The Bang, via Parker’s choreography, applied its let-it-all-hang-out casual style and a refreshing, if chaotic, combination of ballet, modern and tap (even that old Vaudeville standby toe tap!) to traditional Nutcracker themes and spread the joy among 22 short dance skits that ranged from quite lovely to quite funny.
The troupe attracted a wide-ranging audience to The Sam space at The Flea, even a few youngsters there to see their first live dance performance, and, with the exception of one section, “Thumbs,” performed by Nic Petry and Kazin, which might been perceived as naughtily sexual, they were in for many treats: jaunty barefoot tapping (“Top Hats”); a male Sugar Plum Fairy, Dylan Baker, who was so proud of his toe shoe technique that he shined a flashlight on his every foot jiggle (“Flashlight”); and “A Chorus Line” of young dancers from the Dalton School getting their first taste of professional dancing under the lights in front of an audience.
The two artistic directors also performed in several sections. Parker opened the show with “Shaving Cream,” the closest thing in the show to a Zen moment, in which he did little but stand and stare at the audience, his face covered in fake shaving cream. Parker also timed his devouring of a single Chinese noodle, emerging from a red takeout container in “Noodle” to Tchaikovsky’s “Chinese Tea.” He emanated a weird relaxed calm, eyes focused at a distant point beyond the rows of seats.
Three sections particularly stood out. In “Toe Shoes,” to the “Mother Ginger” music, most of the troupe—men and women—competed in showing off their rather limited point techniques until one frustrated guy, Petry, exited only to return with toe shoes on his hands so he could scramble about on all fours!!
In “Bubble Wrap” two dancers, Amber Sloan and Petry, unrolled sheets of the eponymous product using barefoot tap dance steps to pop the bubbles in clever ways. And, in the truly inspired “Tree,” an economy version of the usual giant Christmas tree growing from a normal sized one until it reaches to the rafters, Terence Duncan, first discovered lying supine, slowly raised a miniature xmas tree, taking it higher and higher as he stood up, finally holding it aloft as he stood on point. The little white star that topped it was like an exclamation point.
Deborah Lohse, the troupe’s natural comedienne, was always fun to watch, but particularly when she attempted to lower herself into a split, but found herself needing the assistance of a male audience member who didn’t seem to mind his little moment.
The first half of the program was performed to jazzy and pop takes on the Tchaikovsky score, including urbane holiday lyrics, while the second used the original full orchestral versions.
There was no set, just a few piles of colorful holiday related bits and pieces, like champagne glasses, flowers, gift boxes, etc., plus a few suggestive projections of Christmas trees and snowflakes.
All the performers wore the same outfits: variations on white t-shirts over dark (black/navy blue) exercise pants with red Santa caps and red gloves added when required.
Christopher Brown’s lighting design, in itself, was funny, carefully illuminating only what was funny and making what might have been a boring space constantly interesting.
All the dancers had fun, communicated fun and appeared to be all on the same wavelength.
Nut/Cracked is a compact entertainment able to be appreciated by sophisticated balletomanes and newcomers alike.
Nut/Cracked (December 20 – 22, 2018)
The Flea Theater/The Sam, 20 Thomas Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-226-0051 or visit http://www.theflea.org
Running time: 60 minutes without intermission