At Strathmore, “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” flipped the script on one of the holiday’s most beloved classics, presenting not your typical “The Nutcracker,” from Dec. 17-19.
Directed and choreographed by Boston native Jennifer Weber, the high-energy, sizzling production stopped in Rockville as part of a 30-city tour. The show features a dozen super talented dancers from diverse backgrounds that delighted a full house at Strathmore on Dec. 18, proving why people have been turning out in droves to see the show for the past five years.
Melding hip-hop at its purest with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet and classical score, the show is an eye-popping, explosive wonder, filled with hip-hop dance styles and freestyle moves.
A draw for the evening was its special guest MC, legendary rapper and hip-hop artist Kurtis Blow, who blazed the trail for early hip-hop artists beginning in 1979. At the age of 20, Blow became the first rapper to be signed by a major label. His “Christmas Rappin” sold more than 400,000 copies and became an annual classic. Its gold follow-up, “The Breaks,” solidified the new art form, and his release of 10 albums over the next 11 years garnered him international acclaim.
Accompanied by DJ Boo, who laid the evening’s upbeat groove with his original beats and remixes, Blow, dapper in white from head to toe, kicked off the evening with an “Old School” hip-hop medley that included some of the rapper’s biggest hits.
Hips swiveling and heads bobbing, many in the audience stood up and sang along with Blow as they showed off their best moves before Blow set up the production’s storyline.
“This a story about two people in love,” said Blow. “Imagine New York City on New Year’s Eve.” Innovative digital graffiti and animated visuals then transform the landscape of E.T.A. Hoffman’s original, beloved story from 19th Century Germany to the vibrant and contemporary sights and sounds of New York City.
There, the annual holiday street party is underway, and Maria-Clara (Ann-Sylvia Clark) is upset by her parent’s constant bickering (Nubian Nene and Micah Abbrey). The mysterious Drosselmeyer (Lisa “LBOOGIE” Bauford) appears, bringing mysterious toys to the party, including a small nutcracker. After the party breaks up, Maria-Clara heads home, only to be confronted by the Menacing Mouse Crew.
A life-sized nutcracker (Morris Isby), aided by a magic pair of red sneakers, defeats the gang of mice, and the two go on to visit the Land of Sweets and learn valuable holiday lessons.
Along the way, instead of the traditional ballet with pas de deux and relevés, there is fantastic breakdancing, including locking, popping, head spins and windmills. Instead of tutus and on-pointe shoes, there are high-top sneakers, jeans and winter sweaters.
A highlight of the production is the only live music, performed by violinist Jarvis L. Benson. The classically trained New York City-based musician thrilled the audience with his artistry, which was sometimes accompanied by beats from DJ Boo.
An added plus was watching the grace, agility and strength of the dancers who seemed to perform almost mind-bending moves with ease, particularly when up-side-down with their legs in the air while balancing their bodies with one hand.
The two-hour show ends on a high note, with Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince helping her parents to reconcile their differences. It was a perfect ending during these chaotic times, with the cast deserving of the standing ovation that left the hall filled with cheer.