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‘Urban Nutcracker’ shakes up the Tchaikovsky classic

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
‘Urban Nutcracker’ shakes up the Tchaikovsky classic
Ruth Whitney and Ronnie Thomas in ‘Urban Nutcracker.’ PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

It’s the time of year when twinkle lights go up in the Boston Common and holiday music rings from speakers in every shop. ’Tis the season for merriment, and for holiday performances. “Urban Nutcracker,” the beloved diverse and Boston-centric version of the classic ballet, will return to the stage this winter season.

“Urban Nutcracker” is different from the original ballet in several important ways. For one thing, the on-stage cast is extremely diverse, representing a more accurate reflection of Boston’s local population. The show’s creator, Anthony Williams, was one of the first Black company dancers in the Boston Ballet company and has made it his mission to diversify the stage ever since. The production is also set in Boston, so audiences see the famous Citgo sign, the Boston Common, and the brownstones of Roxbury and the South End in the show. 

Audiences will recognize a number of Boston landmarks in the show, including Kenmore Square’s Citgo sign. PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

“For 22 years ‘Anthony Williams’ Urban Nutcracker’ has been celebrating diversity through dance,” says Williams. “Our production is a show I created to honor Boston and our history, featuring a number of local iconic landmarks.”

Some of the original score from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is used, as well as a jazzy version by Duke Ellington, which is played live by the Urban Nut/Band. Several original scenes have been added, including an homage to the classic Boston book “Make Way for Ducklings,” an authentic flamenco piece choreographed by Sabrina Aviles, director of the Flamenco Dance Project, and an LGBTQIA+ inclusive story version on Dec. 22.

Diversity is considered not just in casting, but in dance styles as well. “One never gets bored while watching the many dance styles,” says Williams. “We feature ballet with Snowflake Fairies dancing on pointe to Bollywood, tap, hip-hop, flamenco and swing!”

The Bollywood influences are new this year; Williams and his team develop the production each year to be increasingly inclusive and dynamic. Also new this year is a partnership with Fédération Régionale de Danse de la Guadeloupe that will bring dancers from the island of Guadeloupe to Boston to perform in the show.

“Urban Nutcracker” has more than 150 performers, ranging from well-known professional performers like tap dancer Khalid Hill to children from the local community dancing in the ensemble. That blend of experience and community is what makes “Urban Nutcracker” so special.

“Urban Nutcracker was built around themes of inclusion, community and diversity,” says Joe Spaulding, president & CEO of the Boch Center. “We couldn’t be happier to host City Ballet of Boston’s iconic ‘Urban Nutcracker’ again this year.”

The production will run Dec. 16-23 at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre.