BWW Review: Brooklyn Ballet Spreads Holiday Cheer With NUTCRACKER at Irondale Center
The Nutcracker is the most popular ballet of the holiday season, and any troupe worth their tutus and pointe shoes stages a production.
Recently, we attended an evening performance of Brooklyn Ballet's hip-hop-tinged The Brooklyn Nutcracker. The nine-date engagement was tucked away in the Irondale Center, an intimate space with seats surrounding a small stage and adjacent to a progressive Presbyterian church with a rainbow flag and "Black Lives Matter" banner. Irondale is in the heart of the brownstone-lined Fort Greene neighborhood, a few blocks from the Brooklyn Academy Of Music.
Before the performance began, a projected image of a large Nutcracker face and a spotlight on a small Nutcracker doll placed on the stage floor set the scene. For sure, this was not your mother's Nutcracker. Although danced to Tchaikovsky's timeless score, Brooklyn Ballet's founding artistic director Lynn Parkerson doesn't stick to the script. The ballet opened with a Christmas Eve scene where the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer doles out dolls to eager children - here portrayed by collaborating choreographer Michael "Big Mike" Fields and re-imagined as a hip-hop magician who articulates the music with his animation isolations. A chambermaid en pointe and a poppin' butler offered comic relief. But there were no parents, no party full of jolly guests and no magical Christmas tree that grew before our eyes. Although Drosselmeyer handed the Nutcracker doll to one little girl, it was almost an afterthought and it was never established if she was Clara. Instead of several toy ensembles from exotic lands coming to life to dance for Clara, there was one playful "Mechanical Doll Dance." And the dream sequence battle between the Nutcracker Prince and Mouse King was also omitted.
What The Brooklyn Nutcracker lacked in congruity, however, it more than compensated for with creativity and heart. At the close of Act I, meant to represent "Old Brooklyn," there was a lovely "Snowflake Waltz" with dancers illuminated in LED light tutus. And during the intermission, there was an enthralling "Hip Hop Hoop Dance" performed by Native American dancer Nakotah LaRance.
Representing "Brooklyn Now," Act II began with a backdrop of Brooklyn city scenes and a trio of poppin', lockin' and tickin' hip-hop dancers who were joined by LaRance and Fields as Drosselmeyer. The act then transitioned into a dance of the marzipans with four vibrantly dressed ballerinas dancing en pointe and four colorful leotard-clad women doing West African dance moves. Instead of being placed in Act 1 as one of the toy dances, there was also a seductive "Danse Arabe" solo performed by belly dancer Sira Melikian and a candy cane dance featuring acrobatic young dancers. Fortunately, Parkerson didn't skip the denouement Grand Pas de Deux, articulated masterfully by Paunika Jones and DaVon Doane as Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, courtesy of Dance Theater of Harlem.
Although the Brooklyn Nutcracker could use some fine-tuning story-wise, it was enjoyable from start to finish and beautifully represented the diversity and community spirit of its home borough.