Watching The Nutcracker is a cherished tradition for many families. But as with many traditions, the excitement can be hard to keep up year after year.
Even as artistic director of the Colorado Academy of Music and Dance, Mago Lauritzen gets that.
"You can bring your dad," he says of the Academy's new interpretation of the classic, "and he's not going to suffer through it."
An Urban Nutcracker: A Holiday Tradition Remixed incorporates hip-hop, samba, capoeira, maculelê, tap, jazz and belly dances into the traditional ballet. The score branches off as well, with a mixture of live and recorded music that only occasionally features recognizable sounds from Tchaikovsky's original.
"We've tried to keep the story intact and change just about everything else," says Lauritzen.
The remixed music may rub purists the wrong way at first, but it actually is consistent with Tchaikovsky's original accomplishment. When he composed it, The Nutcracker was an exotic mix of music from cultures unfamiliar to 19th-century Russians. In the same way, Lauritzen brings together sounds unfamiliar to many 21st-century Americans, including the rhythmic beats of the berimbau (capoeira's lead instrument) and a live accordion.
Lauritzen (who also plays the magician Herr Drosselmeyer) teaches Afro-Brazilian capoeira, a mix of martial arts and dance that has rarely been seen in The Nutcracker. In capoeira, participants form a circle and take turns singing, playing instruments, and sparring in pairs in the center. One popular explanation of its origin is that African slaves in Brazil started the "dance of war" in the 1600s, as fighting disguised as dance, because slaves were not allowed to practice combat or self-defense.
The Nutcracker and Mouse King will lead the capoeira fight scene between mice and soldiers in the first act.
Modern capoerista Candice Moncayo says she never expected to find herself performing in The Nutcracker. "This gives us an opportunity to find and expand ourselves that we wouldn't normally have."
And the academy is all about opportunity. The production will feature kids, teens and adults from academy dance classes. With no auditions, Lauritzen promotes a welcoming, non-competitive atmosphere. "Many adults just don't get the chance to perform anymore," he says.
Lauritzen plans to make An Urban Nutcracker a new tradition in Colorado Springs. "There's a part for everyone to like," he says. "It's fun for a martial arts lover, and it's fun for someone who wants to be a professional ballerina."