Planning Finally Gets a Role in the Ballet

We've seen planning take the Broadway stage and turned into an Oprah, but perhaps the ballet is the most surprising place to see planning ideas on the stage.

2 minute read

December 6, 2018, 9:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker, staged by the Joffrey Ballet in 2017. / Joffrey Ballet

"In Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet wants to prove that ingenuity can improve on tradition with a ballet that evokes a landmark occasion in the history of city planning," according to an article by M. Sophia Newman.

That tradition is the Nutcracker Ballet, a wintertime classic and a favorite activity and the "centerpiece of dance in America" since the 1950s, according to Newman.

How does planning fit into this picture? In Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet's version of "The Nutcracker" places the story inside the 1893 Columbian Exposition (also known as the World's Fair). Newman explains how the setting changes the premise of the story:

The curtain will rise in Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on a set depicting an exposition building site in December 1892. The show then depicts immigrant construction workers at a modest Christmas party — a far cry from the traditional setting of an opulent upper-class home. It revises protagonist Marie (sometimes called Clara) from a rich girl dreaming of exotic sweets to the child of an impoverished single mother, dreaming of a visit to the multicultural exhibits at the upcoming exposition.

There's even a new character based on Daniel Burnham. Newman draws more connection between the ballet and the city of Chicago's long and influential history of planning. For more on how the Joffrey Balley decided to set the ballet in a planning-related context, PBS also produced a documentary film called "Making a New American NUTCRACKER" that is airing this month and is available online.

The Joffrey Ballet is probably on to something here, finding a place for planning in the fine arts. The story of Danial Burnham has been made into an educational graphic novel and the subject of musical theater. Robert Moses has taken a central role in a musical and a full-fledged opera. Former New York City Planning Commissioner was the basis for a character in a Broadway musical starring Idina Menzel

So far Joffrey Ballet's version of The Nutcracker is also earning rave reviews, so the concept is working out so far.

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