This production, based on the Nutcracker by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, adapted by Mike Fitelson and directed and choreographed by Jennifer Webber takes place New Year’s Eve in “Uptown, USA.”
Act I: Set at a holiday street fiesta, the protagonist Maria-Clara gets upset at the party due to her parents arguing. The characters Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker, and the Mouse Crew appear entertaining the audience with high energy and explosive dance moves. Marie-Clara meets a street vendor (The Nutcracker) and falls in love with him.
Act II: Maria-Clara and her boo, the Nutcracker are taken back in time to 1984 by Drosselmeyer. They enter a nightclub scene and from the sidelines witness the partygoers showing off the dances of the era. Maria-Clara understands this as the initial encounter of when her parents first met. After another dance scene they time travel to the present and aide in her parents rekindling their love.
I enter The Coral Springs Center for The Arts and hear DJ Boo playing “Love Nwantiti” by CKay. I had to make the decision, asking myself was I performing tonight or am I going to be an audience member? This was the beginning of his mix to get the crowd hype. His playlist included “Sweetest Taboo” by our royal queen Sade, “Back to Life” by “Soul II Soul, “Candy Rain” by Soul For Real, and “Only You (Club Mix) by 112. I was pleased to see a multigenerational and multiracial audience. I observed audience members eating popcorn and drinking various beverages that were allowed into the theater. It appeared as if the audience members were going to the movies or a music concert. I have not heard of or seen people eating popcorn at the theater especially when going to see a ballet or any other dance production. It was becoming clearer that tonight would not be average.
Kurtis Blow enters the stage dressed in a white tuxedo with graffiti that had “HIP HOP” painted on the blazer, a white baseball cap, silver bowtie, and white sneakers. He led the crowd in a call and response that included rapping to old school joints such as “Rappers Delight” from the Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash’s “The Message, “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie, and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” DJ Boo had the crowd rockin’ as he took us down old school Hip Hop memory lane. Blow informed us that this was “not a normal Nutcracker [and we should] let our hair down [and] let [our]selves go” (Blow 2022). He stated, “if Tchaikovsky was here, he would want to do a nutcracker like this” (Blow 2022). Let’s see, a white male from Europe in the 1800’s working within a classical music tradition…I don’t know Kurtis—probably not.
Violinist Vivek Menon sets it off with impeccable skills, making his violin sang! He torches the stage with his fusion of Hip Hop and classical music. It’s giving very much Black Violin vibes. DJ Boo is mixing in the background layering the levels of funk to this exquisite sound. It was Fiyah! The performance featured solo’s, duets, and ensemble work that included contemporary dance elements and old school and current street and social dance; but the choreography was heavily drawing from breaking vernacular. We saw B-boy and B-girl’s voguing, whacking and doing backflips/front flips, backspins, head spins, battles, popping and locking, turtles, and windmills in and out of the cypher.
I connected a lot of this work to Rennie Harris’s Puremovement, particularly his Rome and Jewels piece which similarly juxtaposes a classical idea/concept (theater/music) with Hip Hop dance and music. Harris’s demonstration of Hip Hop technique for the concert stage is bar none particularly when discussing the seamlessness of the dancers as they enter and exit the cypher but also as they transition from one aesthetic to the other. It is like buttah baby. This is where the Hip Hop Nutcracker loses a little steam. This doesn’t discount the power and the dancer’s execution of the movements which are amazing. Secondly, I did get lost in some sections; had I not read the program, I would not have made certain connections. The storyline gets lost at times, this is due to some of the acting—perhaps.
Overall, I loved the production, the cast is brilliant. The digital background added to the texture of the scenes and the period based costumes very vibrant. There was humor, symbolism, and cultural references that I think many of the audiences received. The women were beasts. Randi “Rascal” Freitas took no prisoners when she danced. I appreciated the multiracial casting. This production was an authentic representation of the world that we live in and to see not only women on stage cutting up and showing out but also to see so many women and men of color in this production performing in movement styles that have been dismissed in many predominantly white institutions (PWI’s) in higher education dance programs speaks volumes to the work that many of my colleagues are doing. This is it. This is where we want to see dance go, move, be, and live. It also serves as an education for the audience as well, revealing that dance is not reserved for one body, race, culture, or aesthetic. I mean Drossylmeyer was a Black woman with locks!
Image 1: Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker
Imag 2: Kurtis Blow
Image 3: Vivek Menon
Image 4: Hip Hop Nutcracker Backdrop
Image 5: Drosselmeyer (Lisa “L-Boogie” Bauford) w/ Castmeber
Image 6: Ensemble Act I
Image 7: Ensemble Act I
Image 8: Nutcracker
Image 9: DJ Boo
Image 10: AC