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Sarasota can't get enough of 'The Nutcracker'

It's a holiday tradition that seems to have no saturation point. "The Nutcracker" graces several stages in town this season.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. December 2, 2022
The cast of "The Hip Hop Nutcracker" comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Dec. 10.
The cast of "The Hip Hop Nutcracker" comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Dec. 10.
Photo courtesy of Hip Hop Nutcracker
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There’s room for a Sugar Plum Fairy on every stage in town. 

"The Nutcracker" makes its first appearance here early with the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School at the Sarasota Opera House on Dec. 3, and it hits the stage at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall two days before Christmas with the International Ballet of Florida.

The Sarasota Ballet School is staging productions of "The Nutcracker" at both the Venice Performing Arts Center (Dec. 9 and 10) and the Opera House (Dec. 18). And on one of those dates (Dec. 10), a touring production of "The Hip Hop Nutcracker" will play the Van Wezel.

The Diane Partington Studio of Classical Ballet will also stage a performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Opera House on Dec. 10.

Did you get all that? That’s a lot of "Nutcracker" for your Sarasota dollar.

Ironically, Iain Webb, the director of the Sarasota Ballet, said that "The Nutcracker" wasn’t really a holiday tradition when he moved down here. Now, he says, the company likes the classic as a vehicle to show the growth, maturation and development of its student dancers.

“This gives the chance for our studio company down to the little tots to be involved under the umbrella of the Sarasota Ballet,” he says. “For me, personally, it's also wonderful to see how strong all the levels from the school to the trainees to the studio company have all improved.”

Webb says "The Nutcracker" just isn’t as big of a holiday tradition in England; he says he didn’t dance it as a youngster, and he says it was probably way down the list of ballets he saw in person. 

Webb says the Royal Ballet would do "The Nutcracker" but not on an annual basis, and it would rotate it with other family friendly acts like “Cinderella.” Still, he estimates that he probably danced in it about 20-30 times over the years.

“It becomes one of those things,” he says. “Oh no, it’s 'Nutcracker' time.”

For this edition, Webb says there’s a special treat: He’s purchased "Nutcracker" sets designed by the late Peter Farmer, who designed ballet sets for use all around the world.

“The backcloths are just stunning,” says Webb. “The artwork and the way our team is technically lighting it, it’s going to be breathtaking. Of all the 'Nutcrackers' in my whole life, I think this is going to be the one that I'm really looking forward to seeing the most.”

“The Hip Hip Nutcracker” gives people a little different spin on the classic. The show features a dozen dancers, a DJ, a violinist and MC Kurtis Blow livening up the proceedings. Randi Freitas, the associate choreographer and director of the show, also plays the Mouse King, and she says that none of the dancers come from a ballet background at all.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker's Jackie “JK-47” Agudo, Randi “Rascal” Freitas, Seth “REAKTION” Hilliard and Anthony “OMEN” Cabrera.
Photo courtesy of Cheryl Mann

They all have hip hop dance backgrounds as opposed to something classical, but Frietas points out that all dance forms have things in common. Both hip hop and ballet have an extensive vocabulary about their positions and their movements. 

“We didn’t start in a studio, but it’s a lot of training day in and day out to get to this stage,” says Freitas. “And hip hop deserves to be in these same halls as ballet and jazz.”

The original "Hip Hop Nutcracker" was just a half-hour, says Freitas, but now it’s a full two-hour extravaganza. Frietas, now in her seventh season with the tour, says that some "Nutcracker" crowds might be quiet, but "The Hip Hop Nutcracker" pumps people up to clap and cheer.

So what else might you see that’s a little bit different? 

Pretty much everything.

“We’re literally taking it and turning it on its head,” says Freitas. 

“There’s amazing spins in ballet. But we’re spinning on our back and on our head and on our forearms. When you think about hip hop, you think about the origins coming from sampling and remixing things that already existed. This is a beautiful way to honor it.


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