By Roger Lee for The Dance Journal
While the City of Brotherly Love is filled with plenty of Nutcracker performances, there is none quite like the Philly Nutt Crack Up. ContempraDANCE Theater Company has taken The Nutcracker and added its own witty, urban twist to it. The Dance Journal caught up with Contempra’s artistic director and choreographer, Gail Vartanian, to discuss this weekend’s premiere of Philly Nutt Crack Up.
“You don’t even have to know the story of The Nutcracker to enjoy this show. Even your dad will enjoy it!” said Vartanian. She has been telling her version of The Nutcracker to large audiences since 2003.
“I decided that Philadelphia was ready for an alternative version of The Nutcracker. Not just an ordinary one, but a version that combined all genres of dance including hip hop, modern, jazz, tap, and comedy,” explained Vartanian. She even made the show revolve around the City of Philadelphia and all of its unique characteristics. Vartanian created Philadelphia-based lead characters including Philly Cheesesteak neard as the Nutcracker and Liberty Belle-Anne as Clara. There is even a Rappin SugarPlum Fairy, Captain Philadelphia, South Street Rocky-Ettes at the Kingdom of Prussia, and City Hall Dolls bringing a taste of Philadelphia to the stage.
“Everyone thought I was crazy back then, and rightfully so. You have to have some sort of “nuttiness” to conceive a show like the Philly Nutt Crack Up!” admitted Vartanian.
Vartanian told the tale of the show’s humble beginnings. The Philly Nutt Crack Up debut was only 30 minutes long. However, those 30 minutes captivated audiences and critics alike. The Philly Nutt Crack Up soon grew into a full-length production and a holiday tradition in Philadelphia. “Due to the Philly Nutt Crack Up’s popularity and rave reviews, we added additional acts and increased the number of performances,” said Vartanian. The popular Philly Nutt Crack Up been featured in Philadelphia Magazine, Dance Magazine, the City Paper, a feature segment on Channel 6 ABC’s Prime Time Weekly show and NBC’s 10 show.
The non-profit ContempraDANCE Theatre Company has received generous grants to expand the Philly Nutt Crack Up. The show’s growth is truly the result of community love and support. “Part of my motivation to continue producing the Philly Nutt Crack Up is to see the smiles on people’s faces and the sheer enjoyment they experience,” admitted Vartanian. “I hope to continue sharing the Philly Nutt with you for a very long time!”
This year the Philly Nutt Crack Up has gone from rehearsal in Wayne, PA to performance at The Wilma Theater on Avenue of the Arts in Center City Philadelphia. The large cast of 16 professional dancers, 5 apprentices, and 20 children has been working hard since the fall. According to Vartanian “We finished this show in only 8 rehearsals! The dancers are absolutely phenomenal, hardworking and dedicated artists. I feel extremely blessed to be surrounded by such talented performers.”
One of those talented performers is B-Boy turned concert dancer, Michael Nguyen. “This is my second year performing in the Philly Nutt Crack Up. This year my main roles are Rat Number 3, The Snow King, and The Prussian,” explained Nguyen. The versatile performer added, “I have had a great experience with the entire cast. Everyone has been welcoming and encouraging. Their outstanding work ethic, chemistry, and dedication make this show such a success.” Nguyen is most excited about working with wonderful dancers each day. “The dancers have a lot to offer besides their talents. They are wonderful teachers and inspirational people.”
With rapping, humor, tons of Philadelphia references, and a talented performers, the Philly Nutt Crack Up carries on the Philadelphia holiday tradition. There are three chances to catch the show this weekend on Avenue of the Arts.
ContempraDANCE Theatre Company’s Philly Nutt Crack Up
Friday, December 6, 2013, 7:30 pm
Saturday, December 7, 2013, 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, December 8, 2013, 3:00 pm (includes an Artist Meet and Greet after the show)
The Wilma Theater, 265 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
$35 for general admission (assigned seating)
$25 for college students with ID