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Two Salt Lake choreographers are using hip-hop to reinterpret "The Nutcracker" in distinctly different ways.
Charlotte Boye-Christensen's contemporary dance company NOW-ID is partnering with the BBoy Federation, D.J. Artemis and the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art to offer an edgy, interactive version titled "It's Not Cracker." Across town at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus, Derryl Yeager's Odyssey Dance Theatre updates the traditional story when Clara receives a smartphone for Christmas in "ReduxNut-Cracker."
Both productions add an urban twist to the Tchaikovsky score, to say nothing of the 1892 choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, and edit the narrative to bring the Nutcracker to life.
NOW-ID's performance opens with the classic holiday party scene, except this time you're in it.
"The pre-party that begins at 6:30 with drinks and nosh is the Stahlbaums' Christmas party, so the audience begins by being part of the performance causal but referential," Boye-Christensen said.
The audience then moves into UMOCA's main art gallery, walking past unusual set pieces, such as a Christmas tree hung upside down from the ceiling.
"I wanted to create a surreal environment with an edge," Boye-Christensen said. "I wanted it to be playful but with an attitude."
She found the attitude she was looking for when she attended a BBoy Federation hip-hop battle and was captivated by the wit, assertiveness and lack of pretense. Boye-Christensen immediately envisioned the iconic battle between the Nutcracker Prince and the Mouse King, but was concerned mixing her contemporary movement style with hip hop could be disjointed.
"I wanted the dialogue between the styles to be authentic and have it shape the piece and honor its tradition," she said.
Equally important to her was connecting the fundamental themes of "The Nutcracker" story to the times we are living in.
"The classics have timeless themes with the potential to offer a new perspective on our world today," she said. "Theater is not just an escape, it connects us. This is our first year in development with this concept, but I'd like to see where it can go next year."
For Odyssey Dance Theatre, this is not the first time the company has tackled the classics, having reinvented "Giselle," "Carmen" and "Romeo and Juliet." It's also not ODT's first attempt at a holiday show, with past dance versions of "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Joy to the World." With "ReduxNut-Cracker," now in its third year, Yeager says the company has found holiday success. The company has added shows to the Kingsbury run and included tour stops in Ogden and St. George.
The show is loaded with fun but has a serious side, too. Yeager parallels Clara's fantasy journey to the land of sweets with a modern-day teen drawn into a magical world through apps on her smartphone.
"The many worlds you can go to on a phone is exciting but it can also get you into trouble and we address that," he said. "In the end, Clara realizes 'there's no place like home,' and she saves Dr. Drosselmeyer from getting into a bad situation with strangers."
ODT's version replaces Mother Buffoon with the Mario Brothers; Waltz of the Flowers with the Angry Bird Waltz; Siri steps in as the Sugar Plum Fairy to guide Clara. Yeager shares credit for the choreography with Eldon Johnson, Veronica Yeager and Christian Denise.
Yeager performed several roles in Willam F. Christensen's "Nutcracker" at Ballet West during the 1970s and says a few of his signature character moves are still being done.
One of the highlights of Christensen's first act is the giant mice with huge, blank staring eyes that execute classical ballet steps with exquisite comic timing. Yeager said he created the Mouse King's final wave to the audience, which invariably gets a big laugh.
"I like that bit so much I stole it from myself and it's in our 'Nutcracker,' " he said. "I'm a goofball, I like to make people laugh and have fun."
NOW-ID's 'It's Not Cracker'
This abbreviated rendition of "The Nutcracker" is filled with movement, fantasy, magic and artistic diversity. The 20-minute Tchaikovsky suite is extended, mixed and added to by DJ Artemis. Charlotte Boye-Christensen's dancers Brad Beakes and Tara McArthur are paired with corps players from the BBoy Federation, Joshua Perkins ("text"), Chris Owens ("monkey"), Samnang Heng, Alonzo Cooper ("mini cooper"), Ben Ukoheke ("wesley swipes"), Max Crebs ("baby blue") and Terry Post ("bangkok").
When • Friday and Saturday, Dec. 16-17, 7:30 p.m.; doors open at 6:30 p.m. with mulled wine, beer and mingling
Where • Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, 20 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15-$25 (plus fees); now-id.com
Odyssey Dance Theatre's 'The ReduxNut-Cracker'
"The Nutcracker" is updated through current dance styles and performed to pop and hip-hop renditions of the Tchaikovsky score. Clara's imagination is inspired by the technological advances of today as she is drawn by her smartphone into a magical world.
When • Wednesday-Saturday, Dec. 14 -17, and Dec. 19-23, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 17, matinee, 2 p.m.
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20-$40 (plus fees); discounts available; odysseydance.com