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A New Exhibition Designed by Drexel Students Takes Visitors Behind the Scenes of the Pa. Ballet’s The Nutcracker

The Pennsylvania Ballet performs The Nutcracker

November 12, 2013

A new exhibition designed by Drexel University students takes visitors behind the curtain of one of Philadelphia’s most beloved holiday traditions, the Pennsylvania  Ballet’s annual presentation of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.

On display from Nov. 14 – Jan. 31 in the Philadelphia History Museum’s Community History Gallery, Behind the Scenes of The Nutcracker tells the story of The Nutcracker’s 45-year history in Philadelphia.

Behind the Scenes of The Nutcracker was designed for the Pennsylvania Ballet by five graphic design students from Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, under the direction of Jody Graff, director of Drexel’s graphic design program and an assistant professor. Participating students include Kristen Beck ‘13, Niki Benedetto ‘14, Tawona Chimimba ‘14, Soha Qadir ‘14 and Avery Sohn ‘14.

The project began as an independent study during the winter term in early 2013. The class came up with three conceptual designs, which were then presented to the Ballet and Museum. The design that was chosen was then refined and evolved into the current installation. 

A 10-foot Christmas tree decorated with pointe shoes is installed at the entrance to the exhibitFor inspiration, the students focused on the fantasy, wonder and magical quality of The Nutcracker, to create a sense of wonder and excitement. The exhibition allows visitors to see how stage magic is created through learning about the hundreds of people and months of preparation involved in bringing The Nutcracker to life each season.

Included in the exhibition are artifacts from past Pennsylvania Ballet performances, including a tiara worn by the Sugarplum Fairy, a toy soldier’s hat, a mouse head, a Dewdrop costume and an archival program.

At the entrance of the gallery is a 10-foot Christmas tree decorated with pointe shoes. A video, created especially for the exhibition, will feature past performances, as well as interviews with those involved in the creation of the production. Visitors can also learn the five classical ballet positions by practicing their moves in front of a mirror installed in the gallery.

Students Tawona, Soha and Avery work on pointe shoe tree concept in the URBN CenterJody Graff will continue to work with the Ballet, collaborating with other Drexel students and instructors to create an on-site case exhibition at the Free Library Main Branch to be featured for the month of March 2014.

An opening reception for Behind the Scenes of The Nutcracker will be held on Thursday, Nov. 14 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the Philadelphia History Museum’s Main Gallery. Members of the Pennsylvania Ballet will talk about their experiences onstage and behind the scenes, and life-size characters of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Mouse King will be on hand for photos.

The event is free to museum members; non-members are $10 for adults, children under 12 are free. To register, visit or call 215-685-4829.

About the Philadelphia History Museum
Reopened to the public in September 2012 with the completion of a total interior renovation, the Philadelphia History Museum unveiled redesigned galleries to showcase its outstanding collection of historical objects, art and artifacts. 

Soha working on tree installation at Philadelphia History MuseumThe Museum, founded by City Ordinance in 1938 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia, is housed in an historic 1826 building at 15 South 7th Street, designed by John Haviland as the original home of the Franklin Institute. The Museum provides historical context for issues of contemporary urban life using its premier collection of over 100,000 objects, paintings, and photographs in exhibitions, programs, and interactive media. Philadelphia Voices: The Community History Gallery showcases exhibitions designed and installed by Philadelphia-based community groups, schools or non-profit organizations about their work and history. The Philadelphia History Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, visit or call 215-685-4830. 

About the Pennsylvania Ballet
Founded in 1963 by Balanchine student and protégée Barbara Weiserger, Pennsylvania Ballet is one of the nation’s leading ballet companies. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the Company’s annual local season features six programs of classic favorites and new works, including the Philadelphia holiday tradition, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. For more information, visit or call 215-551-7000.

Media Contact

Alex McKechnie