In what is hopefully an annual tradition, David Parker and The Bang Group’s Nut/Cracked was paired with Doug Elkins’ send-up of The Sound of Music, Fräulein Maria, for a “holiday extravaganza” at DTW this month, ending this past weekend. Parker (who portrays Liesl in Elkins’ work) balances satire and reverence for Tchaikovsky’s classic, so prevalent in many versions around the city during this season. For sure no other version is as goofy and fun-spirited as Nut/Cracked, which is performed to a mix of jazzy contemporary interpretations of the score with more traditional orchestral versions.
Parker takes the opportunity to explore some technical experiments in the many sections of this dance, which doesn’t hew to the traditional Nutcracker story, instead underscoring various motifs. Tapping in toeshoes while lighting one’s own feet with a flashlight. Maneuvering through a knotty trio with plenty of near-miss kicks and leg tunnelling. The prolonging, and ultimately gratifying dance with a sheet (or a square foot) of bubble wrap. Figuring out how to partner yourself on pointe. There are also traditions, such as the ever-growing Christmas tree.
In one particularly virtuosic section, the company seems to be dancing on ice, gliding, spinning, and falling on their butts. It’s probably safe to say that no one has ever choreographed utter chaos so elegantly before. It also points up the inherent danger and fallibility of ballet, especially on pointe, when wipeouts are one slightly-off weight shift away.
Parker ends with a quirky duet that encapsulates his talent for blending the technically rigorous with subversiveness. He and Jeffrey Kazin partner one another with their thumbs in each other’s mouths. Why not spin your partner by sucking their thumb instead of holding their hand? And while you can laugh at Parker’s unorthodox approach, you can’t argue with his refined sense of timing, seen in thumb-into-mouth plants, and also his precise cross-stage bourree and kick, and a hilarious long noodle slurping timed to the millimeter.
The choreography does include plenty of ballet, but it’s giddily mixed with jazz, modern, and Busby Berkeley patterning and showiness. It is possible to both admire and laugh at this storybook classic, as Parker skillfully shows. Here’s to making it a seasonal fixture.
Watch a clip from the performance:
Photo of performance by Briana Blasko