A Perfect Fusion of Classical and Contemporary – A Review Of “The Urban Nutcracker”

I distinctly remember the first time I saw a performance of the holiday classic “The Nutcracker”.  It was in the 4th grade and my elementary school had offered it as a field trip as part of our music and art classes, and most of what I remember about the performance is that the mouse king and his minions were my favorite characters.  It wasn’t until last year when I took Sheila to the production as a Christmas gift that I was able to appreciate all the amazing aspects of that show; the military-like precision of the dancers, their outstanding physical ability, and the musical brilliance of Tchaikovsky.


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We had the opportunity this holiday season to take in The Urban Nutcracker. The Urban Nutcracker, is a re-imagination of the original performance that is in its 18th year.  Produced by the Tony Williams Dance Company, the show is still very much rooted in ballet and the works of Tchaikovsky but with the jazz rhythms of Duke Ellington providing a new dimension on the classic while tap, hip hop and flamenco provide a creative juxtaposition to the precision of the ballet.



The story will be familiar to anyone who has seen the classic, with the story’s heroine, Ruby, receiving a nutcracker at a family holiday party from a street magician named Drosselmeyer, which then comes to life after she falls asleep and does battle with the mouse king.  After Ruby defeats the mouse king, the nutcracker is transformed into a real-life prince and transports Ruby to his world where she is shown dances from near and far until she awakes, wondering if it was all a dream.

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Where the story departs though, is where and when it takes place.  Early 19th century Europe is replaced with current day Boston for the setting and is one of the things we loved most about the reimagining of the classic.  The sets, designed by Janie Howland, draw inspiration from many Boston landmarks that should be recognizable to any local.  The Citgo sign, Fenway Park, the golden dome of the State House, the Public Garden, Custom House Tower, the Boston Public Garden, and the Hatch Shell all add a sense of familiarity and relatability to the performance. 

The cast of this delightful show defines diversity! The Urban Nutcracker motto is, “Diversity Through Dance,” and they certainly commit to this motto through the selection of their cast.

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The primary casting pool for dancers are a part of the City Ballet Boston, but an open audition features dancers from the South Shore, New Hampshire, and around the Boston metro area. All backgrounds of race, dance, and skill level are incorporated into this years team. One special feature to this years cast is that approximately 20% of the children’s cast is a brother or sister of another dancer. There are even five brother/sister teams specifically in this production.

While the stage is quite large in the Boch Center Shubert Theatre, the cast choreographed and rehearsed the show on in a 41 x 30 foot dance studio in Jamaica Plain. The show is also all live musical performers! An 8-piece jazz band provides all the detailed pieces through the show, which is the first time a live band has been incorporated into the show.

This is one of the biggest reasons we would recommend the Urban Nutcracker to anyone who may be looking for a family friendly evening of entertainment and culture.  With the performance taking place in a current day time period while also adding the more modern elements of dance and musical influence may be better for younger children who may not have the interest or attention span for the original performance. One other fascinating aspect of the Urban Nutcracker is that each year approximately 25% of the show is re-choreographed to keep the story and the tone fresh. Each year there is something new added, enhanced, or changed!

The Urban Nutcracker is being performed at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre through December 30th.  Tickets are available at bochcenter.org or by calling (866)-348-9738. You can also follow the link here to obtain tickets!

All photographs provided courtesy of City Ballet Boston and copyright Corwin Wickersham