Entertainment » Theatre

Urban Nutcracker

by Kay Bourne
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Dec 26, 2014
A scene from "Urban Nutcracker"
A scene from "Urban Nutcracker"  

Tony Williams's 14th edition of the street smart Urban Nutcracker soars aesthetically and satisfies emotionally.

The eye popping and heart lifting dancing from classical ballet and swing to krump and tap, the sweet mix of Tchaikovsky's beloved score for ballet with swing orchestration from the great Duke Ellington and his orchestra, the silly jokes and belly- laughs and the solemn parts that tug at the heart and bring a tear or two.

There's as well the fabulous costumes from Rebecca Cross in radiant oranges and purples, pinks and whites, who also provides the imaginative sets which are like drawings in an enchanting children's book.

Distinguished also is the smartly written narrative of coming home for Christmas by David Ira Rottenberg which Williams choreographs anew from the Russian ballet of the 19th century to tell a Christmas story for our times.

It's a show as remarkable as the softly glowing tree in the Williams's darkened living room in Roxbury (with the wooden nutcracker soldier standing guard beneath) that suddenly spurts to a magical height the size of our dreams.

The 2-act entertainment continues at John Hancock Hall through Dec. 28.

A scene from "Urban Nutcracker"  

As the lights dim, doo wop singers Ilanga, Chris Scott, John Wyche, and Gilly White harmonize their way down the aisles to the stage. Ilanga with brother Chris Scott are founding members of the G Clefs who charted in the 1960's and have remained a fav through the years. White of the original Ambitions and Wyche of C-Quins join in for a quartet. Ka-Ding Dong!!!!

On their heels at the Friday night performance is popping and locking whiz Brian Washburn with a train of little children keeping up. Then tap dance delight Johnathon Vanderbergh, he too with a merry band of youngsters. The children and young teens are students at Williams's dance school in Jamaica Plain with a sprinkling of dancers from the Boston Arts Academy.

Christmas calls for young ones and they are plentiful throughout the night. Polished performers, they add to the sort of zest of a Broadway show has.

Last minute Christmas shoppers hustle along a downtown Boston street. Among them are two magicians, the mysterious Drosselmeyer (Gianni Di Marco) and his assistant, the rubber legged Minimeyer (Yo-el Cassell), a comic figure.

These two strangers next appear at the Williams's Christmas Open House They delight the guests with their antics and gifts, most importantly a wooden nutcracker which the magician gives to young Clarice Williams, sweetly danced by Isabella Johnson.

Her brother Omar, performed by a lively Jake Lapham, wants the toy soldier for himself.

The wooden soldier's appeal to them is emotionally linked to the photograph of a soldier, their dad, away at war which has been placed on the mantelpiece.

This tying in of the story to the reality of children anxious about their father being absent gives clarity to the psychological edginess that's very much a part of every Nutcracker ballet staging whose story is about dancing to fend off the darkness endemic to this time of year.

The choreographer George Balanchine's "The Nutcracker" which started the craze for this ballet, uses the plot of the black African French author Alexandre Dumas, père, version of E.T.A. Hoffmann's tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King (1816). Its premiere took place on February 2, 1954, at City Center, New York. It has been staged in New York every year and in hundreds of places across American ever since.

Clarice's imagined travels in ACT II to the far flung parts of the world with dances from the Latino to the Arabian nights, Chinese, and Russia and the inclusion of a nursery rhyme, the Old Lady and the Shoe, and a hoop and jump rope candy cane dance are the bits and pieces of a fever dream a Clarice longing for her father might well have on Christmas Eve.

The dancing is superb. The prima ballerina is Kseniya Melyukhina (who dances every show!!!), a mesmerizing presence who blends finely tuned skill with emotional impact. Little Henry Melkonian is a charmer who dances all out. A show favorite is the engaging Sarah Chouaikh as the lead in the astonishing Candy Canes number, a Rockette precision dance with striped hula hoops. Brian Washburn pairs up with Ramino Vaughan for an acrobatic display based on Russian folk dancing. Miguel Lilly gives a gem of a performance as the branch in the Branch and Flowers. The powerful dancer Joe Gonzalez pairs with a delicate Sarah Goddard to great effect in the romantic Snow Queen and Snow King piece.

The feelings evoked by "I'll Be Home for Christmas," written to honor the soldiers of World War II, is today's candle in the window lit by Tony Williams's "The Urban Nutcracker."

Through Dec. 28 at John Hancock Hall, 180 Berkeley St., Boston. For more info go to www.urbannutcrackerboston.com.


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