Getting into a true holiday spirit can be tough in South Florida, where palm trees, expansive beaches and balmy skies signal perpetual summer. Ever-earlier store décor and the incessant push to buy presents – more about commercialism than celebration – can make many of us feel more anxious than festive. Not to worry. Just squeeze in a trip to Miami’s Arsht Center, where City Theatre h..
One of the centerpieces of this year’s Art Week is not a static art work, and it is also one of the most sensuous and disorienting. Lebanese performance artist Tania El Khoury is producing her “Gardens Speak” for the week, courtesy of MDC Live Arts, a piece that has been applauded in cultural capitals throughout Europe and the United States. “It is a work,” she says, “that can only co..
Since its founding in 1996, City Theatre has been an important part of South Florida’s theatrical landscape, though the company’s visibility has always been highest in the month of June. That’s when its popular Summer Shorts festival takes place; for more than a decade, its high-profile venue has been the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Arsht Center. Though the company founded by S..
If you were to predict who might become a nationally famous – OK, world-famous – multiplatform sex therapist, Dr. Ruth Westheimer would probably not be your first choice. Born in Germany in 1928 as Karola Ruth Siegel, the 4’7” Dr. Ruth seems more like the doting Jewish grandmother she is than a woman who used her nationally syndicated radio show, TV shows and 40-some books to help hun..
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Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks won the Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog” in 2002. But as Zoetic Stage’s superb new production of the play at Miami’s Arsht Center demonstrates, her funny, shocking tale of two brothers struggling to survive is as potent today as it was 15 years ago. Maybe more so, given the country’s deepening divide. Parks’ harrowing drama examines the complex relation..
We are born. We live, have families, grow old. We die, leaving those who loved us to mourn. Playwright Thornton Wilder brilliantly captured the eternal verities of our journey through life in “Our Town,” his 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about life, love and death in a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the 20th century. If you’re at all drawn to theater, you’ve probably ..
“Miami Motel Stories: Little Havana” written by Juan C. Sanchez, directed by Tamilla Woodard, and produced by Juggerknot Theatre Company, is a site-specific, immersive theater experience that interweaves narrative, performance, history and architecture. Nine short plays take place in nine hotel rooms on the second floor of the Tower Hotel, right off Calle Ocho on Seventh Street. Sanchez, ..
Artistic director and founder of Juggerknot Theatre Company, Tanya Bravo, had her first brush with immersive theater in New York City when she met director Tamilla Woodard. Working on the play “Broken City,” Bravo and other actors led audience members on a theatrical journey through the streets of the Lower East Side. “I was so blown away by the concept and the lines that were crossed between ..
We humans do love our rituals. When an extended family gathers for the holidays, familiar traditions promise a comforting respite from an increasingly complex, chaotic world. Still, realistically, troubles and fears refuse to be left behind. They surface like unwelcome guests. So do resentments and stinging remarks born of deep knowledge. With Thanksgiving on the horizon, you wonder: ..
It happens every year, right around Thanksgiving, productions of the Nutcracker pop up from coast to coast, marking the start of the holiday season. But on Saturday, Miami audiences have the opportunity to see a truly contemporary take – “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Hip hop and the “Nutcracker” are an unusual pairing, to say the least, a coalescence of different energies in movement, music and history.
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” however, doesn’t deviate much from the original story line, based on the Alexandre Dumas adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story of “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Hoffmann wrote stories that transcend the borders between reality and fantasy. Marie (sometimes named Clara) is swept up into a magical world of fighting mice and soldiers, and of dancing snowflakes and magical toys. “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” presents a similar world told through the language of hip-hop movement vocabulary.
In this retelling, the action takes place in New York City on New Year’s Eve. The Land of Sweets is a nightclub in the 1980s.
Brooklyn-based Jennifer Weber, the director and choreographer, is no stranger to the world of hip hop. She is the founder and director of Decadancetheatre, a hip-hop theater company that has toured nationally and internationally. Speaking by phone, Weber explains that “hip hop is about individuality. It’s about expressing yourself, it’s about making your voice heard and about community, about sharing and growing. These are the fundamental values hip hop was created with.”
In “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” Weber says much of that individuality can be seen in free-form solos of the dancers. “What’s cool about hip hop is that there are so many different styles, we are able to create so many characters. The movements of the Nutcracker are very different than how the mice dance or the soldiers dance. Everything has its own style.”
Featured on the program is Kurtis Blow, a legend in hip-hop culture and the first rapper to be signed by a major label. “Kurtis is a magical human being. He walks into the room and has a beautiful spirit. He’s always about love. If anyone represents the old-school vibe of hip hop it’s Kurtis Blow,” says Weber. Blow opens the show, rapping the introduction.
Weber, along with co-creator Mike Fitelson, presents a “Nutcracker” that speaks to a more diverse and urban audience. This is not the first time the “Nutcracker” ballet has changed venues or eras from its original Russian setting. Mark Morris’s “The Hard Nut” takes place in the 1970s; while Matthew Bourne’s “Nutcracker” occurs in a grim Dickensian orphanage. What they all have in common is Tchaikovsky’s music. Weber says working with the music was both rewarding and challenging. “The challenge is super exciting, you push your body to move in new ways and to try different things.”
The 12 dancers in the program “are as much of a family offstage as they appear to be onstage,” says Weber. What does she look for in a dancer? “That magic quality where you can’t take your eyes off them. People who are really great storytellers [and who have] really high-level hip-hop skills.” Skills that have grown and developed with the evolution of hip-hop culture.
The movement can be traced back to the South Bronx in New York City in the 1970s, often perceived as an expression of urban youth. Over the course of the next two decades, hip hop made its way around the world and into more mainstream outlets, in films, television shows and even in the repertory of the New York City Ballet, with resident choreographer Justin Peck’s work “The Times Are Racing.” “Hip hop today is a dance culture that keeps evolving and keeps growing, while, at the same time, stays true to the roots of where it came from,” explains Weber.
With “The Hip Hop Nutcracker, Weber and Fitelson have filled the stage with the magic of the old and the new worlds, in time for another New Year’s Eve.
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” Saturday, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets $25, $35, $55 and $75; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org
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