BWW Review: Momentum Dance Theatre's JAZZ HIP HOP NUTCRACKER

Of the variations of Tchaikovsky's classics that take over the holiday season, Duke Ellington's "The Nutcracker Suite" is one that's had staying power. The 1960 arrangement with Billy Strayhorn showed an irreverent, relaxed, cool jazz approach, with a sense of humor.

As such, it's regularly staged by dance companies as well, particularly in D.C., Ellington's birthplace.

The Momentum Dance Theatre, now in its 17th year of annual performance, goes a step further, adding a more recent musical innovation to its program and its title in its "Jazz Hip Hop Nutcracker."

Part performance, part recital, the work at Woodrow Wilson High School in northwest Washington is a kind of scattershot collection of two dozen ensemble pieces, each in different costume. The framing device is a couple of kids (Davie Boesen and Sabine Ballou-Aares), who feel left out at the well-choreographed opening party and spend the rest of the time thinking up their own stories (Ninjas! Candles! Tinsel!) which suddenly appear behind them.

This is accomplished with some magic dust sprinkled by a mysterious wizardess (Donise Stevens), who may have as her origin the Drosselmeyer character.

Ellington pieces dominate the first half, led by professional dancers and the spry company founder herself Roberta Rothstein, as well as dozens of students in some of the larger pieces.

The success of Momentum is this gathering of many ages and abilities in the same production, from those who might be thought too young to carry a routine successfully to those who may mistakenly be considered too old.

It's the second half, as pop music is generously added to the mix, when the groups of elementary age kids, middle schoolers and high school dancers come more to life. As such, they bring to life the military beat of a Sia song, or the pure joy of "Urban Funk" to the tiniest dancers.

A highlight might be a group of small fry dancing to Justin Bieber's "Baby" in T shirts with candy canes emblazoned on them; or the lop-lock moves of a scene stealer Mathew Murphy in another.

Broadway World's own Elliot Lanes, who serves as technical director, adds a few dramatic lighting touches particularly in a fog and shadow effect during a Rihanna song late in the show. He also welcomes the audience to the high school auditorium, though it is young Angie Sturr who is the confident narrator of the work, saying lines obviously written by an older person ("Kapish?").

Inch for inch, though, it seems like young Ballou-Aares is running the show, not only dancing in a few numbers and portraying one of the two main kids, but in doing a lot of stage direction in the opening performance as well.

Momentum Dance Theatre's "Jazz Hip Hop Nutcracker" is by no means a definitive performance of the Ellington work, or even the pop songs they try, but the ramshackle event has an amiable homegrown family feel that works in a season when generosity of spirit is required.

Running time: Two hours, with one 15 minute intermission.

Jazz Hip Hop Nutcracker is performed again Dec. 17 and 18 at Woodrow Wilson High School, 3950 Chesapeake St NW, Washington, D.C. For tickets call 202-785-0035 or online.

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From This Author Roger Catlin

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