Reimagining of classic ballet to be choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The longstanding relationship between the University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium and the Joffrey Ballet is a story akin to a fairytale.

The first Joffrey performance on the Hancher stage in 1974 heralded the beginning of a partnership that has produced both major works and lasting friendships.

From a 1978 performance saved by donated costumes after a blizzard claimed a Joffrey truck, to legendary Iowa residencies in the early 1980s, to major commissioning projects in the ’80s and ’90s, to an unprecedented seven-community river-to-river tour in 2007, Hancher and the Joffrey have been partners in the creation of transformative artistic experiences for dance enthusiasts in Iowa and far beyond the state’s borders.

The fairytale relationship continues this year: Hancher will be a producing sponsor of the Joffrey’s new production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by the acclaimed Christopher Wheeldon.

Five preview performances of the new Nutcracker will be presented at the new Hancher Auditorium, Dec. 1–4, 2016. The Nutcracker will then be performed in the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago for 27 performances, Dec. 10–30.

The announcement was made April 12 at a press conference held on the stage of the new Hancher Auditorium, featuring Hancher Executive Director Chuck Swanson, Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, and Joffrey Ballet Leading Artist April Daly.

"Coming back to Iowa City every time is like coming home," said Wheater, who danced in the world premiere of Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker on the original Hancher Auditorium stage in 1987.

In this new interpretation, Wheeldon reimagines the beloved holiday classic for a new generation, replacing the traditional setting with Chicago's 1893 World's Fair. Wheeldon’s stunning choreography and the artistic team’s visionary design will celebrate a turn-of-the-century Chicago as seen through a child’s eyes.

Orchestra Iowa will accompany the Joffrey dancers during the Iowa City preview performances. Local children also will be selected to take part in the performances.

Wheeldon won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway hit An American in Paris. His Nutcracker will come to life with an award-winning team composed of creatives at the top of their fields including: Tony Award–nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shockhead Peter); author and illustrator Brian Selznick (Caldecott Medal Award–winning author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, adapted into the Academy Award–winning film Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese); Obie and Drama Desk Award–winning puppeteer and MacArthur Fellowship recipient Basil Twist (The Addams Family, The Pee-Wee Herman Show); five-time Tony Award–winning lighting designer Natasha Katz (An American in Paris, Once, Frozen); and Tony Award–winning projection designer Ben Pearcy (An American in Paris, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Big Fish). 

Hancher commissioned Robert Joffrey’s The Nutcracker in 1987 as well as the critically acclaimed Billboards, America’s first full-length rock ballet, in 1993. Hancher’s support helped The Joffrey Ballet gain major national attention and ensured Robert Joffrey’s dream of creating a distinctly American Nutcracker was realized before his death in 1988. The Joffrey Ballet has danced more than 100 times in performances presented by Hancher.

Tickets for the Hancher preview performances of The Nutcracker will go on sale to Hancher donors on April 25 and to the general public on June 10.