STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
ContempraDANCE Theatre Company’s version of “The Nutcracker” is anything but traditional. There are pointe shoes and ballerinas, but it’s a spoof of the classic holiday story. It’s the annual “Philly Nutt Crak-Up,” and it rocks audiences Dec. 11 through 13.
In addition to some of the story’s well-known characters, the funny send-up by the Wayne, Pa. troupe references Philadelphia places, personalities, foods, and more. Performers include the Rappin’ SugarPlum Fairy, the battling Hip Hoppin’ Rats, the City Hall Dolls, Captain Philadelphia, Liberty Belle-Anne, and the South Street Rocky-Ettes.
Of course, like the original, there’s a lot of dancing, but in addition to ballet, dancers perform hip-hop, jazz, and modern.
Gail Vartanian, founder of both the non-profit dance company and ContempraDANCE School, created the show for the whole family, not just the moms and daughters who seem to be the traditional Nutcracker’s main audience. She also broadened the types of included dance and inserted some humor, all to reach her goal: “smiles on everybody’s faces,” she said in a telephone interview.
People who may have seen the show in the past should see it again, she said, because changes are made each year. In this year’s incarnation, for instance, a Michael Jackson doll battles with the Hip Hoppin’ Rats to his classic song, “Bad.” Another new addition: Todd Munoz, a well-known hip hop dancer, will do an unusual robotic dance, she said.
Returning for his fourth year is Rimaj Todd, who plays the Nerd, the main character the show revolves around.
“He’s awesome,” Vartanian said, “He’s an amazing dancer and an amazing person. He blows people away. He makes the whole show.”
Todd, who’s originally from Brazil, has been dancing since he was a teen. He self-taught and he loves doing it. Being the Nerd is so much fun, he said in a telephone interview.
“I get to dress up as a nerd who falls in love with this beautiful girl,” he said. “I love to play a goofy character, too.”
And since the story showcases Philly things, of course the girl falls in love with him when he delivers her a cheesesteak, Todd said. He loves the story and to demonstrate his skills.
“I get to show that you can mix hip hop and make ballet look so cool,” he said.
The thing he likes most about the show is how “everything is through our dancing,” he said. “We don’t really speak. You feel everything. You don’t even need the words. You connect with your dance partner as well as with the crowd.”
Vartanian said Todd and all of the dancers are technically superb and she’s so excited for audiences to see what they’ve cooked up this year. It’s something different for the holidays and it’s as unique as the people who put it together.
“We think we’re a bunch of nuts,” Vartanian said. “We look at each other and say ‘what are we doing?’ Well, we’re doing what we love best, and we’re having a great time.”