A SHOW FOR ALL AT "THE HIP HOP NUTCRACKER"
Tchaikovsky's music and hip hop moves—what can we say? Opposites attract
All photos courtesy of Hennepin Theatre Trust
By Lianna Matt
With an acclaimed dancing cast, “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” took the stage for the third year in the row as part of the Ordway season. And although the venue changed from the Ordway’s stage (illusionist Adam Trent was occupying it) to Hennepin Theatre Trust’s historic State Theatre in an amiable collaboration, there were clearly people in the audience who would have followed the returning group to whatever Twin Cities venue they had chosen.
For two nights, Nov. 21 and 22 (grab your tickets now for tonight’s performance at 7:30 p.m.), 12 dancers, electric violinist Emily Simone and DJ Boo bring you a story that brings in elements of “The Nutcracker” and reminds you that “love conquers all.”
It’s the holiday season in 2017, and Maria-Clara (Ann-Sylvia Clark) leaves her parents at a holiday party after getting tired of their constant arguing. She runs into the magical Drosselmeyer (played by the popping SheStreet), who introduces her to her Nutcracker (Josue “Beast” Figueroa), a street peddler selling nuts. After some adventures together—with a very enchanting “Dance of the Snowflakes” that almost left me asking for winter—Drosselmeyer brings them back in time to the Land of Sweets nightclub, New Year’s Eve, 1984, where Maria-Clara sees her parents fall in love for the first time. The three return to the present, and with the Nutcracker’s help, Maria-Clara reminds her parents of their love for each other.
Before the dancing even begins, special guest MC Kurtis Blow brings you back to the old school days of hip hop by starting the show performing a mix of favorites like “The Messenger” by Grandmaster Flash and “Jump Around” by House of Pain. (For those of you who know your hip hop, don’t worry; as the first rapper to be signed to a major label, release a certified gold rap album, tour U.S. and Europe and become a millionaire, Blow makes sure to rap some of his biggest hits, too.)
Aside from that, most of the music is taken straight from Tchaikovsky’s classical “Nutcracker” score, and the choreography is a mix of different hip hop styles and all of the leaps, freezes and mind-bending contortions that come with them. Alluané Blegbo’s (Maria-Clara’s mother) liquid movements and grace seem to blur hip hop, jazz and ballroom; Evan Moody (ensemble) leads the cast in the “My knees can take anything” category with his effortless drops, particularly in his “Dance of the Reed Flutes” feature; Figueroa (the Nutcracker) had his fancy footwork with or without the magic red shoes, and his head spins rival any ballet pirouettes. Really, it makes sense with credits like national music tours (as dancers), films, renowned crews and studios, and more saturating their bios. What struck me most, though, was the theatricality and accessibility of the show.
The choreography by Jennifer Weber, artistic director for the Brooklyn-based hip hop theatrical company Decadancetheatre, is expressive, certainly, but so is the direction she chose for it. The show is surprisingly funny with setups within the choreography, and animated expressions convey just how the characters feel. Moments in the show alternate between focusing on the plot and the choreography, so everyone can understand what's happening.
On opening night, the audience was filled with children clapping along to the music and adults who rapped along with every word by Blow, first time attendees and those who had come to the previous sold-out tours. Laughter rang out, and you could hear the crowd’s gasps at the show’s many “wow” moments. Everyone can fall under the spell of “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” and that, more than anything, makes it perfect for the holidays.
For more Twin Cities holiday dance, check out our 2017 roundup.