More than half a dozen traditional productions of the holiday classic ballet “The Nutcracker” abound in metro Atlanta, showing starry-eyed children a Christmas wonderland.
But for more than a quarter-century, the East Point-based Ballethnic Dance Co. has jumped in to present “Urban Nutcracker,” a “colorful and whimsical adaptation” of Peter Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet, company spokeswoman Gwen Davis said in a statement.
Patrons can see performers like Karla Tyson of Locust Grove and Chadrick Jones of Atlanta.
They respectively portray Brown Sugar—known to audiences of traditional versions as the Sugar Plum Fairy—and her partner the Chocolatier, more familiarly called the Cavalier.
“The story line is similar to the original Nutcracker; but the characters differ,” Davis said.
In the first act, Sarah (traditionally Clara) receives a nutcracker doll for a holiday gift from Professor Isaac, her mysterious uncle; she later dreams that the nutcracker becomes a handsome prince.
“Act I concludes after a beautiful dance by the Snow King and Queen, against a scenic snowy backdrop,” Davis said. “In Act II, Sarah’s dreams take her on a journey to the ‘land of Sweet Auburn Avenue’ where she and her brother Leroy are greeted with delightful gifts and entertained by a bubbly six pack of Coca-Cola dancers on pointe, leaping Black Russians and Spice Drop Tumblers.”
Husband-and-wife ballet company founders and directors Waverly Lucas II and Nena Y. Gilreath are responsible for the “soulful celebration,” Davis said, blending classical ballet, jazz, modern, African and other ethnic dance.
“This unique and engaging style creates a fast-paced and upbeat performance which captivates audiences of all ages and cultures,” Davis said.
Lucas said it is a significant experience to which parents can bring their children.
“I believe it is important for young people to experience the lifestyle and cultures of others to appreciate their lives and the lives of others,” he said. “They realize the similarities in people and learn to embrace the differences.”
Diversity is the key to the ballet, Lucas said, but the directors also went deeper.
“We chose to explore the original story more carefully and at times celebrate aspects of the story that have been traditionally ignored, like the frightening battle between the Giant Rats and Soldiers.”
Gilreath said its setting in an Atlanta neighborhood in the 1940s was intended to give both adults and children a local venue to which they can relate.
“It sparks their interest in a historical black community that was very active and vibrant during that time,” she said.
Jazz music adapted by L. Gerard Reid adds to Tchaikovsky’s score.
Marietta resident Lydia Arbarca Mitchell, who, like the company founders, performed with Dance Theater of Harlem, is the dance coach.
Holidays are even cheerier for the company as Christmas came early in the form of more funds and prestige.
“Ballethnic now finds itself on firm footing and well prepared to move forward with its artistic agenda,” Davis said about awards from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Arts, Innovation and Management program and the International Association of Blacks in Dance.
Lucas said the awards will help reverse a five-year trend of diminished funding from corporate donors and individual patrons.
He said the company hung on during the challenges and is now ready to reinvigorate itself, with which Gilreath agreed.
“Our receipt of this second award has really put us in a position to work on rebuilding our dance ensemble and our repertoire,” she said about the association’s support. “We can better plan for producing additional programs in 2019, as well as presenting what has become a popular holiday tradition, ‘Urban Nutcracker.’”
The Porter Sanford Performing Arts Center, 3181 Rainbow Drive, Decatur will host the ballet’s Act II on Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. and noon with tickets at $10 for students and seniors. Performances continue Dec. 15 at 3 and 5 p.m. and Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. with tickets at $20 for adults and $15 for children, seniors and groups.
The entire show will be presented at Tri-Cities High School, 2575 Harris St. in East Point.
Devrae Jefferson of Hapeville, who dances the role of Arabian Man, is an alumnus.
“We are elated to have Ballethnic Dance Co. in residence,” said fine arts department chair Tiffany Mingo, Ed.D.
Performances are Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 21 at 8 p.m., Dec. 22 at 2 and 8 p.m. and Dec. 23 at 3 p.m.
Dec. 20 ticket prices are $15. Dec. 21 VIP tickets are $40. All other tickets are $25, with $20 seats for children, seniors and groups.
Information: 404-762-1416 or http://bit.ly/2UgRbmE