Forget about dried up turkey legs and pumpkin pie. The dizzying array of holiday dance and theater has already begun. Men with muscled legs poured into tights and booty shorts will keep you hopping long after the New Year.
The most versatile men pull double duty – they dance and act for multiple troupes and embrace a range of styles and costumes like second skin.
“People try too hard to find the difference between ballet and modern dance, when it’s all dance and all about physics,” Matt Carney says. “Now days, you have to know both techniques.”
“Yeah, or you look crazy on stage,” Trystan Merrick chimes in.
Carney and Merrick are partners in life and dance, and they are pulling doubles.
Carney dances The Nutcracker with San Diego Ballet, which tours to Wyoming and then lands at UC San Diego’s Mandeville Auditorium. Merrick dances The Nutcracker with City Ballet at Spreckels Theatre. Both men will perform in There the Dance Is, a contemporary show with their home company, San Diego Dance Theater, in January.
“People love The Nutcracker, and that’s great,” Carney says. “It’s a rare chance to re-investigate a dance. I’ve been dancing it for 15 years, and the challenge is to always make it more interesting. It’s the Iron Chef of dance.”
Merrick says the more you investigate The Nut, the more clear you get.
“Your body wants to go on auto-pilot, but you can’t go there,” Merrick says. “We have to always be making choices or it becomes robotic.”
Few dance careers show more versatility than Merrick’s. Fresh off an international tour with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the revered all-male travesti troupe that has men dance on their toes, Merrick will dance Spanish and Arabian sections of City Ballet’s Nutcracker.
“I won’t be dancing en pointe in Nutcracker, but I could, and I’d love to be Mother Ginger someday. Lots of companies have drag queen Mothers, but nobody has asked me to do that yet. I am performing a solo en pointe for Jean’s January show,” he says.
In the solo choreographed by Jean Isaacs, Merrick’s long legs become even longer atop black toe shoes.
“I am tall, and I wear the largest standard size that Bloch makes,” Merrick says. “I had to build strength and change my technique. Because you’re on a smaller point, you have to stack your bones. The shoes are slippery. With the ‘Trocks,’ I had to lift bigger guys, because I was tall. But I love dancing with a partner, male or female. It’s more difficult to dance in a large group because there is so much energy around you.”
Merrick joins the men at City Ballet for The Nutcracker, including Geoff Gonzalez, another versatile dancer who brings edgy experience to the stage.
“I toured internationally with the Bad Boys of Dance and did ‘Rock the Ballet,’” he says. “We did contemporary shows with classical steps, and I bring that side to the company. We have strong new men at City. Derek [Lauer] has a classic body and looks like Matt Dylan.”
One of Gonzalez’s Bad Boys castmates, leggy Russian dancer Sergey Kheylik, was featured in City’s Ballet on the Edge show in November. Kheylik, a freelancer, jumps over to the Civic Theatre this month as a guest artist in California Ballet’s Nutcracker.
Both City Ballet and California Ballet have live orchestras for their Nutcrackers. Gonzalez says he and his friend Kheylik love dancing to live music.
“It’s more exciting because we can anticipate the tempo. Wow – people should come see us at City. And go see Sergey. He dances like a race car with six gears.”
Set to Tchaikovsky live or recorded, you can go nuts with The Nutcracker. Ballet-theatrical or beat-box hip hop style, pro or novice, there are many adaptations to choose from:
California Ballet features guest artists ABT’s Cory Stearns and freelancer Sergey Kheylik. Classics Philharmonics performs Dec. 14-15; San Diego Symphony accompanies remaining shows. 2:30 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 14 and Dec. 21; 1 and 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 15 and Dec. 22; 7 p.m. Dec. 18-20. Civic Theatre. $30 to $90. For tickets call 858-560-6741 or visit californiaballet.org
City Ballet of San Diego Features live music by the City Ballet Orchestra. Broadcast live on 95.7 Kiss FM opening night. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 and 20; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21; 1 and 5 p.m. Dec. 15 and 22; 7 p.m. Dec. 19. Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, downtown. $29 to $69. cityballet.org
San Diego Ballet Features the whimsical choreography of Robin Sherertz-Morgan and Javier Velasco. Note: No performance at the Birch North Park Theatre this year. 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 20; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 21; 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 22. Mandeville Auditorium, UC San Diego, La Jolla. $25 to $50. 619-294-7378 or sandiegodancecompany.org
San Diego Civic Youth Ballet A popular youth production in Balboa Park. 7 p.m. on Dec. 13; 2 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 14, 15 and 21; 7 p.m. on Dec. 20; 2 p.m. Dec. 22. Casa del Prado Theater, 1600 Village Place, Balboa Park. $10 to $15. 619-233-3060 or sdcyb.org
Culture Shock Nutcracker A Holiday Hip Hop Dance Theatrical. Jan. 3-5, 2014. Matinees and evening shows. Birch North Park Theatre. $10-$20. www.birchnorthparktheatre.net/events-calendar/.
Ballet Arte Dec. 21-22. Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, La Jolla. 858- 259-5505 or lfjcc.org
Along with a bounty of Nuts, savor the smorgasbord of alternative holiday fair, such as a new bearded comedy or a gender bending drag queen show. After the New Year, they’ll be a blur, and you’ll be ready for annual seductive cabarets and revealing all-male dance showcases. Guys trade in tights for booty shorts and belts, in 2014.
Bearded A premiere from Circle Circle dot dot, inspired by true tales from real Mall Santas. Dec. 6-21, 2013 www.circle2dot2.com See my review: http://sandiegostory.com/hilarious-poignant-add-bearded-to-list-of-holiday-classics/
Scrooge in Rouge A quick-change, cross-dressing version of the Dickens holiday classic Three actors play 23 roles, including Samantha Ginn as Scrooge. Dec. 7-29, 2013. www.diversionary.org/scroogeinrouge_2013.htm
Hot Guys Dancing At Diversionary Cabaret. The second installment showcases three daring choreographers. Contains mature themes, male nudity. Jan. 9-12, 2014. www.diversionary.org.
There the Dance Is, a cabaret styled evening, featuring Trystan Merrick en pointe. Presented by San Diego Dance Theater. Jan. 17-19, 2014. UC San Diego’s Mandell Weiss Theatre. www.sandiegodancetheater.org.
[Another version of ‘Tis The Season of Hot Men in Tights appears at ArtPulse.org under Culture Buzz]