The Delaware Dance Alliance is eschewing tradition by opting for Duke Ellington's swingin' "Nutcracker Suite" instead of the traditional ballet. Before the "Jazz Nutcracker," which includes swing dance, jazz, ballet and breakdancing, the Smooth Sound Dance Band will play big band era hits for dinner and dancing.
Every December, dancers throughout the state lace up their pointe shoes for more than half a dozen different productions of “The Nutcracker.” Instead of going traditional and competing with downstate companies, Delaware Dance Alliance is getting a swinging start to the holiday season with a “Jazz Nutcracker.”
The big band-inspired event starts with dinner or light fare, depending on the performance, and dancing with music by the Smooth Sound Dance Band. The band of 16 and female vocalist will recreate hits by Glenn Miller, Count Basie and other greats.
It’s a great night out for people who have taken ballroom dancing lessons and then had trouble finding places to dance, said Xiques, director of Delaware Dance Alliance.
The second half of the event will feature a very different “Nutcracker” than the famed ballet. Dancers will use jazz, ballet, swing, Broadway-style dance and even breakdancing to make the music of Duke Ellington’s “The Nutcracker Suite” pop.
“Michele Xiques and I have talked, dreamed, about doing a jazz ‘Nutcracker’ for many years,” said assistant director Michelle Parisi.
In the jazz version, Clara is celebrating her birthday in New Orleans with a group of girlfriends. During their night on the town they meet a group of young men, who sweep Clara off to celebrate her birthday in a 1940s cabaret. At the cabaret the group finds an enchanting group of dancers just waiting to perform for Clara.
“It’s not the traditional ballet ‘Nutcracker,’ there is no Christmas tree on stage,” Xiques said.
There is, however, Ellington’s version of the music by Tchaikovsky. For instance, instead of the “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy,” there’s “Sugar Rum Cherry” and “Toot Toot Tootie Toot” instead of “Dance of the Reed Pipes.”
Katie Fields, 12, of Seaford, is one of the dancers playing a waiter in “Peanut Brittle Brigade,” and also is a Chinese dancer in “Chinoiserie.”
At 12, Fields has been dancing for nine years, and has performed in the traditional “Nutcracker.” She said the jazz version is less strict than the traditional. Whereas the ballet follows traditional choreography, the jazz version lends itself to innovative styles of dance.
“I really like the music because it’s upbeat, and you can get more involved into the dancing, your personality and character-wise,” Fields said.
Xiques said all the dancers have responded enthusiastically to the music.
“When you put the music on the kids love it, they can’t help but toe tap,” she said. “They can’t wait to rehearse to it, they can’t wait to dance to it.”
Fields and Xiques both said that while “The Nutcracker” ballet will always have an audience, doing something fresh is exciting for both dancers and viewers.
“I think they’ll like that it’s something new, that it’s not traditional,” Fields said. “You can go anywhere and find traditional ‘Nutcrackers.’”
Fields, a student at Southern Delaware School of the Arts, also designed the “Jazz Nutcracker” poster.