Dance: Moving ‘Nutcracker’ 200 years into a hip hop future

On the afternoons of Dec. 16 and 17, at Redwood City’s Fox Theatre, audiences will be in full Christmas glow, as Peninsula Ballet Theatre presents its classic version of the beloved “Nutcracker,” with choreography by Carlos Carvajal.

But on the evenings of Dec. 15 and 17, the company will offer a very different sort of holiday magic — a hip hop version of the timeless tale. It’s not only enchanting, but explosively energetic.

“Hip Hop Nutcracker” was choreographed by Isaac “Stuck” Sanders and Ale Martinez. They bring 17 hip hop artists from their troupes The Tribe and Poise’n to join Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s students and young company members on stage.

Gregory Amato, Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director, said, “It’s fresh and it’s exciting. Almost everybody has seen ‘The Nutcracker.’ Every company in the world does it. It’s nice to see a fresh take. And Stuck’s vision, his musicality, is just incredible.”

Sanders, a nationally acclaimed, award-winning hip hop artist, performs in the show. His partner, Ale Martinez, dances the role of Clara. Sanders, who teaches hip hop at the Peninsula Ballet Theatre’s studio, watched the company rehearsing the traditional “Nutcracker.” He saw the potential for bringing modern hip hop to the story.

“‘Nutcracker’ is such a huge tradition, why wouldn’t you do it?” Sanders said, with a laugh. “I’m a huge fan of character and costume. Character is what dance is all about. And this has such memorable characters. Once you have the character laid out for you, the rest is kind of just putting your skill to the test.”

The first act Christmas Eve party scene, which introduces young Clara and her family in their Victorian household, remains relatively unchanged in the hip hop version. But everything changes in the dreamlike second act.

Amato said, “Stuck thought, ‘Why can’t we transport Clara 200 years into the future, go from 1810 Germany to 2015 San Mateo County?’ Instead of being transported to a magical kingdom in her mind, we get transported to a magical hip hop kingdom.”

So Sanders fused hip hop choreography to the traditional music, but updated the sound, with elements like scratching. Amato said, “Who knew that Tchaikovsky would work with hip hop? But it absolutely does.”

Sanders did not have classical training and wasn’t well versed on ballet history. “But he absorbs it so quickly and he adapts the traditional ballet into his movements,” Amato said. “So it’s not just hip hop. He’s actually melded the two, which is what makes it so good.”

This collaboration between Sanders and Peninsula Ballet Theatre debuted in 2015 in the company’s 150-seat studio. It was such a hit, they moved “Hip Hop Nutcracker” to the Fox the following year. This will be its second year at the venue.

Peninsula Ballet Theatre, a non-profit organization based in San Mateo, again teamed with Sanders to update Prokofiev’s “Cinderella” this past spring. In April, Amato will use some of Sanders’ dancers in the ballet company’s production of “Carnival of the Animals.”

Amato and Sanders are contemplating a future joint venture. “We’re just trying to find the right project,” Amato said. “It’s a delicate balancing act. Generally, in the past, trying to do this kind of thing has been cheesy and corny. It’s hard to meld them. But with Stuck’s talent and with his dancers and with our dancers, we can create something really special.”

Peninsula Ballet Theatre is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Amato hopes that, with such collaborations, they can grow both the ballet audience and the hip hop audience. He thinks it’s important to be willing to experiment.

“We’re going to continue to work with Stuck as much as we can, because the broader our base is, the better it is for all of us – better for the dancers, better for the audience.

“To keep arts alive, we have to pull in from all different areas. We have to be inclusive, involve all different communities. We’re trying to reach out. Ballet has always incorporated other styles of dance. And hip hop may be one of the ones in the future.”

Sanders said, “It’s rare to get a platform where the styles can link. The ballet audience definitely doesn’t get a lot of hip hop creativity. And same with the hip hop world — we don’t see a lot of ballet creativity. So it’s great to see a different interpretation of such a well known story.”

“Hip hop was created in the streets. So to have it viewed by people who normally wouldn’t probably otherwise see this element of creativity is one of the goals.”

Amato said that the dedication of Sanders, Martinez and their dancers to their art form equals that of his ballet performers. “They live, eat, breathe dance. Their dance is hip hop, but they are just as committed. I’ve been a dancer-director for more than 40 years and these are some of the most talented dancers I’ve seen in a long time.”

Sanders said, “One of my biggest goals is to get to a Broadway level of producing plays, musicals. So with ‘Hip Hop Nutcracker,’ it’s a great way for us to put our hip hop into storylines that people are used to. And we can build from there.”

Audiences loved the show last year and Sanders said this year’s edition will be bigger and better. “It’s only been a year, but the level is going to be really, really great. There’s going to be a huge difference.”

“It’s really exciting to watch where this may go,” Amato said. “This is the genesis of something that may be a whole new movement. Where we go, the future will tell.”

Email Paul Freeman at paul@popcultureclassics.com.


Dance

What: “Nutcracker”

Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City

When: 1 and 4 p.m. Dec. 16;,2:30 p.m. Dec. 17, 2017

Tickets: $50-$70; www.peninsulaballet.org

What: “Hip Hop Nutcracker”

Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 15, 6 p.m. Dec. 17

Tickets: $50-$70; www.peninsulaballet.org


Ale Martinez as Hip Hop Clara and Her Nutcracker in "Hip Hop Nutcracker," to be danced on Dec. 15 and 17, 2017, at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City. (Lance Huntley / Peninsula Ballet)
Ale Martinez as Hip Hop Clara and Her Nutcracker in “Hip Hop Nutcracker,” to be danced on Dec. 15 and 17, 2017, at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City. (Lance Huntley / Peninsula Ballet) 

 

Source: mercurynews
Dance: Moving ‘Nutcracker’ 200 years into a hip hop future