If the looming finals week is draining your holiday spirit this season, take a break from the textbooks and head down to Watters Theater in the Anderson Center this weekend to experience “Jazz Nutcracker” — a quirky and refreshing twist on the traditional “Nutcracker” ballet.
This production of “Jazz Nutcracker” is directed and choreographed by JoEllen Kuhlman, a lecturer for the theatre department. It follows the story line of the holiday classic, though with a lot more hip-swinging, vibrant, glittery costumes and upbeat jazz tunes that will keep your feet tapping all night long.
The story takes place in the 1950s and outlines the wild imagination of a young girl, Clara — played by Danielle Nigro, a senior majoring in theatre — who falls asleep in her parlor and lets her mind run loose. While Clara is enjoying herself at her family’s bustling holiday party, her magician uncle, Drosselmeyer — played by assistant professor of theatre Tommy Iafrate — suddenly appears and turns the gifts to life with the magic tap of his wand. Soon, the entire parlor is filled with dancing life-sized dolls, ranging from a high-kicking cowgirl to an elegant wind-up ballerina, leaving the children in pure awe. Her uncle then gifts Clara a special nutcracker, which Clara clearly takes a liking to and dreams of wild adventures with.
Clara’s whimsical fantasy immerses the audience in an intense battle between the wicked nest of mice and the Nutcracker with his army of sturdy wooden soldiers, while incorporating contemporary dance and traditional jazz numbers. When the Nutcracker ultimately becomes wounded, Clara’s imagination takes a sweet turn as Drosselmeyer sends them both into the mystical Land of Sweets, filled with dancing cupcakes, Arabian coffee and Chinese tea.
The most captivating scene of the production was in the Land of Sweets, which included clever props and creative costumes displaying each dancer’s type of treat. The entire stage was filled with dancing colors and glittery dresses that sparkled against the production lights. The dancers weren’t simply dressed as cupcakes and candy bars, but outfitted in pink frilly dresses with white layers to symbolize frosting and vibrant dresses colored in pink, red and blue for peppermints.
“Jazz Nutcracker” isn’t the typical “Nutcracker” ballet that you’d expect, but its unique adaptation is what makes the production so much more enticing to an audience.
According to Kuhlman, choosing jazz rather than ballet for her production not only sets it apart from the original show, but also allows for performers with more diverse dance backgrounds.
“It offers a lot of freedom because jazz is so broad,” Kuhlman said. “It also opens the door for a lot of different dancers to have the opportunity to be in ‘Nutcracker,’ and for those who aren’t strictly ballet dancers.”
The show’s inclusion of vintage, swing-era clothing and eye-catching, colorful set design also makes “Jazz Nutcracker” enjoyable to watch. Kuhlman explained that the production crew strategically selected each costume design and prop to perfectly fit in with the jazz theme, but also to dazzle the crowd as the show delves deeper into Clara’s imagination.
Although the cast began working on the show in mid-September, Kuhlman held a workshop class at Binghamton University last spring to test out her ideas for “The Nutcracker” adaptation.
“That was amazing to have the time to be able to try things and to see what worked and didn’t work.” Kuhlman said. “Over the summer, I reworked things and was able to cast the second week of school.”
The Anderson Center Box Office will be selling tickets for “Jazz Nutcracker” for $18 general admission, $16 for alumni, faculty or staff and $10 for students. The show will run on Friday at 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Watters Theater.