‘Urban Nutcracker’ celebrates 20 years
“Urban Nutcracker,” a Boston holiday tradition pioneered by local dancer Anthony Williams, celebrates its 20th year this December. Set to both the classic score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and a jazzy edition by Duke Ellington, the production highlights diversity in dance styles and performers, celebrating the multiracial streets of Boston, where Williams grew up.
The show runs December 18–23 at the Shubert Theatre. Though “Urban Nutcracker” now graces downtown stages, tap dance star Khalid Hill remembers the early days of the production at the Strand Theater. Hill and his counterpart Ricardo Foster were teaching at Williams’ dance school at the time and have been involved with the show on and off for the last two decades. Both Boston natives, they’re excited to pay homage once again to the city that raised them.
Hill sees an opportunity to bring a more mature lens to the choreography he worked on as a 20-year-old. “I feel like I can still rock out now the way I could rock out then, only I’m more aware of my voice as a dancer,” he says. “You bring your life experiences into your art. Who I am right now comes out in my improvisational experience in any show.”
“Urban Nutcracker” takes audiences on a dance journey through Boston. The production starts on what feels like a street in Roxbury, with community members celebrating the season. In the distance, the Citgo sign and the Prudential Center rise on the skyline. Later, dancers tap and twirl by the State House and the Boston Common. The production has always been a love letter to the city. It’s also meant to promote a more realistic and diverse vision of the dance world.
Williams was the first Black principal dancer in the Boston Ballet. He used dance as a way to build a new future for himself, and he wanted to share that pathway with the children of Boston. He founded the Tony Williams Dance Center and now also runs the City Ballet of Boston, both designed to make dance training accessible to all populations around Boston.
Hill says, “I think the more diversity you have in the show, the more fun it is. I hope people get a more positive and hopeful window into our current landscape. Even though there’s been a lot of bickering in the political world in general, good things can still happen when people come together.”