Of shoes and sugarplums | Fall Theater and Dance | Chicago Reader

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Of shoes and sugarplums

The Joffrey Ballet's shoe manager walks us through some numbers.

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After two decades of performances at the Auditorium Theatre, the Joffrey Ballet will move its company to the Lyric Opera House at the conclusion of the 2019-2020 season, making this year the last holiday season during which Christopher's Wheeldon's version of The Nutcracker will grace the Auditorium Theatre's stage. Ahead of this big step forward for the company, Gregg Benkovich, shoe manager for the Joffrey Ballet, helped crunch the numbers on the overwhelming numbers of slipper- and pointe-shoe-clad smaller steps (as well as assemblés, pirouettes, and arabesques) that will have preceded the move next season.

$130,000
The Joffrey's annual shoe budget. According to Benkovich, this figure can vary depending on the season's lineup. "Last season was really heavy because in addition to pointe shoes and slippers, we had a lot of boots that we needed for Anna Karenina."

25 percent
The percentage of the budget that goes toward the Joffrey's annual production of The Nutcracker. "Once you have those shoes, you can get a few years use out of them—not the pointe shoes or slippers—but there are some specialty shoes in The Nutcracker I use for at least two or three years before I replace them," Benkovich said.

25-30
Pairs of shoes each company ballet dancer goes through from the start of rehearsal to closing night of The Nutcracker each season, "so that they can pick and choose," Benkovich said. "Once they have a pair of shoes and they break them in, they decide, 'Oh, these are performance shoes, so I'm going to put these aside.' And others might just be rehearsal shoes. If you find a really, really good pair of shoes then you just wear the hell out of them because you're never going to get the same shoe twice—they're all handmade."

Two
Pairs of shoes a performer dancing an intensive role such as Queen of the Fair or Marie will want on hand for each performance.

29
Number of performances of The Nutcracker in the 2019-2020 season. The first curtain rises for a matinee on November 30.

1995
The year Robert Joffrey's version of The Nutcracker—originated in 1987—was first performed in Rosemont, Illinois.

Three
Number of seasons Christopher Wheeldon's reimagined version of the ballet—made specifically to be performed in the Joffrey's Auditorium Theatre—has been performed in Chicago, where it made its world premiere in 2016.

2019
The last year The Nutcracker will be performed at the Auditorium.

$780,000
The amount spent on shoes for the Joffrey's various renditions of The Nutcracker since 1995 (not adjusting for inflation).

One
How many Joffrey employees there are dedicated to procuring and distributing shoes. "It's just me," Benkovich said. "Once I give the shoes out, I don't see them again until [the dancers] turn them back in. I don't put the ribbons on. I don't do any of the personal stuff, that's all stuff they do themselves. I just hand the shoes out."

60 percent
The percentage of Benkovich's job he said consists of ordering shoes and distributing them in a timely way.

Four
The number of new main dancers joining the company this year.

13
The number of countries from which the current Joffrey company members hail.

17
The age of the youngest member of the Joffrey's current company.

Ten
The age at which Jonathan Dole, one of the four new main company members, first danced in a performance of The Nutcracker, which was the first ballet he ever saw, and the first in which he performed after auditioning for the role of Fritz a few years later.

59
The number of children cast in Robert Joffrey's version of The Nutcracker (in addition to a full company). There are 47 in Wheeldon's current version.

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