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A cracking show: ‘The Nutcracker’ gets a modern makeover

Swings and things: Vertical Aerial Arts’ “The Nutcracker Circus Suite” is a modern twist on the traditional ballet, full of thrilling aerial feats.
Photo by Kat Marek

If you are looking for a traditional performance of “The Nutcracker” to take the family to this year, keep looking.

Vertical Aerial Arts’ “The Nutcracker Circus Suite,” running at Galapagos Art Space in Dumbo from Dec. 14 to Dec. 21, follows the original Christmas tale enough to still have the name in its title. But it also throws in some breakdancing mice, burlesque performers, aerial acts, and trip-hop.

Jennifer Kovacs and Megan Hornaday, who comprise the two-year-old troupe, said they wanted to put a fresh take on the familiar ballet, which has its fair share of productions this time of year.

“We’ve seen a million ‘Nutcrackers,’” said Hornaday, who workshopped the production with Kovacs last year at House of Yes in Bushwick. “We wanted to make it edgy and modern, reworking all the acts to make it really exciting.”

That means keeping the fantastical dream sequence — where gingerbread soldiers battle a mouse king and Clara travels to the Land of Sweets with her Nutcracker Prince — the same, but adding in their own touches for the dancing, music, and costuming. This “Nutcracker” trades out much of the pliés, leaps, and battements for burlesque, juggling, Chinese pole, modern dance, and aerial feats performed by Hornaday and Kovacs on chains and an apparatus shaped like a three-dimensional Christmas star. The two recruited Galapagos regulars, including dance group Jenny Rocha & Her Painted Ladies, to dance on the ground.

Contemporary music by groups such as Massive Attack and Broken Social Scene will take the place of Tchaikovsky’s popular score, though the medley that includes “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” will remain intact. The production will also forgo traditional ballet wear for circus-inspired costumes.

In another twist, the audience will become an integral part of the show, as the Christmas Eve party that opens the production happens in and around the seated crowd.

“In the classic, you sit down and watch a party,” said Hornaday. “But for ours, you’re in the party.”

This engagement was something the two want to keep up throughout the entire night.

“We’re really trying to make it audience immersive,” said Kovacs. “The action is happening all around, above and between you.”

“The Nutcracker Circus Suite” at Galapagos Art Space [16 Main St. at Water Street in Dumbo, (718) 222–8500, www.galapagosartspace.com]. Dec. 14 at 7 pm; Dec. 15 at 6:30 pm; Dec. 20 at 8 pm; Dec. 21 at 7 pm. $20–$35.

Hoopla: Vertical Aerial Arts’ “The Nutcracker Circus Suite” puts a modern twist on “The Nutcracker” with breakdancing mice, burlesque performers, aerial acts, and trip-hop.
Photo by Kat Marek

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