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A Hip-Hop Nutcracker and a New Home for Waterbury Dance Studio

State of the Arts


Published December 7, 2011 at 10:20 a.m.

In Laurie Flaherty’s version of the Christmas ballet classic The Nutcracker, Clara Silberhaus has a new Italian name: Claire Spinelli. Her brother, Fritz, goes by Frankie. And their godfather, the magician responsible for all those fantastical toys, including the Nutcracker himself, is not Herr Drosselmeyer but simply Uncle Tony.

Welcome to Green Mountain Performing Arts’ Hip Hop Nutcracka, playing for one day only this weekend at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe.

The colorful show is the brainchild of Flaherty, the executive and artistic director of the Waterbury performing arts organization formerly called One Studio Dance and Yoga. The hip-hop adaptation is understandable — the school offers more hip-hop than ballet classes — but why “Nutcracka”?

“I’m from Boston,” says Flaherty simply. “Nobody says their Rs in Boston.”

This show takes place in her hometown, but the story is the same: A little girl gets a magical nutcracker for Christmas. When she falls asleep, everything comes to life, and she finds herself in the midst of a war between her nutcracker and his toy soldiers, and a fierce rat king and his army.

“I don’t think I’m the only person to take The Nutcracker and make a messed-up version,” says Flaherty. The Brooklyn-based Mark Morris Dance Group did a retro-modern adaptation set in the 1970s called The Hard Nut, she notes.

In Flaherty’s version, it’s not just hip-hop. Seventy-five student dancers, four instructors, Spruce Peak executive director David Rowell (who plays the “flashy” Uncle Tony) and Flaherty herself (who plays Claire’s mother) weave a wide variety of dance styles into the show, including a cha-cha and a traditional Chinese dance.

Then there are the two guest performers. New York City-based dancer and b-girl Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie opens the show with a breakin’ (otherwise known as break dance) number. And Ernest “E-Knock” Phillips brings his Boston dance crew, Status Quo, who made it to the finals of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew” last year, to play the Sugah Plum Prince and his crew.

The show has special significance for the dance school. This is the first time the dancers will perform since their studio was destroyed in Tropical Storm Irene — it used to be housed in a historic building next door to the former Alchemist Pub & Brewery. “I became very close to closing the door, even though we had 400 students, because I just didn’t know how we were going to rebuild,” says Flaherty, who founded the studio six years ago.

But the community wouldn’t let her close. “Everybody in town just got behind me,” she says. “I had one parent who just gave me a check for $25,000.” The local elementary and middle schools have offered her space to hold classes.

Since the flood, the dance school has acquired nonprofit status, part of an effort to make dance education even more accessible to local families. And it’s raising money to move into a new studio space on Commercial Drive. So far, $43,000 of the $70,000 target has been raised.

“I just hope, as a nonprofit, that we can all build a bigger dance community here in Vermont,” says Flaherty.

Hip Hop Nutcracka, performed by Green Mountain Performing Arts with special guests Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Ernest “E-Knock” Phillips. Saturday, December 10, 1, 4 and 8 p.m. at Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe. $18. Info, 760-4634. sprucepeakarts.org