Though it’s not quite fall, the Joffrey Ballet is in full holiday mode, prepping for the world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s Nutcracker. In fact, you can catch a live-streamed rehearsal with Wheeldon and the company tomorrow (Thursday, September 8, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm Central) on the company’s YouTube channel. Pointe spoke with company dancer Amanda Assucena about this reimagined holiday classic set in 1893 during the Chicago World’s Fair.
How does the setting change the story?
Marie, our dreamer, is our version of Clara. She’s a girl from the South Side of Chicago, the daughter of immigrants, workers of the fair. She’s not very wealthy, which is different from other Nutcrackers. The second act is based on the actual World’s Fair, so she dreams the Nutcracker is taking her through it and the divertissements are different countries.
What have rehearsals been like?
I’m learning the roles of Marie, her mother and the grand pas, so I’ve been in the studio with Chris all the time, all day. He is definitely one of my favorite choreographers to work with. He’s a big name, but he’s such a normal person, so nice and humble. And he allows you to communicate what feels good or if a step feels awkward.
What’s it like being involved in the creation of a new full-length ballet?
Being in the studio for six hours a day learning choreography and trying to keep that in your mind has been challenging—but such a great challenge. For me, one of the best parts about ballet is figuring out steps, remembering them, putting them together with the music and seeing it come together and work.
How is Wheeldon approaching the famous party scene?
It’s now called the “shack scene” since Marie lives in a shack with her mother. Some of the other workers from the World’s Fair come to the party, and everybody brings something–a tree, some food or drinks. It’s more about them coming together and trying to make something beautiful out of nothing for that one day of Christmas celebrations.
Do you have any advice for dancers on how to avoid burnout when they’re working on Nutcracker from now until the holidays?
We’ve all been doing it since we were little kids, but I still love it. My advice would be to remember what the audience is going to see. It’s our responsibility for them to feel like they just woke up from the most beautiful dream ever.
And enjoy the music. As much as we hear it all the time, it’s so perfect for the ballet, perfect for the season. It’s also great that it’s so popular because it only means that we are part of a Christmas tradition. Enjoy the music, enjoy the relationships with your other dancers and enjoy the choreography.
You can watch the trailer for the live stream here: