By ALYSSA HOLCOMB
Some of the most anticipated parts of the holiday season are the artistic endeavors and pieces that are mainly seen once a year. Now, the classic Nutcracker Ballet, with its timeless story and iconic score by Tchaikovsky, comes to life with a more modern twist.
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” created by the collaboration of United Palace of Cultural Arts’ (UPCA) Executive Director Mike Fitelson and Decadancetheatrecompany choreographer Jennifer Weber (who also directed this production), turns the classic story “on its head” through visual and musical representation of hip-hop and modern culture. A troupe of eleven dancers, a DJ and an electric violinist are all infused with the holiday tale to broaden the horizons of the music and movement that is so beloved in the original “Nutcracker” tale.
“Part of our goal at the UPCA is to introduce different art forms to different audiences,” said Fitelson. “So we will have classical music audience members watching hip hop dance, which they might not be familiar with, and vice versa. It sounds strange, but it the dance and music work together amazingly well. Audiences love it. We hope that it creates an entirely new vocabulary for combining dance and classical music.”
Now in its second year, the fresh “Nutcracker” features new creative touches (including returning special guest, “King of Rap” Kurtis Blow) along with some of the standard vignettes and characters that made the original ballet so beloved.
“When we tackled the material we wanted to keep as many of the traditional touchstones of the story as we could – Mouse King, growing trees, Drosselmeyer’s toys – but we also wanted to give some narrative weight to Act II, where not much happens in the classical version,” said Fitelson. “We used the music for inspiration to tell us what the characters were doing, feeling, where they wanted to take the story. It’s like Tchaikovsky had created a musical roadmap for where we were supposed to go.”
This year’s production sees the team going on a 12-city tour, including a stop abroad in Moscow, Russia. The creative side of the show has also incorporated additional changes, including six new dancers.
“As much as we tried last year, we weren’t able to shoehorn in the complete score,” said Fitelson. “The Arabian was left on the cutting room floor. I’m happy that we found a way to organically integrate it with our storytelling…All of the scenery is also new. Most of the imagery is from photographs taken around Washington Heights that have been collaged together into an environment that will be digitally projected behind the dancers.”
For audiences of all ages, Fitelson hopes that “Hip Hop Nutcracker” becomes an inspiring piece of holiday entertainment.
“I love that we created something that can appeal to and touch such a wide range of people,” said Fitelson. “[After seeing the show], I hope people walk away with a deeper appreciation for the art forms and how they work together. …before I met [choreographer/director] Weber and we thought up this crazy idea it had never before crossed my mind to create a performance. I’m much more of a visual artist than a performing one. I hope that people are as inspired to create as I was. And if someone like me with no theatre experience could come up with an adaptation of the Nutcracker that is actually being imported into Russia than the sky is the limit for what other people can do in the arts.”
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” will play the UPCA on November 20-21 before embarking on a U.S. tour and venturing abroad.
For more information on the show and the UPCA, as well as to buy tickets, visit https://unitedpalace.org/about-upca/hip-hop-nutcracker.
Shoreline Entertainment Editor Alyssa Holcomb, graduate of the University of Florida, where she majored in Telecommunication Management and minored in Theatre. To reach Ms. Holcomb, email: firstname.lastname@example.org