Since first combining R&B and country to create rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s, Memphians have a long and proud tradition of “remixing” disparate artforms into a unified whole. For the past 20 years, the New Ballet Ensemble has continued this tradition by reimagining Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic “The Nutcracker” as a unique marriage of classic ballet with hip-hop, American tap, flamenco, Memphis Jookin and more. The result is a Memphis-centric, Beale Street-set production known as NutRemix, which returns this year to the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts on November 26 and 27.
Originally conceived by New Ballet CEO and Artistic Director Katie Smythe in 2002, NutRemix is a continuously evolving production that has grown in both scope and ambition over the years. “Twenty years ago, we created something new for Memphis with the intention to break embedded stereotypes associated with different cultures, while adding the dances embraced by a wide diversity of community members,” Smythe said.
While NutRemix has certainly progressed over the years, the production will also be returning some important pieces from its inaugural year, perhaps most notably the internationally recognized Memphis Jookin ambassador Lil Buck, who will be reprising his role as the Memphis Angel. Renowned dancers Maxx Reed, Kamryn Vaulx, and Mike Hicks will also be rejoining the cast, alongside several choreographers, instrumentalists, and others from years past.
Robin Sanders, the Director of the local performing arts training program Out Loud Artistry, first became involved with NutRemix in 2009 as the hip-hop dance choreographer, a role she will be inhabiting yet again this year. “With any ballet, the aim is to retain some set pieces of choreography from the original production while also allowing some innovation and altering. Because so much of NutRemix is based on street dance, sometimes it’s necessary to change just because the culture is always shifting. My goal is to keep the timeless foundation in place while also adding some fresh and contemporary elements to each new production.”
Given the scope and longevity of the production, it should come as no surprise that there will be plenty of newcomers as well, including many of the nearly 100 students who are slated to perform, a number of whom are enrolled in New Ballet’s Pathways program. Joining them onstage are the professional members of New Ballet’s Performing and Teaching Artist roster, as well as Professional Apprentices. The Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Big Band will be performing the music for the event..
Whether you’re a cultural traditionalist or someone who prefers their art a bit more avant garde, NutRemix truly has something to appeal to every sensibility, especially for admirers of Memphis’ many cultural innovations. So no, this ain’t your granddad’s version of “The Nutcracker,” but bring him along anyway. He’s sure to enjoy himself.
NutRemix is presented by Nike, with additional support from Madison Pharmacy, the First Horizon Foundation, ArtsMemphis, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Tennessee Arts Commission.
Tickets can be purchased now via Ticketmaster