By Joanne M. Choi
Boston, MA — There is something special that happens when the timeless Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky score is steeped in the rhythms of Duke Ellington: A sort of melodious, soulful, and sassy American composition that snaps into a world where anything is possible. In the Urban Nutcracker, Christmas trees magically expand until they are mountains of light, a nutcracker toy battles with mice, and dancers go en pointe and others do tap, hip-hop, and flamenco numbers. This fresh take on the 19th-century ballet story enchants and entertains audiences of all ages as it contains fantasy, intrigue, and hope entwined in a glittery package. Audiences get to share Ruby’s adventures exploring iconic Boston scenes such as Make Way for Ducklings, the golden dome of the State House, and in a special nod to local landmarks, the Nutcracker Prince escorts Ruby into Drosselmeyer’s magical replica of the Boston Public Garden.
The imagery and influence and diversity of Boston resonates throughout the show. Many of the 120+ costumes were re-imagined by local artist Dustin Todd Rennells and hand-made in Boston. The production used 125 headpieces for all the dancers. Dorchester-based musician Bill Whitney led a small live ensemble and live music was used in many scenes of this year’s Urban Nutcracker show. This is largely due to the background of Tony Williams, a former Boston Ballet principal dancer, the founder of City Ballet of Boston and the Tony Williams Dance Center, as well as the choreographer of Urban Nutcracker. The importance of diverse representation in classical art and traditions is something that Tony Williams believes in. This Jamaica Plain native says, “I am thrilled to bring my Urban Nutcracker to the Boch Center Shubert Theatre for this year’s performances. Our partnership will allow even more Bostonians to experience our mission, ‘diversity through dance’. Our production draws in so many Boston influences and backdrops, it is really a show I created to honor Boston and our history.”
It was enjoyable to see the opening scenes, spying the CITGO sign and the general skyline. In this version, the heroine, Ruby, is celebrating the holidays with her family in Boston but desperately misses her Father who is away on a tour of duty this winter. Omar, her younger brother, breaks the Nutcracker gifted to her by the Drosselmeyer. Unsurprisingly, the uber suave Drosselmeyer makes many things right and the majority of this production follows the broad strokes of the known ballet versions.
The most humorous scenes were a tap dance off in the beginning and when party participants take a group photo aided by a selfie stick. The relationship between Ruby and Drosselmeyer seemed fleshed out and authentic while the not so subtle flirtations between Drosselmeyer and Aunt Fanny were amusing and fresh. The performance was 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission and it was a delight to see the many children perform their roles. The passion for dance starts young and there are many siblings in this show. By having five brother/sister teams in the youth cast the Urban Nutcracker demonstrates an example of successful family and community seeds tended with care. Tony Williams has used his creative prowess to expose a new generation of dancers attuned to the beauty and power of dance in all forms.
The show runs from Dec. 20-30, 2018 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre.
All performances are approximately 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Ticket Prices: $28-$118 (inclusive of $3 facility fee)
Tickets are available at the Boch Center Box Office, bochcenter.org, or by calling (866) 348-9738. Groups of 10 or more may purchase discounted tickets by contacting Boch Center Group Sales at (617) 532-1116 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cover and closing photos provided courtesy of Peter Paradise Photography