Dancers dressed as mice form a pyramid

50 Years of Hip Hop Influenced 10 Years of The Hip Hop Nutcracker

The Hip Hop Nutcracker was created in 2013 by director/choreographer Jennifer Weber and writer Mike Fitelson. Mike adapted the original (George) Balanchine ballet to a contemporary New York City setting.

Dancers dressed as mice form a pyramid

Jackie “JK-47” Agudo, Randi “Rascal” Freitas, Seth “REAKTION”
Hilliard, Anthony “OMEN” Cabrera. Photo by Cheryl Mann

At the time, Jennifer was working on a dance piece set to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and was talking to Mike who ran the United Palace of Cultural Arts in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Mike thought that the piece needed to be bigger to fit into the 4,000-seat theatre, and he wasn’t sure that Vivaldi would resonate with the mostly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. He told Jennifer about his daughter’s love of The Nutcracker and how it celebrates love, community and the magic of the holiday season. Together, they agreed that the story could be retold though the modern, self-expressive gaze of hip-hop culture.

Jennifer, who had never seen The Nutcracker performed, began listening to Tchaikovsky’s music and recognized many of the songs as music played during the holiday season. While they worked on adapting the story, it became clear to them to create something that would speak to everyone, but especially to the very diverse neighborhood of Washington Heights.

In 2013, they presented a 15-minute production of The Hip-Hop Nutcracker at The United Palace featuring only three characters – Maria Clara, the Nutcracker and the Mouse King – as a test run. It was a hit. The United Palace decided to fund a full version of the show for Christmas 2014. That year the show was performed at The United Palace and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark.

One dancer on the left spins on his head, the other on the right points and poses

Gabriel Emphasis, Dustin Payne. Photo by Cheryl Mann

After seeing the short presentation, three-time Tony Award-winning producer Eva Price came on board as the executive producer and brought in the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to partner and launch a national touring production. Legendary rapper Kurtis Blow joined the company as guest MC, and an 11-city U.S. and Russia tour began. The tour has evolved into a masterpiece because of the creators’ never-ending commitment to enhancing the production. The creative team – as well as the dancers – is always raising the bar each year.

In 2021, The Hip Hop Nutcracker went digital, giving audiences the opportunity to enjoy the performance from the comfort of their homes. More than 100,000 people worldwide have already livestreamed the show.  That same year, the New York Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NY NATAS) presented The Hip Hop Nutcracker with the Emmy® Award for Entertainment – Long Form Content (longer than 10 minutes) at its annual awards celebration.

To date, The Hip Hop Nutcracker has been performed more than 200 times in 70 cities, reaching tens of thousands of audience members across the country.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker
Nov 17 & 18 • Buell Theatre

Repurposed courtesy of The Hip Hop Nutcracker