Chances are, if you are big on holiday tradition, you have gone to see “The Nutcracker” ballet a time or two.
Meanwhile, chances also are you probably have not yet seen “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” a modern, remixed mash-up in which Tchaikovsky’s classical music and E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story are now spliced with a dose of a breakdancing “B-boy Dream Team,” a DJ, an electric violinist, and an opening set from the host/emcee/pioneer of rap, Kurtis Blow.
Given that “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” will be making its Salt Lake City debut at the Eccles Theater on Thursday, though, you now have an opportunity to rectify that.
Some of the more, ahem, traditional among you may indeed be wondering why it’s necessary to have this alternate version of the tale, in which the setting is transplanted from 19th century Germany to modern New York City, and in which ballet is supplanted by popping and locking, power moves, and — egads! — even electric boogaloo. Please allow the esteemed Mr. Blow to explain.
“When you think about the origins of hip-hop and old-school hip-hop … that came out during that time in the 1980s, it was fun, it was wholesome; people wanted to come out and have a good time. And we have that same kind of feeling,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in a phone interview.
“It’s the holiday season, and, you know, it’s stirred-up love that’s in the air. And it’s a time you just want to grab ahold of your friends and your family and your loved ones and just give ’em a big hug and say thank you for putting up with me all year long. And, you know, we bring that same intensity, that same spirit with ‘The Hip Hop Nutcracker.’”
If it wasn’t already clear, consider it hereby officially, definitely clarified that Blow has special feelings for Christmas. In fact, the first song he ever recorded, almost exactly 40 years ago, was called “Christmas Rappin’.” The very same song made history by becoming the first hip-hop track to be released by a major label.
Blow went on to have to some pretty big hits, such as “Basketball,” “The Breaks” and “If I Ruled the World.” Nevertheless, to this day, “Christmas Rappin’” remains his “favorite of the 200 that I’ve recorded. I always say there will be a place in my heart for Christmas Rappin’ because that was the first one.”
So, when he was informed of the coming existence of “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” some six years ago in New York and invited to play a role, it took him about zero seconds to agree.
THE HIP HOP NUTCRACKER
When • Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main St.
Tickets • From $25; arttix.artsaltlake.org
“I just thought it was amazing,” he said. “I thought it was gonna be a really, really good look for hip-hop, and an even better look for music in general.”
He takes pride in having played a role in growing what is now the world’s most popular musical genre. He went so far as to call hip-hop “the voice of the people.”
That is why he believes this iteration of “The Nutcracker” is important. A style of music that started out as niche and regional, and which saw some better-than-modest growth as a result of furtive rebellion from suburban teens, has now fully and long ago blown past the apparent milestone of being called “mainstream.” These days, hip-hop isn’t merely a thing, it is the thing.
And so, rather than be one of those surly O.G.’s lashing out at the supposed inferiority of the modern product as a means of attempting to hide the dismay of having been passed by or forgotten, Blow does the opposite, praising contemporary hip-hip as not only as a worthy evolution, but as legitimately superior.
“Being one of the oldest spokesmen of hip-hop, I just think the raps today are more complicated, they’re faster, they’re wittier,” Blow said. “… Hip-hop today has evolved into something that’s really unbelievable, because it is the No. 1 music on the planet. It’s the voice of the people. And we have the potential of changing the world over and over and over again. We did it already. We live in a hip-hop generation.”
And a hip-hop generation needs “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker,” in his estimation.
Blow went to great lengths to praise director and choreographer Jennifer Weber for her vision, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) for continuing to produce the show, even the dozen dancers who comprise what he referred to multiple times as “the B-boy Dream Team” for continuing to “really give 150% each night.”
Mostly, though, he praised the new people in new cities who continue to come out and give the show a chance, as once happened with the music he is associated with.
“The audiences have been incredible — you know, three, four generations coming out; grandparents bringing their children and their children’s children; all ages, all races,” Blow said. “It’s just like hip-hop — it’s for everyone.”
NEED MORE ‘NUTCRACKER’?
If “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” whets your appetite for more battles with the Mouse King, you can go traditional or pop in coming weeks in Salt Lake City.
• Ballet West’s iconic production of Willam Christensen’s “The Nutcracker,” the first version performed in America and the longest running, celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. After a weeklong tour to Anchorage, Alaska, it will return to Capitol Theatre Dec. 7 through Dec. 26.
Following a $3 million update of costumes, sets and props in 2017, Ballet West’s “The Nutcracker” is as magical as the 1944 debut, the company says.
“Filled with charm, verve, humor, and pure beauty, ‘The Nutcracker’ has all the stuff of great theater,” artistic director Adam Sklute said in a news release. “No matter how many performances I watch, I never get tired of it. It is perfect for ballet aficionados, children, and newcomers alike.”
Tickets for “The Nutcracker” start at $25 and can be purchased at balletwest.org or by calling the ticket office at 801-869-6900.
• Odyssey Dance Theatre casts the story’s heroine, Clara, as a modern girl drawn into a magical world through her smartphone — with soldiers transformed into robots and mice that dance with a hip-hop swagger to a reimagined Tchaikovsky score.
“ReduxNut-Cracker” will run Dec. 17 through 23 at Kingsbury Hall on the campus of the University of Utah. Find tickets at tickets.utah.edu or go to odysseydance.com for ticket, discounts and show information.