'The Hip Hop Nutcracker’: The Reimagining of a Holiday Classic

aimee & andrew kruse-ross | hip hop nutcracker | dec. 2016

Trading in the pointe shoes for Chuck Taylor All Stars, and pliés for backflips, “The Hip Hop Nutcracker," reimagines the Tchaikovsky favorite and brings the holiday classic to life in a completely new way.

Critics across the nation are falling in love with this high-energy show.

On Monday, Dec. 12, Green Bay audiences will discover the show The New York Times said is “a generous dose of contemporary spirit sure to heat up even the most restless of wintry souls."

While enjoying the warm weather of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Randi Fleckenstine, the troupe's dance captain and assistant choreographer, took some time to field questions about the show.

Hip Hop Nutcracker is a relatively new show. Would you give us a bit more background on the history of this production and what had to happen to bring it to fruition?

The idea for The Hip Hop Nutcracker came from Mike Fitelson at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights. He wanted to create a new holiday show for an uptown audience. The 3,400-seat theater needed a big show to bring in a large holiday crowd. Mike approached Jenn (our director) who had been working on fusing classical music with hip hop dance on a few other projects in NYC. In 2013, they created a small 15-minute 'proof of concept' with just three dancers.

The next year, the Palace funded the creation of the first full-length version. Then NJPAC came on board as producers and took the show to the next level including the first US/Russia tour last year.

We understand that this Nutcracker show is unlike the traditional ballet, instead of pointe shoes, a pair of Converse tennis shoes. What do you believe sets your show apart from this, and what makes your show similar?

The movement certainly sets our Nutcracker apart. Rather than seeing turns on pointe shoes, you see them on backs, hands and heads!

You will, however, see similarities in certain scenes where we have modern day hip-hop apparel inspired by the original ballet. The mice have snap backs (baseball hats) with mice ears attached and bandanas as tails. Our lead, the Nutcracker, wears a jacket made to look like a Nutcracker.

The beginning is a party scene, just as in the original, but our party takes place in modern day New York City. The plot takes quite a twist, however. Maria Clara's mother and father play a large role. They have grown apart over the years, and Maria Clara and the Nutcracker work throughout the show to remind them of their past love and bring them together again.

Hip-hop, digital scenery, a DJ and a violinist, all set in 1984, a definite cultural infusion! What kind of music will the audience hear? Any Tchaikovsky?

There is certainly a cultural infusion! With the help of Drosselmeyer, we time travel back to when the parents first met. The Spanish, the Russian and Tea all occur in an '80s bar where we then meet young mom and dad. Although we have played with time and location, the audience will actually be hearing the Tchaikovsky score! We perform to the original music, with a few moments in the opening and closing acts where the DJ mixes in some hip-hop beats and our violinist freestyles alongside.

Any surprises for the audience?

There are plenty of surprises for the audience. With a cast full of amazing freestylers, there will be plenty of flips, tricks and illusions. The live violin is a special treat throughout the show as well. I don't want to give them all away, though! You'll have to come see for yourself.

Rap legend Kurtis Blow has recently joined your tour for select dates. What is it like to work with his talent, and what does he bring to the production as a whole?

Words can't describe what it is like for the cast to be dancing next to Mr. Kurtis Blow. As hip-hop dancers, we grew up listening to his songs, such as 'The Breaks' (we perform this with him on stage). His music is timeless and still such a strong part of the culture! We all have so much respect for the knowledge he has for hip-hop, having been there when it was born! Kurtis really pulls the show together. He gets the crowd up on their feet and singing along before we even hit the stage. He creates the appropriate environment for the night, being that hip-hop is a collaborative energy between the music, the dancers and all onlookers! He gets the audience engaged from beginning to end! We love performing with Kurtis Blow!

Your tour was sold out last year. That must have been a wonderful affirmation for such a new project. Any plans for the future?

We are seeing sold out shows this year as well! We are even adding matinees in some cities! The response is extraordinary, and we are so grateful. Hopefully next year we can add more cities!

We see that you'll be touring right up until the end of the year. How will you be celebrating the holiday season?

This cast has bonded so strongly already. Although we are away for the holidays, we are blessed to be on the road with a second family. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner together in Nashville. For Christmas, we have the day off in Charlotte. We are planning on renting an Airbnb and each cooking a special dish from home to share potluck style.

'The Hip Hop Nutcracker' – Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Weidner Center. More info/tickets at weidnercenter.com. Ticket prices starting at $25.

Stay up-to-date

Sign up for a monthly digest of everything new in GB.