Peninsula Lively Arts’ Hip Hop Nutcracker -Suspends Reality for 2 Hours of Pure Joy

Stuck Sanders, Ninja Sutton and Robyyne Blackmond dance in the magical land of hip hop. Photo by Lance Huntley
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Thousands of families in the Bay Area see the Nutcracker Ballet every year at Christmas time. I hope the hip hop version of the classic ballet becomes a new tradition for all Bay Area residents. It is a true embodiment of the Christmas spirit that appeals to all generations.  If audience reaction is a valid measurement of the quality of a performance, The Peninsula Lively Arts version of The Hip Hop Nutcracker is an 11 out of 10.

The original Nutcracker Ballet is a charming tale based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 short story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” The score of the ballet was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It has some of the most beloved music in the world. This hip hop version retains Tchaikovsky’s music, with added original beats and rhythms.  You have to see this to believe how perfectly hip-hop dancing can be adapted to Tchaikovsky’s score. 

The Toy Soldiers come alive with hip hop dancing.
Photo by Lance Huntley

This show exists because in 2017, Christine Leslie, the executive producing director and CEO of Peninsula Lively Arts, (new name of the Peninsula Ballet Theatre), had a creative idea. She approached two very talented hip hop teachers at the PBT and challenged them to create a few hip hop numbers that could be performed entr’acte during the original Nutcracker. At the time, the Peninsula Ballet Theatre (PBT) offered hip hop classes, but that fact was not well known. Christine wanted the audience to get a taste of what the organization had to offer beyond traditional ballet classes. The phenomenal teachers she challenged with her request are Alee Martinez and Isaac “Stuck” Sanders. They accepted Christine’s challenge, and with her blessing, totally revamped the Nutcracker in hip hop style. The result was this incredible remake created and choreographed by Sanders and Martinez. They retained Tchaikovsky’s score and added hip hop rhythms and beats. The choreography they created works on every level. It is amazing to think hip hop dancing could fit with the original score, yet it does. When the hip hop beat kicks in, the dancers are in their element and the result is mesmerizing. Sanders and Martinez choreographed the dances but left some of the moves as free style that evolves during the performance. No two performances are exactly alike. The audience has an active role in prodding the dancers to do more and more amazing dance moves. These dancers do not disappoint an enthusiastic audience.

Hip hop provides the perfect way to express Christmas joy
Photo by Lance Huntley

The story begins, as expected, in the shop of a toymaker named Drosselmeyer. He makes magical toys that come to life. The toys dance to Tchaikovsky’s elegant music, and then suddenly, the hip hop beat drops and you can’t help but be energized by these magical toys dancing on stage in their hard-hitting style. The dancers showcase their own specialties within the hip hop genre, and there are many. These stars are famous within the hip hop community and have huge followings on social media. Stuck Sanders is cast as Drosselmeyer; his talent is evident early and always in this performance. Not only is he an excellent dancer; he draws the audience into the tale and makes us feel very much a part of the story.

Clara’s adventure includes some amazing dancers Photo by Lance Huntley

The story evolves when Drosselmeyer gives an enchanted nutcracker to his Goddaughter, Clara. Clara, portrayed by Robyyne Blackmond, combined the elegant and the sharp moves of hip hop at just the right times.  She made it look so easy.  Like the original Nutcracker, this version continues with Clara dreaming of an enchanted land to which her nutcracker transports her. The difference here is that she is immersed in a magical hip hop adventure through the different lands surrounded by the magical creatures in them.  The traditional mice, soldiers, snow king, sugar plum fairy, and toys you expect to find in this tale are here in hip hop land. Again, each is portrayed by a famous hip hop dancer who showcases his or her unique talents in a wide range of specialties. Included are breakdancing, popping, locking, and some very unusual styles that have made these dancers a name for themselves in their field. The hip hop battle between the mice and the soldiers had the audience cheering, in some cases even for the mice. The free style battle was amazing.

Ninja Sutton, Robyyne Blackmond, and Stuck Sanders.
Photo by Lance Huntley

In the finale of this performance all the dancers are called back into the realm for Clara, and they dance for and with her. To bring closure to the adventure, Clara and Drosselmeyer give tribute to the toy nutcracker all alone on stage.  Again “Stuck” Sanders addressed the audience immediately after that to make sure we felt a part of the entire success of the show. His sincerity can not be questioned. We were introduced to his family and made to feel important to it. He first introduced Alee Martinez who had played an extremely talented snow queen in the performance. She is the co-creator and co-choreographer of the entire show, and his wife. You get a warm feeling from them that makes you want to learn hip hop from them and absolutely stay to see more dancing.  The good, no, great, news is that the dancers do come back out and free style after the performance and interact with the audience. It’s a bonus you won’t want to miss. These dancers can do some unbelievable moves. It inspires the young people in the audience to try it.

The dancers entertained Clara and the Nutcracker. Photo by Lance Huntley

This cast includes many very famous hip hop dancers that you probably recognize, perhaps having watched them perform on Youtube, Instagram, and other social media. This style of dance takes as much hard work and dedication as any style I have ever seen. These dancers make it look easy, which is why they make us all think we can try it. I can’t mention everyone who deserves to be mentioned. But I want to give special credit to some of the performers who excel in the genre. Ninja Sutton, as the Nutcracker, was very deserving of that lead role. The versatility of his dancing made him the perfect nutcracker who had to dance with various other performers in various styles.

Dopey Fresh, Skeeter, and Karina Amaranth as the toy dolls combined very smooth moves with very hard-hitting ones. Their versatility was spellbinding to watch.  Black Flip, in the role of Mouse King, really made the hip hop battle between the mice and the soldiers epic to watch. His ability to work on the floor kept the audience yelling for him to continue dancing, even though we knew the soldiers would win the battle.

Cyber Yoga and Pola Rubis performed a mesmerizing dance that rivaled any ballet pas de deux you could see anywhere. The audience was speechless during their dance which flowed with elegant moves and stunning lifts.  All of the dances, including this one, ended with the audience wanting more.

The mice vs. the soldiers in a hip hop battle. Photo by Lance Huntley

T. Dot, Chonkie, Milo, Jesse Sykes, Bad Bonez, Nasty Ray, Vi Vu, and Storyboard P lent their unique talents to both choreographed and free style parts of the performance. There is no doubt that these dancers work hard to be the best in their field. They have some unique gifts that allow them to make moves that extend beyond the limit of the average human’s range of movement. Each performer was given a role in which his or her unique style could fit to the music of Tchaikovsky alone or with the added hip hop rhythms.

The Tribe dance company. Photo by Lance Huntley

One great thing about the Peninsula Lively Arts, and specifically Alee Martinez and Stuck Sanders, is that they offer classes to aspiring dancers. In fact, rounding out the cast of the Hip Hop Nutcracker were members of the two dance companies run by Sanders and Martinez. The adult crew, called Tribe provided choreographed numbers that required much expertise. The children in the show were from  the group for young dancers, which is named The Poise’n Brigade. They are very talented in their own right, thanks to being part of the dance company.

Unfortunately, it is too late to see this show for the 2023 Christmas season. My hope is that they will add more performances in 2024 so that more families can enjoy this uplifting showcase of talent. You might want to put it on your bucket list for 2024 now. It just might be one of the best experiences a family can have during the holiday season. A tradition young and old will love.

Peninsula Lively Arts does have upcoming productions you can still plan to see. Check out their website to discover upcoming shows and learn about the opportunities to take dance classes there.  A Salute to Broadway is coming in February, and dance classes are ongoing. The website is PeninsulaLivelyArts.org

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