Photo courtesy of The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Debbie Allen's The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker (2010) fuses ballet with tap, flamenco, hip hop and gymnastics in fantastical settings such as Candy Cane Land, Jazzland and the Land of the Kimono Dolls.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker (2014) is set in New York City and juxtaposes Tchaikovsky's classical score with hip-hop choreography created by Jennifer Weber, artistic director of Brooklyn-based hip-hop troupe Decadancetheatre.

Mark Morris' The Hard Nut (1991) turns the holiday classic on its head with party dances that include the hokey pokey and the bump, G.I. Joes leading the charge in the battle scene and nontraditional gender casting.

Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! (1992) sees the heroine, Clara, travel from a miserable orphanage to the zany Sweetieland, where she has to fight her obnoxious rival Sugar for the affections of the Nutcracker prince.

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Four dancers have been selected as 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, an annual award to 20 National YoungArts Foundation finalists for outstanding achievement in academics, in addition to artistic excellence in dance, theater, music, visual arts and writing. Modern dancers Jared Brown and Kaylin Sturtevant of Dallas, Texas, classical Indian dancer Pavithra Nagarajan of Fremont, California, and tap dancer Dario Natarelli of New York City each received a presidential medallion at a recognition ceremony in Washington, DC. Afterward, they performed in a multidisciplinary showcase directed by Emmy Award–winner Debbie Allen. The honor is the highest level of recognition for YoungArts winners who, in the past, have included Desmond Richardson (DT, January 2016), Camille A. Brown (DT, August 2015) and The Royal Ballet’s Sarah Lamb.

Students ages 15 to 18 or in grades 10 to 12 interested in participating in the YoungArts program can apply through October 14. Youngarts.org/apply

Presidential Scholar Dario Natarelli soars during the 2016 National YoungArts Week showcase.

Photo by Pedro Portal, courtesy of YoungArts

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The holidays are here and in the dance world, that typically means one thing: Nutcracker season! As a former bunhead, I’d be remiss not to give a shout-out to some of the Nutcracker productions we all know and love.

Houston Ballet's Jared Matthews and Karina Gonzalez dance the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux.

10 Nutcrackers That Rock

  1. George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker(1954) Where to see it: New York City Ballet; Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle; Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadelphia.

  1. Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker(1983) Where to see it: PNB retired the production last year, but you can catch it on DVD via Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, filmed in 2011.

  1. Ben Stevenson’s The Nutcracker(1987) Where to see it: Houston Ballet, Houston, Texas (Catch it now because HB is retiring the production after this year. Artistic director Stanton Welch will present a new version in 2016.)

  1. Mark Morris’ The Hard Nut(1991) Where to see it: Mark Morris Dance Group, Brooklyn, NY.

  1. Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker!(1992) Where to see it: available on DVD.

  1. Helgi Tomasson’s Nutcracker(2004) Where to see it: San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco.

  1. Debbie Allen’s The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker(2010) Where to see it: Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Los Angeles.

  1. Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker(2010) Where to see it: American Ballet Theatre, Costa Mesa, California.

  1. Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker(2012) Where to see it: Boston Ballet, Boston.

  1. Gelsey Kirkland’s The Nutcracker(2013) Where to see it: Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, Brooklyn, NY.

The snow scene from Alexei Ratmansky's The Nutcracker

5 Reasons Why The Nutcracker Will Never Get Old

  1. The music is iconic—Nothing rings in the holiday season quite like Tschaikovsky’s score.

  1. It’s joyful—In most versions, the unhappiest thing that happens is Clara’s nutcracker getting broken (only temporarily) by her pesky brother Fritz. Not too bad if you ask me!

  1. It’s the perfect blend of narrative and non-narrative ballet—The first act’s party and fight scenes are ballet acting at its finest. The second act’s Land of Sweets offers a buffet of dance delicacies.

  1. It’s a time-honored holiday tradition—If you haven’t danced in it, it’s likely you’ve seen it. Each year, thousands of people attend the show, bringing in roughly 40 percent of ballet companies’ annual revenue.

  1. There’s something in it for everyone—From the humorous antics of the opening party scene to the action-packed fight scene that follows, to the technical feats of the Sugar Plum Fairy, it’s a show everyone can enjoy.

Happy Holidays!

Photos (from top): by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet; by Gene Shiavone, courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

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Chloé and Maud Arnold pose with NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts, Debbie Allen.

Last night, the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation awarded Debbie Allen the 2015 NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts Award at the annual “Bright Lights Shining Stars” gala. Held at the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the event paid tribute to Allen through song, dance and celebration.

Highlights from the evening:

Chloé Arnold’s Syncopated Ladies opened the show with a bang! With ear-to-ear grins, their fierce quintet, set to music by Beyoncé, created a celebratory tone for the entire evening.

Kolton Krouse performs Andy Pellick's Path of Enlightenment.

NYCDA student Kolton Krouse performed a gravity-defying solo choreographed by NYCDA faculty member Andy Pellick. Krouse was later awarded the Adele Astaire College Scholarship by An American in Paris star Robert Fairchild.

Jessica Lee Goldyn and dancers perform "I'm a Brass Band" from Sweet Charity.

Broadway star Jessica Lee Goldyn and a chorus of male dancers performed “I’m a Brass Band” from Sweet Charity. With original choreography by Bob Fosse, this was hands-down my personal favorite from the evening.

Allen's daughter Vivian Nixon performed the role of Anita from West Side Story.

Allen’s daughter Vivian Nichole Nixon made a surprise appearance, reprising Allen’s Tony-nominated role, Anita from Jerome Robbins' West Side Story. Nixon's lively rendition of “America” proved that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Dancesanity Stars' Karla Choko and Josen Torres showed that salsa can be enjoyed at any age, when they were joined onstage by their young students Nathalie Huiracocha and Felix Monge. The petite duet impressed—they held their own next to the professional duo.

Joe Lanteri stands with 2013 NYCDAF Ambassador for the Arts Catherine Zeta-Jones and her husband Michael Douglas. Zeta-Jones gave the welcome remarks at the top of the show.

Over the past five years, the NYCDA Foundation has awarded more than $17 million in college scholarships to hundreds of young dancers nationwide. Founded in 1993 by executive director Joe Lanteri, the NYCDA convention currently travels to 23 cities each season. Faculty includes Andy Blankenbuehler, Jared Grimes, Suzi Taylor and Melinda Sullivan. Many NYCDA alumni have gone on to have successful careers in dance including, Travis Wall, Derek Hough and Nick Lazzarini.

Photos from top: by Rachel Neville; by Eduardo Patino (3); by Rachel Neville, all courtesy of NYCDA.

During last night’s “Christmas in Rockefeller Center” on NBC, Mariah Carey’s performance of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” stole the show, but not for the reason you might think. Of course the diva hit those impossible high notes, but it was her crew of elfish dancers that made my jaw hit the floor.

Choreographed by the incomparable Debbie Allen (DT August 2011), many of the tiny comp kids were from the New York and New Jersey area. They frolicked, flipped and even did a little pop-and-locking, all with the polish and presence of Broadway veterans (and a hint of b-boy attitude).

Allen appeared on California’s KTLA News this morning, just returned from New York, where she said she watched the dancers perform from the sidelines. “My real passion is kids, the arts and passing that baton,” the Emmy-winner said. Of the Rockefeller performance, she added, “Those elves. What a great night, what an inspiration.”

Debbie Allen on the April 2001 cover of Dance Teacher

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