“The Hip Hop Nutcracker”

Tchaikovsky’s music and an updated fairy tale combine in “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker.”
Tchaikovsky’s music and an updated fairy tale combine in “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker.” Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

You won’t find any tutus in “The Hip Hop Nutcracker.” What you will find is Tchaikovsky’s music, accentuated and innovated by violinist Mathew Silvera and DJ Boo, and exuberant dance choreographed by Jennifer Weber, an ambassador of New York City hip hop. It’s a jubilant celebration of a well-worn holiday tradition, performed (and attended) by a wonderfully diverse group of people.

The Booth Playhouse is just the right setting for this event. Its intimacy allows the audience to see every ripple of muscle, and marvel at the athleticism and grace of the dancers. The set is clever and effective. DJ Boo stands in one corner with his equipment fronted by a row of spray paint cans. The location is “Uptown, USA,” which Andrew Diaz has designated by a photographic backdrop of New York City, which scrolls to the left to reveal the changing landscape of the city. Occasional splashes of color enliven the set.

That aside, the show is all about dance, of a kind not often seen on a mainstream stage. There is breakdancing, which combines martial art moves, gymnastics and funk. There are shuffles, and spins, and booty poppin. There’s C-walk footwork, in which heels and toes twist in and out. There are elements of the Harlem Shake, kip-up and krumping.

Choreographer and director Weber combines individual movement with synchronized ensemble numbers. The dancers’ faces exude continual emotion, which in this small theater is endearing and engaging. Some of their moves are stunning. If you find a traditional pirouette amazing, imagine a man spinning equally that fast on his head. If you think planking is difficult, imagine holding your body at 75-degree angle from the floor while balancing on a forearm.

The story is mostly recognizable, though of a different time. Ann Sylvia Clark plays Maria-Clara, and Myriam Gadri and Alain Lauture play her mom and dad, respectively. The opening scenes happen on the street, during which there is discordance between the adults. The magic begins when Miki Michelle’s Drosselmeyer commands the stage, waving a hypnotizing pocket watch, while amusing her entranced minions with dancing marionettes.

Gabriel Alvarez is the Nutcracker, a vendor selling nuts who, after an encounter with Brandon Rosario’s Mouse King and his army, rescues Maria-Clara. The rest of the action occurs when they wake up in a dream state: New Year’s Day, 1984.

Whitney Adams’ costumes hit the mark. The opening scenes bring dancers dressed in black, white and gray, with a current-day mélange of sports jerseys, sweatshirts and legwarmers. The journey to 1984 is replete with acid washed jeans, sweatbands and blue jean vests.

The climax of the performance is the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, performed with dashing aplomb by Gadri and Lauture.

The show is a successful cultural mashup that could serve as a lesson to our political leaders. It applauds the best cultural innovations of the past and the present, and creates a synergy between the east and the west.

‘The Hip-Hop Nutcracker’

When: Through Jan. 3 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 3 p.m. Thursday, 3 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Booth Playhouse, 130 N. Tryon St.

Tickets: $19.50-$44.50.

Details: 704-372-1000 or blumenthalarts.org.