The dance field is getting more crowded around this time of year — call it a Holiday Rave. There’s the venerable Nutcracker at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, something that transcends it all. For musical theater lovers, though, there’s Elf. Film buffs might gravitate to Disney’s new The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But for a contemporary twist, The Hip Hop Christmas is the only game in town.
Most productions have a local flair and with hip hop, the logical locale would have to be New York City. This production boasts plenty of talent, both onstage and in the creative development — director and choreographer Jennifer Weber, whose extensive work straddles concert venues (Jacob’s Pillow, The Kennedy Center). A Bessie-nominated artist (serious stuff), she recently created a new work for New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck and hip hop legend Lil Buck. Co-creator/writer Mike Fitelson is executive producer at the United Palace, Manhattan’s 4th largest theater in Washington Heights.
And who would have imagined breakdancing to Tchaikovsky (plus a DJ and electric violinist)? Picking up on the beat will be a dozen hip hop artists who tell this new version of the familiar tale, where Marie-Clara, the Nutcracker and Drosselmeyer unfold the story against Manhattan backdrops.
However the face of this particular Nut belongs to Kurtis Blow, pioneer of his hip hop realm. Blow’s claim to fame would have to be “Christmas Rap,” the “most relevant hip hop record of all time” because it has been played every year since 1979 and will be around “200 years from now.”
This Christmas Rapper appreciates that radio supported it, but he is more than a one-trick pony. Not only is he is rapper, but is also a singer, songwriter, record/film producer, b-boy, DJ, public speaker and minister.
According to Blow, The Hip Hop Nutcracker “fits into all of the above.” As the emcee of the touring production, he explores all kinds of opportunities and motivational speaking. “I take them into the ’80’s, a time when good lovemeant having a good time.”
Audience members will hear the iconic Christmas Rap and a medley as well. And yes, the breakdancers perform to Tchaikovsky’s original score. For the the finale, there’s “an incredible holiday season mash-up,” where the crowd is “goin’ crazy as we spread the love.”
He marvels at the Incredible evolution of b-boys and b-girls, where they fuse hip hop with modern dance and ballet and insert complicate new combinations, like a headstand, 1990 and back stand in succession.
Fans will find slight variations like Maria-Clara and Myron the Nutcracker. But Blow’s favorite part is Drosselmeyer’s time travel to a 1988 nightclub, where there is an official pas de deux, Dance of the Flowers and a Russian Dance.
All of it delivered with “more acting and more of the story” than previous versions, asserts Blow. “They bring 150 percent every night.”