By Lily Keenan
VANCOUVER — Christmas is nearly upon us and with it comes a slew of festivities to rouse the spirit in us all. And it wouldn’t be Christmas without Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, The Nutcracker — a ballet that follows one girl’s adventure through epic battles and opulent sugar wonderlands on Christmas Eve.
But, unfortunately, gone are days when glittering bodies moving pompously about a stage could excite more than a few dedicated traditionalists. This is why, for the past nine years, Arts Umbrella Dance Company has presented tradition with a twist. Mixed Nuts is a take on Tchaikovsky’s classic we know so well, incorporated with contemporary dancing, hip-hop, and humour.
Artistic director Artemis Gordon has been involved with Arts Umbrella for 23 years. “Ballet is continually evolving, constantly shifting and being reinvented,” she says. “We are still using the traditional values of what ballet is, but we are also contemporising The Nutcracker, a ballet that was made in the 19th century, and making it something that is a little bit more accessible.”
14 choreographers worked with a cast of over 80 dancers accomplished in every style. “You are never going to find a group of dancers more disciplined than the Arts Umbrella dancers because they have to learn every single part,” says Gordon. “It’s incredible that the dancers can do as much as they do. And they do it so well, from classical ballet on point, to hip-hop on the floor.”
While having a break-dancing Nutcracker may well have Tchaikovsky turn in his grave, the integrity of his original score is by no means compromised. “We find that there are lot of remixes of Tchaikovsky’s original music, which means that we can be really innovative with the way we use it,” says Gordon. “For example the ‘Chinese Tea’ dance has a Chinese drum beat on top of the original classical piece. We can incorporate all these new elements to fit the new choreography.”
Through unique choreography and skillful direction, The Nutcracker has been transformed into a reflection of dance history, encompassing multiple eras, genres, and cultures. The battle of mice and soldiers becomes a hip-hop street fight, the Christmas party held by Clara’s parents becomes an authentic 1960s hustle. The result is a delightful re-imagining of iconic scenes to represent modern consciousness.
Far from boring and never bland, Arts Umbrella has found a way to put flavour back into a longstanding classic. Mixed Nuts combines tradition with innovation and mixes it up with enough joy to inspire the whole family.
Mixed Nuts will be performed at the Vancouver Playhouse on December 18 and 19.BC, British Columbia, live theatre, Mixed Nuts, The Nutcracker, Vancouver Playhouse