Electrified, Hip Hop-Inspired ‘A Culture Shock NUTCRACKER’ is Crazy Good

The Nutcracker is a magical holiday ritual for ballet lovers, but if hip hop rhythms are more your style, then fly, fly, fly downtown for A Culture Shock Nutcracker, on view at the historic Spreckels Theater this weekend, because you don’t want to miss this crazy good mashup.

Ricky Cole, Elijah Andrews, and Halle Taft portray the Nutcracker, Fritz, and Clara in “A Culture Shock Nutcracker.” Image: Marilen Tran

Over the past five years, Creator and Director Angie Bunch and her giant team have produced an alternative Nut after traditional stagings have closed.  Every year is different, and for 2018, production values–from dancing and lighting, to choreography and costumes–are through the roof.

Culture Shock’s modern interpretation is a shock for some eyes and ears.  Contemporary music and culture are mixed up with Tchaikovsky, and it’s all cranked up to eleven.  Ear buds are available, but it’s no louder than most movies.

You’ll feel the booming sound blowing your hair backward, and this production turns the story on its head with a giant cast and refreshing results.

Tap dancing caterers whip off time steps and wings to open the party scene at the Stahlbam house. There’s a DJ, party girls, break dancers, and two waltzing dads. The windup doll dangles from a cascade of silk. Little kids dress as Star Wars Storm Troopers.

Clara (Halle Taft) and her brother Fritz (Elijah Andrews) fight over the Nutcracker, but they stick together when their home becomes a battle zone between the Rat and Nutcracker Armies.

The siblings dance up a storm through an enchanted forest and snow, then poof, they are home at the party. Their loving relationship is a heartwarming twist, and they are remarkable dancers.  Unlike ballet productions that ditch Fritz and have Clara sit a lot, these siblings perform throughout the show. Little Fritz is an acrobatic dance star to watch.

The armies have a battle on the dance floor; dead school girls versus the resistance and jerky taunting puts you on the edge of your seat. The wild score is a mix of vicious and playful sounds, with Tchaikovsky’s score running through.

The cast of “A Culture Shock Nutcracker.” Lighting by Michael Von Hoffman is brilliant. Image: Marilen Tran

Chinese, Spanish, Russian, and Arabian music sections are chopped up versions of the original, and dancers groove in new and often gender-bending ways.

There are moments when feet are a bit floppy when they could be more turned out, even in sporty shoes.  Still, it’s rewarding to see a variety of body types grinding on stage, especially the big jiggling bodies. The audience loves the janitor character who tries to sweep up snow as four youngsters play.

The finale choreographed by Melissa Adao has a courtly dream vibe, but nobody will sleep through it. Costumes in rich golden fabrics hint at Beauty and the Beast. Drosselmeyer (Darwin ‘Dee’ Browne) channels the legendary James Brown.

There are dozens of choreographers, so the beats and styles keep firing, along with blasts of dry ice and beaming lights. Lighting designer Michael Von Hoffman has the entire floor swirling with paisley effects and brilliant yellow pools.

A Culture Shock Nutcracker runs Jan. 5-7, 2018. Spreckels Theatre. www.cultureshockdance.org/nutcracker

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Kris Eitland

Kris Eitland covers dance and theater for Sandiegostory.com and freelances for other publications, including the Union Tribune and Dance Teacher Magazine. She grew up performing many dance styles and continued intensive modern dance and choreography at the Univ. of Minnesota, Duluth, and San Diego State Univ. She also holds a journalism degree from SDSU. Her career includes stints in commercial and public radio news production. Eitland has won numerous Excellence in Journalism awards for criticism and reporting from the San Diego Press Club. She has served on the Press Club board since 2011 and is a past president. She is a co-founder of Sandiegostory.com. She has a passion for the arts, throwing parties with dancing and singing, and cruising the Pacific in her family's vintage trawler. She trains dogs, skis, and loves seasonal trips to her home state of Minnesota.

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