SCHENECTADY — “Hip Hop Nutcracker” has turned the classical ballet on its head.
The Monday night show at Proctors fast-forwarded the holiday favorite to New Year’s Eve 2015. There, it unfolded as an urban tale, peopled with a band of youths who hit all the right moves — breaking, bopping, locking and popping. The only thing resembling “The Nutcracker” proper was the Tchaikovsky music.
Aside from the title, it was clear right from the start that this was not your parents’ “Nutcracker.” At the top of the show, old school rapper Curtis Blow and DJ Boo took the stage to raise the crowd (and there was a crowd) out of their seats and onto their feet. Opening with his version of “Christmas Rappin’,” Blow had the audience waving their arms, shouting and singing along. Dressed in white from head-to-toe, Blow worked the audience into a heated lather with a few of his hits before making way for this fresh and flashy showcase.
It opened to Mathew Silvera playing the overture on his violin as DJ Boo accented his notes by scratching records. Silvera stood under a lone streetlight, trimmed with pair of red sneakers dangling from its pole. The gritty cityscape soon filled with youth — among them Maria Clara, danced by Ann Sylvia Clark, accompanied by her bickering parents. As they argued, Maria Clara joined the band of teens who swaggered with attitude as they rocked their fly moves.
From back flips to head spins, these dancers were tight. They were fearless as they pushed up and off the floor, twisting their arms and legs midair. More astonishing was seeing them do it to classical music. Tchaikovsky never looked like this.
The show was directed and choreographed by Jennifer Weber. Obviously, she has an affinity for “The Nutcracker,” one of the world’s most famous and beloved ballets. Yet it goes without saying that the two disciplines, ballet and hip-hop, are miles apart. Ballet is codified and calls for dancers to do certain things a certain way. Hip-hop dance and music, on the other hand, is about the individual, their expression and interpretation of the music and the mood. Merging the two was a radical concept, especially since Weber did not continue the melding of Tchaikovsky with the DJ. The hip-hop dancers performed most of the show to a straight-up rendering of the ballet music.
Some of Weber’s choreographic ideas were amusing, like the gang of rats invading the neighborhood, and disturbing: the angry parents who swiped at each other to the Arabian music. Other moments were simply sweet, like the snow waltz with the group of youths, now all in white, tumbling and churning as the coolest snowflakes ever.
Maria Clara’s Prince is danced by Gabriel Alvarez. He gains his magical powers to transport Maria Clara to 1984, when her parents met, by slipping on the pair of red sneakers that fall from the lamppost. Tall and gangly, Alvarez made for an attentive and cool cavalier, helping Maria Clara to ultimately reconcile her parents.
Thus, “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” just like the original, ends happily ever after.