December 21, 2019
Just when you thought there was no way to create another Nutcracker worth the trouble, Michelle Dorrance Dance gives us a creative, joyful reimagining of the well-worn holiday tradition. Far from nihilistic or cringy parody, this version (which has perhaps the longest title of any dance work ever) gives us a humorous, lively tap dance mash-up to Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's fantastic rearrangement of the classic Tchaikovsky score.
We present to you: The Nutcracker Suite or, a Rhythmaturgical Evocation of the Super-Leviathonic Enchantments of Duke and Billy's Supreme adaptation of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece that tells the tale of a misunderstood girl who kills a king and meets a queen and don't forget oooo-gong-chi-gong-sh'-gon-sh'gon-make-it-daddy, and that ain't so bad after all is a collaboration between the dancers, Dorrance, Hannah Heller, and Josette Wigman-Freund, who also danced the role of the Sugar Rum Cherry.
In spite of the many cooks, this cohesive production moves along nicely, providing ample opportunity for intricate tap sequences and all sorts of other movement, from hip hop to ballet to Russian character dance steps. Everything is woven together in a familiar structure and is not likely to annoy even the staunchest traditional Nutcracker devotee. And special mention must be made of Leonardo Sandoval, who was a sweet, lovable gender-bending Clara.
Of course, the playful rhythmic tap dancing is what makes the show, but the dancers are also deployed in fun and unusual ways, like when they add to the score by sitting and swishing the tap shoes on a what looked like cardboard or sandpaper. Softly drifting snowflakes falling onto the stage, and the dancers evoked the wonder of every snow scene. Mother Ginger births Russian dancers, and the Sugar Rum Cherry and her Cavalier perform a show-stopping, virtuosic duet. But the biggest and most entertaining section was the gleeful send-up of the Waltz of the Flowers, where dancers literally wore gigantic flowers on their heads and gave us a waltz to remember.
The first half of the evening was the nostalgia-filled series of scenes titled All Good Things Come to an End (2018). Dorrance, Heller, Wiggan-Freund, and Melinda Sullivan conceived, directed, choreographed, and danced each scene to the music of Fats Waller. The vigor and humor of these four vaudeville travelers telling stories that no longer exist, had a poignancy that contrasted with the pure fun of the Nutcracker.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson