Urban Nutcracker delivers a classic story with a twist, 16 years running

Featured image: A scene from Urban Nutcracker with Boston’s famous Citgo gas station sign in the background on the left. (photo by Peter Paradise; courtesy Urban Nutcracker)

For traditional Nutcracker ballet fans, Urban Nutcracker is unlike anything you’ll ever see. There’s no fancy 19th Century mansion in a snowy wonderland. The main character’s name is Clarice instead of Clara.

Like the traditional Nutcracker, Clarice receives a nutcracker from her uncle for Christmas, and she has a dream about her nutcracker prince conquering the evil mice. But Clara’s adventures in Urban Nutcracker take her through Boston’s urban landscapes and famous landmarks, and the music and dance combines Tchaikovsky’s classic score, along with jazz, hip hop, tap, swing, and flamenco.

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Another scene from Urban Nutcracker (photo by Peter Paradise; courtesy Urban Nutcracker)

Creator Tony Williams wanted to have a twist to the Urban Nutcracker, but he didn’t want the production to entirely lose its traditional flavor. “I think there’s something really intrinsically lasting in the Nutcracker story and the Tchaikovsky music, which is incredible, and I really didn’t want to throw that out,” Williams said in an interview with Chronicle on November 24, 2013.

“It’s a fantastic mix. It’s like the United Nations,” he said. “I just wanted to put together Tchaikovsky, Duke Ellington, hip hop, classical ballet, swing dance, flamenco.

“It’s just sort of a big stew, and it seems to work.”

It has been working for 16 years, and it gets even better.

mouse-toastThe mice celebrate with a toast in Urban Nutcracker (photo by Peter Paradise; courtesy Urban Nutcracker)

Plus it’s all inclusive, not only with the music, but also with themes of inclusion, community, and celebrating diversity. Williams welcomes all races, genders, and orientations. Every year, all students from his dance school have a role in the production. He also dedicates a performance each year to the autistic and LGBT communities (December 17 at 11 a.m. and December 29 at 7:30 p.m., respectively).

Williams was born and raised in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. When he was 16, he received a scholarship and became the Boston Ballet’s first African American principal dancer. From there, he danced with the Joffery Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and other ballet companies worldwide. When he retired, he returned to Jamaica Plain and opened a dance school, which expanded to Concord, Massachusetts, in 2014.

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Tony Williams (photo by Peter Paradise; courtesy Urban Nutcracker)

Urban Nutcracker debuted at The Strand in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 2001.

Urban Nutcracker runs mid-December through New Year’s Eve at the Back Bay Events Center in John Hancock Hall, 180 Berkeley Street in Boston (view directions, parking, and public transit options).

Buy tickets online.

For more information, visit Urban Nutcracker’s website or call (617) 524-3066.

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