The first time I saw The Nutcracker, I was transfixed—bear with me here, I was eight—and I spent the whole remaining winter reading and re-reading the picture book I had that retold the story of Clara and Herr Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker Prince and all those wild rats and fairies. So enamored was I that I received a nutcracker doll of my own on Christmas Eve and became so attached to him it quite nearly broached on psychosis. I even had my best friend act as the pastor to wed us after making the long march down the back hallway before we moved in together in the half bathroom off the kitchen. Twenty years later, I'm still into The Nutcracker (admittedly, not that into it) but nevertheless, I was still pretty happy to find myself seated at Keshet Center for the Arts for the opening night of the final season of Nutcracker on the Rocks. A bit of a purist, I wasn't sure how I'd fare, but I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the magic that took place on the stage that night.
Energetic, inclusive and powerful, Nutcracker on the Rocks was in every sense of the word a celebration. A celebration of dance, of story, of music and of the ideal of making dance accessible for everyone, as is at the core of the Keshet's mission. From start to finish, all the magic was there, the twist coming in the form of an updated soundtrack and related choreography. In that way, perhaps the classic story is made all the more accessible to those who might be put off by a formidable string section and an abundance of tulle and tutus. As dancers filled the spare stage, they articulated joy in their every movement—whether swaying to Janis Joplin, twirling to Van Morrison or bounding in petit jetés to the Rolling Stones. All of the dancers put in performances of untamed joy, with real standouts coming from each of the leads. The high spirited performance seemed to speak something of the heart of the holiday season, even without all the classical music and glistening, snow-poached sets—and that is celebration, the endless parties where we show up with flushed cheeks hoisting a bottle of wine, of being amongst friends and family, and finding common ground, whether you're downstage or up.
What choreographer Shira Greenberg has managed to do in Nutcracker on the Rocks is create something entirely other, merely borrowing plot elements from the original Nutcracker story, while maintaining something essential of the classic story's spirit. With wonder and irrepressible cheer, the dancers of Keshet have created a new holiday classic for us lucky Burqueños. My only advice is to get there and see it while you still can. Tickets for the 20th—and final—season of Nutcracker on the Rocks are available for $13 and up at keshetarts.org.