Cracking up the Nutcracker, and the audience, with ContempraDANCE

Not the Nutcracker you remember. Image courtesy of ContempraDANCE Theatre Company.

Every December, a plethora of young ladies in pointe shoes will marvel at the nutcracker that comes to life and the fairies Clara meets in its dreamlike world in the traditional holiday classic from Tchaikovsky. But if you’ve seen The Nutcracker too many times to count, if you want something different, and if you like funny along with dance, then ContempraDANCE Theatre Company might have the perfect holiday offering for you. December 5-7 at the Painted Bride, they turn the tradition on its head in the annual performance of Philly Nutt Crak-Up.

ContempraDANCE’s version bases some characters on the well-known ones from the classic. But Crak-Up references Philadelphia places, personalities, foods, and more, and features the Rappin’ SugarPlum Fairy (with the battling Hip Hoppin’ Rats), as well as performers called the City Hall Dolls, Captain Philadelphia, and Liberty Belle-Anne. The holiday spoof also includes much humor, original rap songs, and the South Street Rocky-Ettes at the Kingdom of Prussia.

Like the original, there’s a lot of dancing. Unlike the original, it’s not all ballet, all the time. There’s hip-hop, jazz, and modern, too.

More than moms and daughters

Gail Vartanian, founder of the nonprofit ContempraDANCE Theatre Company (and the ContempraDANCE school, both based in Wayne, PA), created this show when she got tired of “all the Nutcrackers,” she said. She wanted to blend various genres, and she wanted it to be fun and funny for the whole family.

“Moms and daughters go to The Nutcracker,” she said. “But dad will love this. Boys love it. Everybody can relate to it.”

Sixteen professional dancers and more than 20 kids will bring the show to life. Michelle Jones Wurtz, of Bryn Mawr, is one of the pros. She’s the Rappin’ SugarPlum Fairy. She wrote the rhymes herself and has been in the cast since the show’s inception several years ago. She likes that the classic is modernized by the company.

“It’s viewable for everyone that way,” she said. “Children like it. Adults like it. You don’t have to be a dance connoisseur to like it.” And you don’t have to know the story of the original to enjoy this send-up.

Vartanian loves watching her dancers and the audience all having a good time. “I want to see smiles on everybody’s faces,” she said.

And she loves that some families have made this show one of their holiday traditions: “Hopefully, it will be a Philly tradition for a long time.”

ContempraDANCE Theatre Company’s Philly Nutt Crak-Up ($35) is coming up on Friday, December 5 at 7:30pm; Saturday, December 6 at 2:30pm and 7:30pm; and Sunday, December 7 at 1:30pm at the Painted Bride Art Center, 230 Vine St., Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call 215-925-9914 x301 or click here

At right: Santa meets a new Sugarplum Fairy. Photo courtesy of ContempraDANCE Theatre Company.