Dancers with disabilities star in 'Nutcracker' production

December 16, 2010 9:59:18 AM PST
The Joffrey Ballet's production of The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition. Each year one of the party guest is a dancer with a physical disability.

Dancers with disabilities have been part of the production since 1997.

The idea of creating this role was inspired by a local boy with cerebral palsy and the former artistic director.

"When I met the young man, I thought, 'God he has great courage to do all of this,' then I'm going to change my choreography and create a special role in the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago's Nutcracker, my Nutcracker, and create a place for him in the party scene," the late artistic director Gerald Arpino told ABC7 in 1999. Arpino created the role for Stephen Hiatt-Leonard.

Now, every year, two dancers with disabilities are selected for the role.

Artistic director Ashley Wheater says, regardless of their disabilities, dancers are expected to try out for the role.

"When people are auditioning you want someone who understands what they're going to, because it's a big role," said Wheater.

This year's production has 20-year-old Christine Compasico returning for her second year as a member of the party guest. She shares the role with another dancer with a disability.

Her mom Pamela is thrilled.

"It's very exciting," said Pamela, "and to be with such a great company, a great ballet company, and it's also scheduling and running around and coming into the city and out to the suburbs and it gets kind of crazy sometimes."

"When you think about the Nutcracker it's about dreams becoming a reality," said Wheater. "It's about finding a place of beauty, and I think that what Gerry Arpino did was, he made the role of the child in the wheelchair really a possibility to be included with everyone else."

And Christine says it best: "Because it is about Christmas."

The Joffrey Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker" is at the Auditorium Theater until December 26th. For more information you can go www.joffrey.com.


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