‘The Christmas Chocolate Nutcracker:’ A Unique Narrative on a Holiday Favorite
Yes: it’s all a part of the multicultural interpretation of The Nutcracker presented by Ashanti Cultural Arts — The Christmas Chocolate Nutcracker is a mixture of new and old; gospel music and African drumming interwoven within Tchaikovsky’s kaleidoscope score; Afro-centric dances mingle among snowflakes and flowers. It’s a cornucopia of colorful costumes, expressive dancing, and the familiarity of a holiday favorite.
Adapted from George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, this production brings diversity to a nearly 200-year-old story. Written by E.T.A. Hoffman as “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and published in Germany in 1816, The Nutcracker was later revised by Alexandre Dumas to be more appropriate for children. The ballet first premiered in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, and has since been re-imagined many times. Ashanti Cultural Arts’ interpretation focuses on Afro-centrist themes; in this production, the nutcracker is a doll from Africa.
“There is diversity in the dancers and the dances presented,” explains Linda Houston Jones, founder of Ashanti Cultural Arts.
Inspiration for this Nutcracker came from an innocent comment made by a child attending a traditional Nutcracker performance: “I wish they had something for black people.”
The Christmas Chocolate Nutcracker opens with a family scene celebrating Kwanzaa, followed by performances by Junkanoo dancers, African drummers and dancers, along with Indian, Chinese, classical, and modern dancers. Jones describes it as “a family event the entire family can enjoy — excellent music, excellent dancing, not only entertaining, but can wet your appetite if you love the arts.”
Preparations for The Nutcracker began with auditions in the early summer and rehearsals in August. The production involves children from Ashanti Cultural Arts programs, parents and professional dancers and singers.
The Christmas Chocolate Nutcracker is a cultural arts experience for all, but is only one of the many services provided by Ashanti Cultural Arts, celebrating its 25th year of serving communities in South Florida. Ashanti began in order to serve a “need for diverse cultural arts in Broward County,” says Jones. Its programming fits into four categories: arts education, main stage productions (including The Christmas Chocolate Nutcracker), adjunctive therapy (using the arts as a form of healing), and arts for community development.
Its most recent project is the opening of the Bailey Contemporary Arts and Ali Cultural Arts in Pompano; Ashanti Cultural Arts helped preserve the historic Ali House in that city. Built in the 1920s, it was the home of Florence Ali, a leader in the black community. The house became a hotel where many blacks stayed during segregation, and now serves as a museum and cultural arts center.
Reflecting on the past 25 years, Jones says, “Programs have expanded from one community to many, and include a third generation of students and parents. It has been wonderful.”
‘The Christmas Chocolate Nutcracker’ on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. at the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale; tickets $8-$10; www.AshantiCulturalArts.com.