Just a few months shy of the 40th anniversary of the release of “Christmas Rappin” and his achievement as the first rapper signed by a major label, hip-hop’s legendary MC Kurtis Blow kicked off a contemporary interpretation of a holiday classic — normally performed with ballerinas, battling mice, quick-footed Cossacks and the mysterious Drosselmeyer, armed with a bag of uniquely-created toys including a nutcracker which magically comes to life.
In this delightful remake, held at the Strathmore Music Center on Dec. 18-19, Kurtis set the tone ripping off a medley of hip-hop’s early hits reminiscent of the days when backyards, blue-lit basements, parking lots and urban storefronts served as venues for a new form of music and culture which took off like wildfire, quickly dominating society worldwide.
Before leaving the stage, he offered a heartfelt challenge to the audience.
“We have to keep telling the story, our story, connecting the traditional elements of hip-hop from the old school days to how it has and continues to evolve,” he said. “In this production, what I believe you’ll discover the continuous spirit that has linked hip-hop in all of its methods of expression — the music, the dance, the fashions, the attitudes and the artistry — from the past to the present.”
As “Hip Hop Nutcracker” unfolds, we’re treated to the workings of an onstage DJ, ensembles replete with flutes, toys, chocolate delights and tasty tea, a violinist and a versatile cast of talented dancers who collectively take Tchaikovsky’s holiday favorite, now set in New York City, to an entirely new realm. The dancers used every inch of the stage, showcasing their ability to deliver the syncopated spins, leaps and flips set to thumping dream beats and alternative rhythms and cadences essential to the foundation of hip-hop dancing.
The audience tags along with the show’s heroine, Maria-Clare (Ann-Sylvia Clark), who goes out on the town seeking a temporary escape from the emotional trauma she routinely endures due to her parents’ constant arguing. She’s joined by The Nutcracker (Josue Figueroa aka “Beastmode”) and a bunch of eager partygoers as they make their way to the neighborhood’s yearly holiday street party.
Later, the twosome take a trip back in time to the Land of Sweets nightclub on New Year’s Eve 1984, the night during which Maria-Clare’s parents first met. She’s amazed upon witnessing how deeply they were once in love. As she and the Nutcracker return to the present, it’s clear she’ll need another dose of magic if she hopes to help her parents rekindle the flame which once burned so brightly between them.
Associate Director-Choreographer/Dance Captain Randi Freitas and Taeko Koji, the original company associate director/choreographer, should rightfully take a bow for the exciting, high-level dance sequences they’ve envisioned and created for this production — and how the dancers and the routines they perform from beginning to end, segue so smoothly, seamlessly and appropriately — precisely in synch with Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score.
Traditions begin after we take that first step, complete that first act or send forth that first message which, after being repeated year after year after year, eventually evolve into something that future generations simply cannot do without. Perhaps that’s why I always look forward to going to the ballet for the “Nutcracker Suite.” And, I suppose that’s why I’ve now added something else to my list of holiday essentials — seeing “Hip Hop Nutcracker” — even if Kurtis Blow isn’t part of the lineup.