Last year, Austin's longtime professional tap dance company Tapestry put a twist on that legendary holiday dance tradition, "The Nutcracker." Trading toe shoes for tap shoes and classical music for live jazz, "Of Mice & Music" proved a hit, selling out shows.
Tapestry co-founder Acia Gray answers questions about the Christmas mice and the tap dance version of the other classic "Nutcracker" characters.
American-Statesman: "The Nutcracker" is arguably the most popular ballet. Why did you decide to do a tap dance version?
Acia Gray: (Company co-founder) Deirdre Strand and I have talked about doing a version of "The Nutcracker" to Ellington's jazz version of the music for more than 20 years. It just never came to fruition, mostly for budgetary reasons. We also seem to always be too busy with our two concert premieres each season plus touring, and it just didn't seem logistically possible.
It wasn't until our board president last season pushed for the company to take a chance on this dance classic and debut a new concept at Salvage Vanguard last year with no budget, two weeks of rehearsal and academy involvement. We didn't take Ellington, but we went one step further — an original score.
Not only was "Of Mice & Music" successful and fun for the professionals and students last season, it was sold out without trying. It's a new twist of a great holiday tradition and a blast for all involved in a production that lasts just over 50 minutes - just enough time to make that party or buy those last Christmas presents.
How closely does "Of Mice & Music" follow the story traditional "Nutcracker" story?
The basic story is the same.
The party opens with a single mother (company member Adriana Ray) and her daughter Clara getting ready to host their Christmas party. They are soon joined by the neighborhood "Tacky Christmas Sweater Club" and Clara's friends. Soon Ms. Bon Marche (yours truly, in place of the classic Drosselmeyer) makes her entrance as a classic rhythm diva donning mink and heels and bringing the traditional Nutcracker dance characters as gifts for Clara and her friends. The highlight present: The Nutcracker, as well as a pair of tap shoes for Clara. In a nutshell (pun intended), Clara dances a beautiful soft shoe with the Nutcracker, the Mouse King (played by new company member Travis Knights) and his young entourage enter the home, scare the guests away and embark on an incredible jazz tap improvisation battle with the Nutcracker. The Mouse King concedes, a rendition of "Snow" to the choreography of Charles "Honi" Coles is danced by the wishful adult tap dancers of the TDC Academy, and soon the toys are brought to life. The classic Russian, Arabian, Chinese and Spanish are played with a new flair by company dancers as well as a little flirting by our Reed Pipe, with her eyes on the Nutcracker.
Ms. Bon Marche, having been a "fly on the wall" orchestrating the live band (Austin's own Blue J) closes the mood with a solo and is followed by a high-flying finale with the professional company, bringing the concert to a close. All is warm and fuzzy as Clara is left with her new tap shoes - a gift of rhythm to all and to all a good night.
"The Nutcracker" is so grounded in Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet. What music did you select for your tap version?
Blue J's version was arranged by myself and the band last season with an intent of staying true to Tchaikovsky's classic but bringing a rhythmic twist. The melodies are there with rhythm, style and form changes to take the mood to a different place. The band shares the stage with the cast, and in true jazz form, improvisation has its place through the instrumentation and the dance.