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Morris in 1984. Photo by Peggy Jarrell Kaplan, courtesy of MMDG

For the past four decades, few names in dance have stirred up as much reaction as American choreographer Mark Morris. Unique for his outsize persona, superb musicality and taking on themes related to gender and sexuality, Morris is one of the most prolific and lauded choreographers of his generation. At his Brooklyn-based dance center, the former enfant terrible continues to create for his company, the Mark Morris Dance Group, and set work on ballet and modern companies worldwide.

Morris has choreographed close to 150 works for his company. In addition to being inspired by music, many have narrative roots in mythology and literature, including the following.

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Dance News
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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Dance News

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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Dance News

Ballet Academy East in New York City has announced the addition of a Dance for PD class on Friday mornings at 11. Classes are offered at no charge and open to people with Parkinson’s disease, as well as their family, friends and caregivers.

Students will learn movement from modern, ballet, tap, folk and social dancing, plus some Mark Morris repertory. The experience encourages artistic expression and is designed to get Parkinson’s sufferers moving like dancers to live music, instead of thinking of themselves as patients in therapy.

Dance for PD was developed in 2001 by Mark Morris Dance Group and the Brooklyn Parkinson Group. Since then, the program has grown to reach over 30 states and 12 countries.

The program holds regular teacher training workshops around the world. Take a look at the upcoming sessions, and visit danceforparkinsons.org for more information or to apply.

Melbourne, Victoria (Australia): September 14–15, 2014

Brooklyn, NY: October 29–30, 2014

Nashville, TN: March 13–14, 2015

Phoenix, AZ: March 20–21, 2015

Photo: Instructor Krissy Richmond leads a Dance for PD class at Houston Ballet; by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet

Dance News

NBC Special Correspondent Chelsea Clinton interviews longtime Dance for PD participant and Brooklyn Parkinson Group member Carroll Neesemann.

Tune in tonight to "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams" for a special report (from Chelsea Clinton!) on the Dance for Parkinson's Disease program at Brooklyn's Mark Morris Dance Center. Since 2001, weekly Dance For PD classes have helped people with Parkinson's disease find freedom, confidence and self-expression through dance. Now, those unable to attend classes in person can benefit from the program, thanks to the Dance for PD at Home DVD series. Each volume will mirror the structure of a Dance for PD group class, with students starting in a chair, then having the option to stand as the exercises progress. Viewers will learn tap, ballet, modern and jazz movement exercises, and Mark Morris himself will appear on each disc to teach a few phrases of his own choreography. Info at danceforpd.org

Click here for more from DT on Dance for PD's teacher training courses.

Photo courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group

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