Joffrey Ballet Announces 20/21 Inaugural Season at Lyric Opera

Joffrey Ballet Announces 20/21 Inaugural Season at Lyric Opera 1 Ashley Wheater MBE, The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, proudly announces the Company’s 2020-2021 inaugural season at Lyric Opera House, featuring a ballet masterpiece from legendary choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan, a world premiere from choreographer Cathy Marston, a Joffrey debut from George Balanchine, a Chicago premiere from Hamburg Ballet Chief Choreographer John Neumeier, and the fifth anniversary of Christopher Wheeldon’s holiday classic The Nutcracker.Photo by Cheryl Mann

Ashley Wheater MBE, The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet, proudly announces the Company’s 2020-2021 inaugural season at Lyric Opera House, featuring a ballet masterpiece from legendary choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan, a world premiere from choreographer Cathy Marston, a Joffrey debut from George Balanchine, a Chicago premiere from Hamburg Ballet Chief Choreographer John Neumeier, and the fifth anniversary of Christopher Wheeldon’s holiday classic The Nutcracker.

The Joffrey Ballet begins its 65th season with MacMillan’s iconic Manon, October 14-25, 2020, followed by Wheeldon’s magical production of The Nutcracker, December 5-27, 2020. For its winter engagement, the Joffrey presents a mixed program that includes the world premiere adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men by Marston and the Joffrey premiere of Serenade by Balanchine, February 17-28, 2021. Closing the season is the Chicago premiere of Neumeier’s acclaimed The Little Mermaid, April 21- May 2, 2021. 

All performances take place at Lyric Opera House in downtown Chicago at 20 North Upper Wacker Drive. All programs throughout the season feature live music performed by Lyric Opera Orchestra, conducted by Scott Speck, Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet. 

“It gives me great joy to begin a milestone year at the Joffrey with productions that I have wanted to bring to Chicago for a long time,” said Wheater. “I am thrilled to begin our season with Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, a true work of genius, and conclude it with John Neumeier’s beautiful The Little Mermaid, two of the largest productions the Joffrey has ever mounted. I am also pleased to welcome back Cathy Marston for a world premiere performance based on a powerful American story, and to present a Joffrey debut with a work by George Balanchine—a giant of the art form. We also celebrate five years of Christopher Wheeldon’s The Nutcracker, which has brought so much joy to the Joffrey and Chicago. We look forward to a spectacular season in our new home at Lyric Opera House.”

“We are excited to begin our partnership at Lyric while celebrating a quarter-century in our home city, a point of great pride for all of us,” added Greg Cameron, President and CEO of the Joffrey. “There is limitless opportunity that will take us to a new level of artistic excellence, and with Ashley’s artistic vision at the helm, we will exceed the expectations of our audiences, students, and the Chicago community. This new business model places Joffrey, Lyric, and the City of Chicago in a position of leadership across the cultural landscape. As a result, we collectively heighten our commitment to enriching people’s lives through art, education, and engagement.” 

Celebrating 25 Years in Chicago

In conjunction with its inaugural season at Lyric Opera House, the Joffrey celebrates 25 years in Chicago since its arrival in 1995. Over the last quarter-century, the Joffrey has established itself as one of Chicago’s cultural icons with new artistic innovations and first-rate education programs, including:

  • The establishment of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, in 2009 to train the next generation of artists through exceptional training and education, along with the Academy’s Winning Works choreographic competition for ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab, and Native American) artists;
  • The establishment of the Joffrey Community Engagement programs, now with 93 programs in 58 Chicago Public Schools;
  • The unveiling of Christopher Wheeldon’s reimagined version of The Nutcracker (2016), set during Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair;
  • The unveiling of the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina (2019), the first production in Joffrey history featuring original choreography, designs, and a commissioned score.

About the 2020-2021 Season

October 14-25, 2020

Choreography: Sir Kenneth MacMillan | Music: Jules Massenet
Joffrey Premiere

From the ornate salons of Paris to the mysterious wilds of Louisiana, the beautiful Manon finds herself caught between a life of luxury and the promise of true love. This dramatic masterwork from one of ballet’s greatest choreographers weaves a tangled web of romance, desire, and deceit. With music by Massenet, this epic ballet is widely considered a must-see of the ballet canon.

MacMillan’s classic three-act ballet (based on the 18th-century French novel by Abbé Prévost, L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut), features music by French composer Jules Massenet and was originally created and staged for The Royal Ballet in 1974, when MacMillan was then the company’s artistic director. The piece has since become a staple of The Royal Ballet repertoire and for companies around the world. 

Learn more about Sir Kenneth MacMillan here

Manon is presented in 10 performances, October 14-25, 2020. 

Presenting Sponsors: Mr. and Mrs. Joel V. Williamson

Major Sponsors: Walter E. Heller Foundation and the Rudolf Nureyev Fund at The Joffrey Ballet

Sponsors: Lorna Ferguson and Terry Clark, in memory of Christine Du Boulay Ellis

The Nutcracker

December 5-27, 2020
Choreography: ©Christopher Wheeldon | Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Wheeldon’s reimagined classic rings in the holidays like no other. Follow young Marie and the Nutcracker Prince on a Christmas Eve journey through the 1893 World’s Fair, a dazzling spectacle of sights, sounds, and enchantment. This annual holiday tradition celebrates the magic of the season and the rich cultural heritage of Chicago.

A ballet in two acts set to Tchaikovsky’s classic score, The Nutcracker features an award-winning creative team, including Tony Award®-nominated set and costume designer Julian Crouch, Caldecott Medal Award-winning author Brian Selznick, Obie and Drama Desk award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist, Tony Award®-winning lighting designer Natasha Katz and Tony Award®-winning projection designer
Ben Pearcy/59 Productions.

Learn more about Christopher Wheeldon here.

The Nutcracker is presented in 29 performances, December 5-27, 2020.

With gratitude to The Nutcracker Commissioning Sponsors: Margot and Josef Lakonishok, Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, Hancher Auditorium, University of Iowa, and the many “Believers”.

Of Mice and Men and Balanchine’s Serenade

February 17-28, 2021

The Joffrey’s winter program highlights the world premiere of Cathy Marston’s Of Mice and Men, a new adaptation following the successful Chicago premiere of Marston’s Jane Eyre during the Joffrey’s 2019-2020 season. The program also features a Joffrey premiere by pioneering choreographer George Balanchine.

The winter program is as follows:

Of Mice and Men

Choreography: ©Cathy Marston | Original Score: Thomas Newman
World Premiere 

Hope abounds for George Milton and Lennie Small, two drifters looking for work on the golden farms of Depression-era California. When tragedy strikes, George and Lennie face difficult choices that test the nature of their relationship. Marston goes from page-to-stage with Steinbeck’s tender tale of friendship, perseverance, and sacrifice, with an original score by Academy Award®-nominated composer Thomas Newman.

Of Mice and Men marks Marston’s first original creation for The Joffrey Ballet. Marston previously staged the Chicago premiere of her critically acclaimed production of Jane Eyre for the Joffrey during the 2019-2020 season.

Learn more about Cathy Marston here.

Commissioning Sponsors: Greg Jenkins, Northern Trust, and Prince Charitable Trusts 

Of Mice and Men was created with funds from the Prince Prize for Commissioning Original Work, which was awarded to Cathy Marston and The Joffrey Ballet in 2019.


Choreography: George Balanchine | Original Score: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Joffrey Premiere

Balanchine’s first ballet created in America originated as a lesson in stage technique, using unexpected events from rehearsals as the basis for the choreography. 

“When one student fell, he incorporated it. Another day, a student arrived late, and this too became part of the ballet.” —The George Balanchine Trust

Balanchine subsequently reworked the ballet several times before landing on its current iteration, which features four movements based on a score by Tchaikovsky: Sonatina, Waltz, Russian Dance, and Elegy. 

Learn more about George Balanchine here.

Of Mice and Men and Serenade are presented in 10 performances, February 17-28, 2021.

The Little Mermaid
April 21- May 2, 2021

Choreography: John Neumeier | Original Score: Lera Auerback
Chicago Premiere

Dive into the emotional depths of Neumeier’s beautifully haunting adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairytale. With an original score by composer Lera Auerback, this expressionist ballet follows the tormented mermaid heroine, as she travels between the divergent worlds of land and sea—one utterly complex, the other beautifully serene. 

Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid was originally commissioned by The Royal Danish Ballet to commemorate Anderson’s 200th birthday. It received its world premiere in Copenhagen in 2005, and its North American Premiere for the San Francisco Ballet in 2010. 

Learn more about John Neumeier here.

The Little Mermaid is presented in 10 performances, April 21- May 2, 2021.

Presenting Sponsor: Women’s Board of The Joffrey Ballet

Sponsor: Pamela Crutchfield

Tickets and Subscriptions

Three-program subscriptions, which do not include The Nutcracker, start at $120. Subscriptions are available for purchase online at, by mail (Joffrey Ballet Subscriptions, The Joffrey Ballet, Joffrey Tower, 10 East Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60601), by telephone at 312-386-8905, by fax at 312-739-0119 or by email at Groups of 10 or more call 312-386-8937.

Single tickets for the October, February and April/May performances, as well as The Nutcracker, will be available starting August 1, 2020. Single tickets are available at The Joffrey Ballet’s official Box Office located in the lobby of 10 East Randolph Street, by telephone at 312-386-8905 or online at

All performances subject to change.

About The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet is one of the premier dance companies in the world today, with a reputation for boundary-breaking performances for more than 60 years. The Joffrey repertoire is an extensive collection of all-time classics, modern masterpieces, and original works. 

Founded in 1956 by pioneers Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey remains dedicated to artistic expression, innovation, and first-rate education and engagement programming. The Joffrey Ballet continues to thrive under The Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director Ashley Wheater MBE and President and CEO Greg Cameron.

The Joffrey Ballet is grateful for the support of its 2020-2021 Season Sponsors: Abbott Fund, Alphawood Foundation Chicago, Daniel and Pamella DeVos Foundation, and The Florian Fund; Live Music Sponsors Sandy and Roger Deromedi, and The Marina and Arnold Tatar Fund for Live Music. The Joffrey also acknowledges our Season Partners Chicago Athletic Clubs, and Athletico Physical Therapy, official provider of physical therapy for The Joffrey Ballet.

For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and its programs, visit