Not Your Average 'Nutcracker': The World's Most Imaginative Productions
When most of us think of The Nutcracker, we imagine a growing Christmas tree, dancing mice, and a little girl named Clara (or Marie) traveling to the Land of Sweets. But companies around the world have been reinventing the holiday classic, changing the storyline or adding their own spectacular sets and characters. To get in the Nutcracker spirit this season, check out these out-of-the-box productions.
A "Nutcracker" Trip to the Chicago World's Fair
The Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" (photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy The Joffrey Ballet)
Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is set in Chicago a few months before the 1893 world's fair. "It was an amazing turning point in terms of architecture and electricity," says artistic director Ashley Wheater. "It had the first Ferris wheel, and put Chicago on the map."
Wheeldon's production uses the fair's history to tell a story about immigrants and what it means to belong, making Marie the daughter of a poor single mother. Visitors to the fair dance under a gigantic projection of a Ferris wheel during the "Waltz of the Flowers"; Marie's mother, a sculptress, becomes the Golden Statue and dances what's normally the Sugar Plum pas de deux with the Great Impresario of the Fair. "It's very theatrical and incredibly touching," says Wheater. "The whole creative team took us on a different journey than any other Nutcracker."
A Nautical "Nut"
Eastern Connecticut Ballet's "Nutcracker" (courtesy Eastern Connecticut Ballet)
Eastern Connecticut Ballet's production takes place in the 1850s, at the peak of the whaling industry. "We wanted to create a Nutcracker that our school children and the community could relate to," says executive director and founder Lise Reardon. "Look around our area and you'll see seaports, maritime museums, and the Coast Guard Academy. That was our inspiration."
In the ECB Nutcracker, Clara's father is a sea captain who comes home with stories about places and people he's seen around the world. The battle scene begins when the tree turns into a giant boat and takes Clara to a fight on the high seas, complete with pirate rats and sailors. "Then they journey to a magical seaport where there are dancers from countries around the world," Reardon says. The tiny angels in Act II even carry sea horses and shells.
An African-Style "Nutcracker"
South Africa's Joburg Ballet is home to The Nutcracker, Re-Imagined, a version of the holiday classic set in Africa. Drosselmeyer's character becomes a sangoma, a traditional African healer, who leads Clara on a journey to show her the beauty of the continent, and the production incorporates designs that are specific to its locale. (The "Waltz of the Flowers" happens in the Kalahari Desert, for example, and the "Spanish Dance" is set in Zanzibar.)
The show also fuses a diverse range of dance styles, including a local one known as gumboot dancing. "Here, people actually wear 'gumboots,' or Wellington boots, to dance in!" says senior soloist Angela Revie. "Elements like that make the production feel more rooted and relevant for our audiences."
An Especially Nutty "Hard Nut"
Mark Morris' "The Hard Nut" (photo by Stephanie Berger, courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group)
Mark Morris' playful The Hard Nut was inspired by the original story on which The Nutcracker was based, "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," by E.T.A. Hoffmann. "It's a wonderful and complicated tale of growing up and finding out about the world and its many fascinating people and customs and ideas," Morris says. But Morris transports the story to the 1970s—
which happens to be when he was a kid.
With its graphic sets and costumes inspired by the work of comic book artist Charles Burns, The Hard Nut is "fun, romantic, modern, scary, and beautiful," Morris says. "It's amazing to me that The Hard Nut has gone from being seen as a send-up or a parody to a classic," he adds. "There are people who, having seen it as children, now bring their own children to see it."
The National Ballet of China's version of The Nutcracker is Chinese New Year–themed. Tuantuan (Fritz) and his friends bully Yuanyuan (Clara) with nunchucks while wearing green dragon masks, and Yuanyuan gets help from sword-bearing tigers.
The Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker" (photo by Tony Brown, courtesy The Washington Ballet)
In The Washington Ballet's Revolutionary War–themed Nutcracker, the Nutcracker character is George Washington, who fights not the Mouse King but King George III.
Rudolf Nureyev's Nutcracker at the Paris Opéra Ballet has no Sugar Plum Fairy or Land of Sweets. Instead, party guests perform the Act II divertissements, and Drosselmeyer turns into the Prince to dance with Clara (performed by an adult).
Matthew Bourne's "Nutcracker" (photo by Simon Annand, courtesy Raw PR)
Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! is set in a grim orphanage, from which Clara escapes to Sweetieland—chasing the Nutcracker, who's dumped her for Sugar, i.e., the Sugar Plum Fairy. (Clara gets her man back in the end.)
A version of this story appeared in the December 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Not Your Average Nutcracker."
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.
When watching Megan Skalla dance, several things are immediately obvious. She has legs for days and the archy feet to match. Her core is rock-solid, and her sweet smile is contagious. But the longer you spend with her, the more something else becomes clear: Megan’s got sass. Whether it’s a sharp shoulder roll during a hip-hop class or an intense stare during a sky-high développé, there’s a certain something extra that makes this 16-year-old pop. And her steadfast devotion to dance means she’s only getting better.
Megan started dancing when she was 3 at a small ballet studio near her hometown of Draper, UT, and was hooked immediately. At 7, she switched to a new studio, Pulse 31, and started to compete, but she still wasn’t dancing as much as she wanted. Finally, she came to The Dance Club in Orem, where she currently trains. She takes ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, contemporary and lyrical, and sometimes supplements her training with private ballet classes at nearby Barlow Arts Conservatory. “I’ve always loved ballet,” says Megan, who has attended summer intensives at Pacific Northwest Ballet School on scholarship for the past two years. “It’s the foundation for everything, and it makes me a stronger dancer in other genres.”
Though she dances from morning until night, Megan admits to boogying through her kitchen when she gets home, and would still do more if she could. “There’s a dance company that’s a big deal at my high school, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do both,” she says. Devoting her time to The Dance Club, she says, is more conducive to her goal of dancing professionally. The studio is full of mega-talented dancers, and Megan shines among them. Her secret? “In class, some dancers will avoid going across the floor with someone they think is better than they are,” she says. “But I like to go across the floor with the best dancer in class. That way, I can push myself to come up to her level.”
Megan’s strategy is working. She won the Teen High Score Solo award at New York City Dance Alliance regionals and was a Top 10 Outstanding Dancer finalist at NYCDA Nationals. She has performed as Clara in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and was one of four Capezio NYCDA Model Search winners. As for the future, Megan knows one thing for sure: She’s going to keep dancing. “I want to go to college for dance, maybe to Brigham Young University, Marymount Manhattan or Juilliard,” she says. “But I still have a while to decide.” Until then, she’ll stick to her busy schedule. “It’s a lot of late nights and early mornings,” she says. “But it’s worth it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
Birthday: March 6, 1996
Favorite food: Pasta
Most-played on her iPod: “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz
Dream dance role: “It would be really fun to be a Rockette. I want to do the Rockette summer intensive this year.”
Three words that describe her dancing: “Soft, passionate, aggressive”
Dream dance company: Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Favorite dance movie: Step Up
Who would play her in a movie: Nina Dobrev from “The Vampire Diaries”
First thing she does in the morning: “Hit the snooze button so I can sleep for 10 more minutes.”
Favorite dancers of all time: Travis Wall and Joey Dowling
Hidden talent: “I like to sing, but I’m only OK. I’d like to take voice lessons.”
Performer she’d die to work with: Celine Dion
Must-see TV shows: “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Lying Game”
Allison Thornton, Megan’s teacher at The Dance Club: “Megan has the body that every dancer dreams of: long legs, beautiful feet, great extension. But the best thing about Megan is that she knows how to use it all. She works really hard, and as good as she is in rehearsal, she’s even better onstage. Megan is very humble. She always has a smile on her face, she gets along with the other girls and she’s easy to work with. She’s a good person who has been blessed with great talent.”
Joanna Numata, street jazz instructor at Broadway Dance Center: “The first thing I noticed about Megan were her beautiful lines. She also had a really good, positive energy during class. She took direction and corrections well, which is so important.”
For more on choosing whether to compete or not, click here.
I started dance classes at a young age. By the time I was 3, I was training at The Dance Club, and I grew up there. I started with the basics—ballet and jazz—and eventually added tap, tumbling, contemporary, and hip hop.
Early on, I did compete. I remember my first time: I did a trio at a small local competition, and it got first place. The trophy was as tall as I was, and I loved it. I attended conventions as a mini, and had the opportunity to take classes from Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh, Andy Pellick, and Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh. There was so much variety—I was in awe.
Paige Fraser has performed on world-class stages and in a video with Beyoncé—yet some of her most meaningful dance moments happened in tiny classrooms on a small island 1,000 miles from America. This past spring, Fraser, who's danced with Ailey II and is a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, teamed up with the non-profit Milk Carton on a String to bring dance to underprivileged children in Haiti. Fraser taught daily ballet and modern dance classes and used YouTube videos and social media to introduce the students to other aspects of dance they hadn't been exposed to.
Now, Fraser plans to continue to use dance to give back through her own newly-funded non-profit, The Paige Fraser Foundation. But instead of traveling outside the country, Fraser will be helping kids in her childhood home: the Bronx. She wants her foundation to assist aspiring dancers no matter their color or abilities.
Read our interview with the dancer and do-gooder—and discover the life-changing diagnosis that inspired her to help other dancers achieve their dreams.
DancerPalooza, America's Largest Dance Festival, is moving to sunny SAN DIEGO, California from July 24-29, 2018.
Check out all of the NEW Intensives DancerPalooza has to offer this year!
You can never go wrong with a classic black leotard. Discount Dance's long-sleeve mesh leo will add a sleek edge to your studio style. Pair it with tights and a skirt for ballet class, or layer some leggings and sweats for contemporary class. Enter below for your chance to win it!
Kyle Van Newkirk is a tap dancer you probably remember from the premiere season of NBC's World of Dance. In case you missed it, he is also one of Showstopper's incredible convention teachers. What makes Kyle stand apart from some of today's other incredible tappers? He isn't afraid to change what tap means to his audience and even himself. This modern view of tap dancing is important because it shows us that tap dancers are just as versatile and dynamic as dancers of any other genre. We sat down with Kyle to get his advice on bringing tap dancing into the 21st century.
Last night was both the best and the worst night of "Dancing with the Stars: Athletes." The best, because one lean, mean, dancing machine of a couple got to take home the Mirrorball trophy. The worst, because we won't be able to tune in to "DWTS" each Monday to get our weekly dose of dance mania until the fall. But all good things must come to an end, and "DWTS: Athletes" was certainly one of the best seasons yet. The remaining three couples all brought their A-games to the dance floor for the finale, showcasing two dances: a traditional ballroom routine and a freestyle. Here's the final recap.