Co-authors: Katie Warner PT, DPT, OCS and Evan Boersma of The Joffrey Ballet
December is a magical time of year in Chicago, with plenty of festive things to do to enjoy the winter holiday season. The Joffrey Ballet puts on an impressive run of The Nutcracker this year, featuring 25 full-length performances from December 3rd to the 27th. There are additionally two abbreviated performances for local schools. “Joffrey’s beloved version of The Nutcracker takes inspiration from the 1893 World’s Fair, one of the city’s great historical attractions of the late 19th century.” Athletico is proud to be the Official Provider of Physical Therapy for The Joffrey Ballet. In anticipation of this season’s production, we wanted to spotlight the preparation that goes into it from the perspective of company dancer Evan Boersma and myself, one of the physical therapists.
Evan joined The Joffrey Ballet in November 2017, so this is his 6th season with the company. He says, “This time of year will always be sentimental because The Nutcracker was my first production as a professional dancer.” He feels lucky regarding this year’s production because, “All the roles that I performed in last year’s production I will also be performing this year. Some of the characters I am performing are Worker Man (in the party scene), Soldier (battle scene), Ice Cavalier (snow scene), Spanish, Fair Visitor, and Mother Nutcracker.” It’s not unusual for a dancer to perform 2 or 3 different roles in a single The Nutcracker performance, which can be physically challenging.
This will be the 4th The Nutcracker I have covered as a Joffrey therapist. There are currently five Athletico physical therapists who contribute to the dancers’ care. The dancers have access to onsite physical therapy for five hours each rehearsal day and 2-3 hours before each performance. We are additionally on call backstage during the performance. “Joffrey’s partnership with Athletico is extremely beneficial to the dancers on a daily basis,” says Evan. “Whenever something happens, in rehearsal or on stage, the physical therapists can attend to an injury almost immediately.”
The Joffrey Ballet’s preparations for The Nutcracker have been different this year because Evan notes, “This season Joffrey hired nine new company members, so we had to teach The Nutcracker to the new dancers this past month. Typically, the company only hires a few new dancers each season, but we have so many amazing new dancers this year.”
Physical therapists completed new hire Dance USA screenings with the new dancers in September in coordination with Dr. Leda Ghannad of Midwest Orthopedics at Rush. This allowed us to learn about each dancer’s medical history and identify their physical strengths and opportunities for improvement. Dancers are prone to overuse injuries due to the repetitive nature of practicing and performing choreography. So, identifying muscle imbalances and providing specific exercises to the dancers is a proactive way to limit injuries.
“Personally, this year has been different because I am still recovering from an ACL tear. Preparation for this year’s production has me focused on maintaining my knee due to my injury. The good news is that I am currently ten months post-op and haven’t had any complications with my recovery,” says Evan.
Evan and I agree The Nutcracker is unique compared to The Joffrey Ballet’s regular season productions, given the length of the production. Evan adds, “Our other productions typically last two weekends with ten shows total. The Nutcracker lasts the entire month of December, with 27 shows. By the end of the run, all the dancers are exhausted.” The Joffrey Ballet will only be at the Lyric Opera of Chicago this month, so the key physical therapy equipment was packed up into moving crates and transported to the theater.
I am often asked if we are “stretching the dancers” before a show. Since they are in a profession with a unique combination of athleticism, artistry, and flexibility, they know how to stretch. We are there to manage aches and pains from the physical intensity of their work. We provide manual therapy (soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization), myofascial decompression, dry needling, taping, and use our expertise for new injury education and screening, which helps them stay dancing and minimize downtime due to potential injury.
Challenges of The Nutcracker season aside, it’s rewarding when a dancer leaves the PT room feeling better than when they walked in and feel more prepared for the upcoming show. For Evan, the exciting part of The Nutcracker “Is that it puts all of the dancers in a festive spirit, and the energy coming from the audience always radiates to the stage.”
Performance times and tickets for The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker can be accessed here.
Athletico’s performing arts physical therapists are knowledgeable and experienced in treating dance-related injuries and are located throughout the Chicagoland area.
To learn more about our performing arts rehabilitation services, contact us at PerformingArts@Athletico.com.
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