The Sugar Plum Fairy is going to bring it to the beat and find the right rhythm when The Hip Hop Nutcracker arrives at The Ritz Theatre this weekend. Created by choreographer/director Jennifer Weber and writer/producer Mike Fitelson, the show is billed as “a holiday mash-up for the whole family, which re-imagines Tchaikovsky’s classic score through explosive hip hop choreography.”
The show sets out on a holiday tour and, with the likes of DJ BOO and none other than hip hop icon Kurtis Blow as part of the cast, the show is sure to pop, lock, and rock the crowd.
Folio Weekly caught up with the lively Weber shortly after the final rehearsal prior to the start of the tour. We spoke about delivering a new spin on this dance and music classic while honoring the original and dealing with some unwanted trolls.
Folio Weekly: How was the final rehearsal?
Jennifer Weber: Energetic. The cast and crew are busting at the seams with energy. We are ready to go!
How did this all come about? How do you take a classic like The Nutcracker and reinvent it to a hip hop beat?
Well, hip hop is all about sampling and that’s what I feel we did. I wouldn’t say we reinvented it; more like translated it. Our show is still comprised of, I’d say, 98 percent of Tchaikovsky’s original score. DJ BOO adds loops to enhance the vibe and help the dancers find the groove.
Were you nervous to take on The Nutcracker?
When I was first approached, I was, like, “whoa!” I mean, The Nutcracker is a beast and so well known. I have choreographed and directed a show based on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, but there was not foundational dance there. The ballet movements in The Nutcracker are established, to a certain extent. To be completely honest, I had never seen the entire original ballet when I was approached.
Have you seen it since?
I’ve seen many different versions since. It’s important to understand the piece first and then you can find your own individual voice in it.
Oh, we weren’t questioning your preparation! We’re sure you’re a total pro.
[Laughs.] Oh no, it’s cool. I had a lot to learn in order to make this happen. I didn’t know that it’s OK to move the song order around in different productions of The Nutcracker. Overall, I simply wanted to stay true to the feel and story of the original.
So the dancers are executing classic ballet moves like pliés or the pas de bourrée?
Not quite. Like I said, hip hop is all about sampling and we sample traditional dance moves and gestures, but we are a bunch of hip hop dancers and, as such, we’re going to bring our flavor to it. We had to figure out how this music speaks to both the street dancers and the classically trained dancers that make up our cast. We had to be open to the newness of it.
OK, but there has to be some pushback from traditionalists. Anyone get their tights all tied up in bunches about this show?
Yeah, you know how the Internet is.
You scurried up some trolls?
[Laughs.] No. Well … [Laughs.] People have the right to voice their opinion. People get nervous when it comes to culture and traditions. For me, I believe that culture is most valuable when it can move and grow. I was a club kid who discovered hip hop culture and those dances are how I found a way to connect with my body and my movements. I don’t think it’s different for traditionally trained dancers; it’s the way they learn to connect and move. Why not mash it up and come up with something new and fresh that can connect with an even wider group of people?
I suppose that serving as both choreographer and director, you have the opportunity to create the connection.
The choreography for this show has been so collaborative. The cast is made up of 11 dancers and two musicians, Kurtis Blow and DJ BOO. The dancers all had an opportunity to freestyle and contribute during the initial stages. As a director, my job is to make every dancer as strong as possible and make the story as clear as possible for the audience.
Speaking of Kurtis Blow, how did he come
Oh man, Kurtis Blow is a legend. I was so excited to have him on board. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center [the show’s producing organization] made it happen. He is amazing to work with and brings with him such a knowledge, style and flavor.
What are you looking forward to most
Going to cities I’ve never been to, like Jacksonville. And going to Russia. I mean, this is where the original Nutcracker was born and we are bringing our translation back to its birthplace. That is huge!