A magical reimagining, back for 2023

Chris Davis presents One-Man Nutcracker

2 minute read
Davis, with short, gingery hair & beard, wearing a white tee, holds a wooden nutcracker doll and has a thoughtful expression.
Better than CGI: Chris Davis in his ‘One-Man Nutcracker.’ (Photo by Kimberly Paynter.)

Chris Davis’s One-Man Nutcracker, back for another holiday-season run (this year at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake) continues to entertain and delight Philly audiences. It is part improv, part skit, and all magic. While condensing the two-hour ballet performance to one hour (under director MK Tuomanen), it incorporates pop-culture references, audience participation, internal performer monologues, historic interludes, sports references, and Nutcracker variations.

I have been a faithful attendee of the Philly ballet's rendition of George Balanchine's Nutcracker since my undergrad days, and Davis’s solo version (with choreography by Amy Novinski) is a fresh addition to the numerous contemporary variations. He intersperses an overarching narrator with references to the Matrix and the Nutcracker’s pop-culture development. On this year’s opening night, his hilarious use of shadows as special effects literally had the audience gasping. He nicely mocks ballet parts we’ve taken for granted, shouting at the audience, “It is a ballet; you have to applaud at transitions.”

Addressing the show’s complex past

Davis’s reinterpretation of certain characters and their cultural appropriation spoke to me personally as a woman and person of color. I loved his techno Drosselmeyer-meets-sleazy-Brooklyn-magician. As a kid, I always found Drosselmeyer’s overt interest in his pre-adolescent female family member a wee bit creepy, which Davis perfectly captures. When Davis realistically addressed the show’s cultural representations, I felt heard. As an African American woman who does Middle Eastern dance, I increasingly felt uncomfortable with the original Nutcracker’s performative stereotypes. The “Arab Dance” with primarily white dancers spoke more to Western stereotypes of bared belly. As a teacher, I typically remind my students that the Egyptian Gahwazee, Algerian, and Syrian performers in the 1893 US World’s Fair were all fully covered.

Dance is for all bodies

I especially loved when Davis inserted portions of himself as an over-40 “advanced beginner” dancer. As a woman of a certain age and shape, I always wonder if I should stop performing and stick to teaching only. But Davis exhorts the entire audience to embrace the fact that dance is for everyone. Although his dance capability has advanced since this show’s 2019 premiere, he continues to lean into the show’s humor and not his current physicality. Somehow, since BSR’s review of the premiere, Davis has managed to keep it fresh and funny.

One-Man Nutcracker is so many things. It’s smart. It’s funny. In the words of the show itself, “It’s better than CGI.” It definitely isn’t ballet. Instead, it’s all magic.

What, When, Where

One-Man Nutcracker. Created and performed by Chris Davis, choreography by Amy Novinksi; directed by MK Tuomanen. $35; $15 for children. Through December 31, 2023, at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 302 S Hicks Street, Philadelphia. Tickets are available here.


The Drake is a wheelchair-accessible venue with gender-neutral restrooms.

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