted that as Wheeldon’s vision for the show evolved, the number of children needed kept increasing. “For Christopher, his total of children [needed for the show] has grown enormously,” explained Wheater. The five preview performances will run December 1-4 at Hancher before the show moves to Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, where it will run December 10-30.


A view of the unfinished auditorium from the stage.

Hancher Auditorium will open in September. It’s still under construction, but as the pictures in this post show, it is very far along in the process. You can see more pictures here. Hancher will announce its complete season on April 25,2016.


Word has it the furthest seats from the stage in the new Hancher are much closer than the furthest seats were in the old Hancher. Bottom line: there won’t be a bad seat in the house.

About The Nutcracker Artistic Team

Christopher Wheeldon (Choreographer) trained at The Royal Ballet School and joined The Royal Ballet in 1991. In 1993, he joined New York City Ballet (NYCB) and was promoted to Soloist in 1998. He served as NYCB’s first-ever Artist in Residence in 2000/01 and was named NYCB’s first Resident Choreographer in July 2001.

Wheeldon has created productions for all the world’s major ballet companies including: New York City Ballet, The Royal Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet and National Ballet of Canada. In 2007, Wheeldon founded Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company and was appointed an Associate Artist for Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London.

For the Metropolitan Opera, he choreographed Dance of the Hours for La Gioconda (2006) and Richard Eyre’s production of Carmen (2012), as well as ballet sequences for the feature film Center Stage (2000) and Sweet Smell of Success on Broadway (2002).

In 2014, Wheeldon directed and choreographed the musical version of An American In Paris which premiered in Paris in 2014 at the Théâtre Châtelet. The Broadway production premiered at the Palace Theatre on April 12, 2015 and won him the 2015 Tony Award® for Best Choreography and Outer Critics Award for Best Choreography and Direction.

His awards also include the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, the American Choreography Award, a Dance Magazine Award, the London Critic’s Circle Award for best new ballet for Polyphonia. In 2013 and 2015, his productions of Cinderella and The Winter’s Tale won the Benois De La Danse.

Wheeldon is also an Olivier award-winner for Aeternum and The Winter’s Tale, winner of the 2014 Leonard Massine Prize for choreography and was awarded an OBE in the 2016 New Year Honours.

In February 2016, The Royal Ballet premiered an All-Wheeldon triple bill including the world premiere of Strapless, based on the scandal surrounding the Anthony Sargent portrait of Madam X. In April 2016, Wheeldon will serve as the Artistic Director for Les Arts Decoratif’s Fashion Forward exhibit in Paris and in August the National Tour of An American In Paris production will launch.


Julian Crouch (Scenic and Costume Designer) Originally from the UK, Crouch is a Brooklyn-based theatre practitioner, artist and musician, known for his groundbreaking production of Shockheaded Peter, Satyagraha at the Met Opera, and the Tony Award®-nominated Broadway set of Hedwig and The Angry Inch. A co-founder and former artistic director of Improbable, a UK based theatre company, Crouch’s shows have been seen throughout the world. He is particularly known for his incorporation of large scale, live animation within his productions and has worked extensively at the Met Opera and on Broadway in addition to a myriad of more unusual locations.

Crouch is currently designing and directing the Berlin Staatsoper’s production of King Arthur, and the Metropolitan Opera’s 50th year Gala. He is designing the set and costumes for Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet. In the near future, Crouch will be designing Hansel and Gretel for La Scala, in Milan Italy. Together with Saskia Lane he is internationally touring Birdheart – an intimate chamber piece of animated theatre.

Brian Selznick (Author) is the author and illustrator of many books for children, including The Invention of Hugo Cabret, winner of the Caldecott Medal and the basis for the Oscar-winning movie Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese. He’s also the author and illustrator of Wonderstruck (soon to be a major motion picture directed by Todd Haynes), as well as his newest book, The Marvels. Selznick lives with his husband Dr. David Serlin in San Diego, California and Brooklyn, New York.

Basil Twist (Puppeteer) Originally from San Francisco, Twist is a third-generation puppeteer and the sole American to graduate from the École Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières, France. Twist’s work was first spotlighted in New York by the Henson International Festival of Puppet Theater with his award-winning The Araneidae Show. Coupled with the critically praised and award-winning Symphonie Fantas-tique, he was revealed as a singular artist of unlimited imagination. Highlights of his subsequent work include Petrushka (commissioned by Lincoln Center) and Dogugaeshi (The Japan Society), Behind the Lid (Silver Whale Gallery) with Lee Nagrin and Arias with a Twist, co-created with nightlife icon Joey Arias. His productions have toured throughout the world. On Broadway, he created and staged the puppetry in The Addams Family, for which he won a Drama Desk Award, and staged the puppetry for The Pee-Wee Herman Show. In film, he collaborated most notably on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Twist’s work is deeply musical in nature. He has conceived and directed two successful operas, Respighi’s La Bella Dormente Nel Bosco with the Gotham Chamber Opera and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel for the Houston Grand and Atlanta Operas. Other collaborations include: in dance, The Winter’s Tale and Cinderella with Christopher Wheeldon, Darkness and Light with Pilobolus, and Wonderboy with the Joe Goode Performance Group; and in drama, Paula Vogel’s play The Long Christmas Ride Home, Red Beads, and Peter and Wendy, plus puppetry for the Oskar Eustis–directed Hamlet for New York’s Shakespeare in the Park. He collaborated with Kate Bush to realize her live concert “Before the Dawn,” in London 2014.

His original work Rite of Spring, commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts/University of North Carolina Chapel Hill premiered in 2013 at Memorial Hall and in 2014 made its New York debut at Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. Sisters Follies was created for Abrons Arts Center where it made its world premiere in October of 2015.

Twist has received Obie, Drama Desk, New York Innovative Theatre, and Henry Hewes Design awards, as well as five UNIMA and two Bessie awards. He has also been awarded Guggenheim and USA Artists fellowships, and was awarded an inaugural Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. He was recently honored with a 2015 MacArthur Fellowship. He lives in New York City, where he guides The Dream Music Puppetry Program.

Natasha Katz (Lighting Designer) has a long-standing creative relationship with Christopher Wheeldon and, prior to The Nutcracker, has collaborated with him on a number of ballets, including Tryst (2002), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (2011) and The Winter’s Tale (2014), all of which premiered at The Royal Ballet where he is Artistic Associate. Katz’s other collaborations with Wheeldon include Continuum (San Francisco Ballet, 2002), Carnival of the Animals and An American in Paris (New York City Ballet), Swan Lake (Pennsylvania Ballet, 2004) and the premiere of An American in Paris at Théâtre Châtelet (2014) and on Broadway (2015) for which she won a Tony Award® for Best Lighting Design of a Musical.

Katz’s Broadway credits also include Skylight, The Glass Menagerie (Tony Award®) Aladdin, Once (Tony Award®), Motown, Hedda Gabler, Coast of Utopia: Salvage (Tony Award®), A Chorus Line, Aida (Tony Award®), Sweet Smell of Success, Twelfth Night and Beauty and the Beast. In London, she designed Skylight (Wyndham’s Theatre), Sister Act (Palladium), Buried Child (National Theatre) and Cyrano (The Royal Opera). She has also designed extensively for Off-Broadway and for American regional theatres. Her permanent installations include lighting for the audio-visual shows at Niketown London and New York City, The Masquerade Village at the Rio Casino, Las Vegas and Big Bang at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Katz was also recently named Lighting Designer for Disney’s Frozen the Musical on Broadway, opening spring of 2018.

Ben Pearcy (Projection Designer) is the Creative Director of 59 Productions, a creative studio specializing in design for performance, exhibitions and live events. Recent design and video design projects include An American In Paris (Tony Award®-winner for Best Scenic Design of a Musical), Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Big Fish on Broadway; David Bowie is at the V&A and on a world tour; Game at the Almeida; Little Dancer at the Kennedy Center, Washington; The Forbidden Zone at Salzburg Festival; Feast at the Young Vic; War Horse in London, New York, China, Toronto, Australia, UK and US tours; Reise Durch die Nacht and Request Programme at Schauspiel Köln; Fraulein Julie at Schaubühne, Berlin; Black Watch at National Theatre of Scotland; and Les Miserables world tour. For the National Theatre: Wonder.land; Great Britain; Emil and the Detectives; Beauty and the Beast; Really Old, Like 45; Mother Courage and Her Children; Time and the Conways; Waves; …some trace of her and Attempts on Her Life. Recent video design for opera includes Morgen und Abend, Eugene Onegin, Salome and The Minotaur at the Royal Opera House; Thebans and The Pearl Fishers at the ENO; The Perfect American at Teatro Real/ENO; Messiah at Opéra de Lyon/ENO; Al Gran Sole Carico d’Amore at Salzburg Festival; Doctor Atomic, The Enchanted Island and 125th Anniversary Gala at the Metropolitan Opera; Dark Sisters at Gotham Chamber Opera/MTG/Opera Philadelphia; Two Boys, Satyagraha and Doctor Atomic at ENO/Met Opera and After Dido at ENO/Young Vic. Video design for dance and live music includes Ceremony of Innocence, La Bayadère, Invitus Invitam, The Goldberg Project and Seven Deadly Sins at The Royal Ballet; Fink Perfect Darkness tour for 59/Ninja Tune and Jónsi -Go Tour for 59.

59 Productions has also been commissioned to design a number of high profile architectural projection mapping projects around the world including the United Nations Global Goals Launch at the UN headquarters in New York, Deloitte Ignite 2015 at the Royal Opera House, The Harmonium Project on the Usher Hall to launch the opening of the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival, Hampton Court 500 Rewind for Historic Royal Palaces, Vivid Live- Lighting the Sails for Sydney Opera House and the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Frank McCullough (Associate Scenic Designer) assisted Julian Crouch and Christopher Wheeldon on their design for Cinderella at the Dutch National Ballet. In addition, he worked with Crouch on the Broadway productions of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Addams Family, and Big Fish. McCullough is the Associate Scenic Designer for Wheeldon’s Broadway production of An American In Paris. Some of McCullough’s other Broadway credits include: Once; War Horse; Book of Mormon; and Coast of Utopia. McCullough is originally from Evansville, IN, and trained at Webster University in St. Louis.

Jacquelin Barrett (Assistant Choreographer) trained at The Royal Ballet School, joined London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) and, over a period of eight years, danced soloist and principal roles in the company’s repertory. Barrett was the Ballet Mistress for Central School of Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre and English National Ballet. She is in demand as a guest teacher for many international professional companies and schools. From 1997 to 2008, Barrett taught at The Royal Ballet School, working mainly with the graduate female class. Since 2009, she has been assisting Christopher Wheeldon and staging his works around the world. She is the Associate Director on the musical An American In Paris, which is currently running on Broadway.

About The Joffrey Ballet

This year, The Joffrey Ballet celebrates its 60th company anniversary. Classically trained to the highest standards, The Joffrey Ballet expresses a unique, inclusive perspective on dance, proudly reflecting the diversity of America with its company, audiences, and repertoire which includes major story ballets, reconstructions of masterpieces, and contemporary works.

The Company’s commitment to accessibility is met through an extensive touring schedule, an innovative and highly effective education program including the much-lauded Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, Community Engagement programs, and collaborations with myriad other visual and performing arts organizations.

Founded by visionary teacher Robert Joffrey in 1956 and guided by celebrated choreographer Gerald Arpino from 1988 until 2007, The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under internationally renowned Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Executive Director Greg Cameron. To learn more, visit Joffrey.org.


One thought on “Hancher and Joffrey Partner on New Nutcracker

  1. Pingback: Hancher Announces Season |

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