New twist on Nutcracker

Juneau Dance Unlimited choreographers didn't want to produce the same old 'Nutcracker' for the 101st time. Juneau will see a sassier version this weekend.

Posted: Thursday, December 07, 2000

With Kung Fu, funk and MTV, Juneau Dance Unlimited is bringing "The Nutcracker" into the 21st century.

"Every role is transferred to the year 2000," said Rio Mitani, artistic director for Juneau Dance Unlimited. "Clara is not a nice girl. She's a spoiled teenager. Instead of a princess, she becomes a rich, highsociety lady. The nutcracker prince is a beggar puppet and in the end he's a rich gentleman."

As in the original, Clara takes a fantastic journey from her home at Christmas to a land populated with magical characters. Along the way, the spoiled Clara grows up, Mitani said.

This weekend the non-profit Juneau dance school presents two performances of "Nutcracker@2000," the newly choreographed version of Peter Tchaikovsky's classic ballet. More than 200 dancers will participate in the 90minute production at the JuneauDouglas High School auditorium.

Mitani, a classically trained ballerina from Austria, will dance the lead as Clara. Her partner, Christian Martinu, also a professional dancer from Austria and the executive director of Juneau Dance Unlimited, will dance the Nutcracker and Cavalier roles as a beggar puppet. Both teach dance at JDU.

The pair performed a traditional rendering of the ballet in five soldout performances last week in Sitka. It was not their first time.

"Both of us have done the old version so many times in our lives," Mitani said. "I've done 50 performances of 'Nutcracker,' Christian 100, maybe more. So we decided to do a modern version of it."


Arabian moves: Kim Andree, left, Judy Hokky, center, and Sharon Heidersdorf of Juneau Dance Unlimited's modern class practice the 'Arabian Dance' as part of the "Nutcracker" production.


"The Nutcracker" is the most widely performed ballet in the world, and Martinu said it is common for dance companies to modify the show. In "Nutcracker@2000," Mitani and Martinu set the show in the modern day. They choreographed new dances and added some modern music and a variety of contemporary dance styles to complement the traditional elements in the production.

"Instead of mice, we have viruses, the villains of our time," he said. "They are not computer viruses. They will look like bacteria with little antenna."

Ganesha Howell is playing the Virus King. It's a humorous role with a little slapstick martial arts combat.

"He fights the beggar puppet with Kung Fu karate kicks," Martinu said.

As in the original, the show opens with a family Christmas party, with dancing to the music of Tchaikovsky. The young children dance, but the older kids refuse. They have another dance they want to show their parents.

"They don't want to do this little child dance," Mitani said. "They come in with a boom box and do jazz and funk."

As in the original second act of "Nutcracker," Clara is escorted through a wonderland of scenes where performers showcase a variety of dances. Members of the modern dance class at JDU blend classical ballet with contemporary style for a new version of the "Arabian Dance," using the traditional music.

Amy Fassold, 24, a local VISTA volunteer with a degree in modern dance from Rutgers University, is one of the dancers. She's seen the "Nutcracker" many times, and likes the new version.

"It's wonderful," Fassold said. "I love modern (dance). It's nice to have a different twist on it. It incorporates the classical and modern."

Mitani has choreographed a new scene, the "Dance of the Bureaucrats" to the music of Mother Ginger's scene.

"We have bureaucrats who are making chaos, waving their arms, panicking, but not really making results," Mitani said.

Dressed in neckties and suits, rolling around in office chairs and making important phone calls, the dancing bureaucrats shuffle papers, staple and write to the music of Tchaikovsky.

"Nutcracker@2000," is performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at JuneauDouglas High School auditorium. Tickets are $12 in advance at JDU and Hearthside Books. They're $14 at the door and $10 for children.

"I think people will like this 'Nutcracker' a lot," Martinu said. "Or they will hate it. No inbetween."

Riley Woodford can be reached at

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