A TAP DANCE CHRISTMAS CAROL
Broadway Performance Hall, 1625 Broadway, for tickets: 206-325-6500 or www.ticketwindowonline.com, $16-20 8 p.m. Fri., Dec. 21; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., Dec. 22; 2 p.m. Sun., Dec. 23
AMERICAN JAZZ NUTCRACKER
Ballet Bellevue Moore Theatre, 1932 Second 425-455-1345, $15-21 7:30 p.m. Fri., Dec. 21; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sat., Dec. 22
ONE OF THE pleasures of the holidays is their repetitiveness—eating the same food year after year, singing the same songs, and seeing the same shows. But sometimes you want a change from all those habits, a new perspective on the same old things. Two local productions are ringing changes on the usual stuff, with varied success.
When Anthony Peters and Cheryl Johnson first presented their tap dance version of A Christmas Carol in 1998, it was "a sketch," according to Peters. This new version is still in process, but though it might seem odd at first, there's quite a lot of potential in putting Tiny Tim in tap shoes. As you might imagine, the work is far more lighthearted than Dickens and his theatrical descendants intended. This Scrooge is a former tap dancer who left show business and his partner Belle for the kind of business that makes money. Marley, played by Cheryl Johnson, is a former dancer as well, so it makes sense that when she comes to warn Scrooge of his impending fate, her chains are hung with tap shoes. Marley's solo is full of erratic timing and twisted shapes, a disturbing reminder of the career she abandoned and the one she took on.
Johnson also sings as she portrays the three Spirits, each with its own signature walk. "Past" evokes a Lake Tahoe lounge singer, while "Present" is sinuous, verbally as well as physically ("I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present, and my wishes are all pleasant."). Her version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is one of the most chilling I've ever seen, reminiscent of Death in Kurt Jooss' The Green Table, wielding a scythe as she stalks across the stage. Too often this character is relegated to a lugubrious posture and some limp gestures—Johnson's Yet to Come is malevolent enough to be truly scary. Peters dances less in the show, but his solo after Scrooge wakes up in the morning is full of charming touches, at first tentative as he tries to remember how to have "festive feet," but then bouncy and free, the danced version of the character laughing again after many dour years.
Although Johnson and Peters perform the lion's share of the dancing, they have filled several of the roles from the Dickens' novel with their own students. As Bob Cratchit and leader of the "Cratchit Family Routine," Larry Guldberg is earnest and cheerful. This version of Tiny Tim may have a cane, but he's certainly not disabled. The walking stick is just a prop for an extended solo performed by Alex Dugdale, who is all of 12 and has been studying with Johnson and Peters since he was 6. And when the whole family performs the "Family Routine," their combined feet do indeed make a joyful noise.
ACROSS THE LAKE, Ronn Tice has been grappling with the essential question for every director of a small ballet group—to Nutcracker or not to Nutcracker? In his case, the answer is yes and yes, and so Ballet Bellevue has premiered American Jazz Nutcracker. Tice has used Duke Ellington's interpretation of the Tchaikovsky score as a jumping-off point for a work that includes references from dance, film, and popular culture. Instead of the traditional Christmas setting, the ballet opens on a Depression scene, complete with breadline, and moves quickly through a series of hard-times vignettes. Skipping around in time and place, we meet a WWII GI, a Roaring Twenties gangster, and a dance-alike twin of Gene Kelly's expatriate artist from An American in Paris. All these characters wind up in a 1920s-style nightclub complete with acrobatic waiters and a suave bartender.
These diverse elements threaten to swamp the whole endeavor at times, but if you don't demand that the work make too much sense, there are several charming moments and a couple of excellent performances. Dannul and Tinka Dailey come from the world of Broadway dance instead of ballet, and they fit right in to the pastiche aspects of the production. They are both trained in the Jack Cole tradition, blending East Indian dance styles with jazz, and their duets in the nightclub scenes are filled with the sensual tension typical of that work.
At the premiere, the ballet still needed tightening (one too many solos for the nightclub chanteuse and some confusing mime), but with tinkering, American Jazz Nutcracker could be another option for those times when the same old fruitcake just won't do.