Breakdancing snowflakes. A popping marionette. A mouse king toppled by a head spin.
These are the iconic "Nutcracker" moments turned on their head in Jennifer Weber’s “The Hip Hop Nutcracker.” Weber’s show sets different styles of hip-hop to the traditional Tchaikovsky score, an experiment that she believes offers something new and inclusive to fans of both genres.
Like the traditional ballet, the show begins at a party, after which Clara is whisked off to the Land of Sweets. However in Weber’s vision, the Land of Sweets is a nightclub in 1980s Brooklyn and Maria-Clara has been whisked there to witness the night her parents met, and to help them reconcile in her present.
“‘The Nutcracker’ is an interesting show in that the first and second act don’t have much in common, and we wanted to tie them together,” says Weber about the plot change. “I think for an audience who thinks they know ‘The Nutcracker,’ it’s actually similar — it’s elements you’re used to seeing, but with a hip-hop twist.
Some of those elements include the mouse army, the toys that come to life and featured sweets. In “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” the mice become a “funky” street gang with their king taken out by a headspin; the jack-in-the-box is now a breakdancer; the Tea dance uses house style.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say it wasn’t what they expected,” says Ann-Sylvia Clark, who plays Maria-Clara. “Some of them expect hip-hop music, but it's not. … It still has classical music [but the] movement is hip-hop.”
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” runs Thursday, Dec. 21 to Saturday, Dec. 23 at the Shubert Theatre. The show opens with Kurtis Blow, one of rap’s first major artists, setting the scene with an “old school” rap introduction. Blow has been a part of the production since it began touring three years ago.
“I was just taken by the production,” Blow says about his decision to join up. “They have all these young people representing the dance moves of today, blending the two cultures: ballet and breakdancing.”
Moving into its third year of touring, the blend of genres has accumulated a diverse audience. Both Blow and Weber note that the show’s audience includes families and people of all ages, and draws fans from both genres.
“We always thought hip-hop was for everyone, and it’s manifested in this play,” says Blow. “Three generations in the audience? That’s incredible, that’s when you know it’s for everyone. Even the traditionalists who have been going to ‘The Nutcracker’ every season as a play, the hardcore ballet version — the response has been incredible.”
Weber thinks the appeal lies with the fact that it is an unexpected pairing, and that the presence of each genre highlights something new and special about the other.
“There’s something about bringing together two things, two things that shouldn’t go together but do,” she says, noting that the music changes the way the audience views the movement, while the movement changes the experience of the well-known score. “It makes you feel anything is possible. That’s really my goal of the show.”
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” runs Dec. 21-23 at the Shubert Theatre.