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Jazzy Nutcracker Takes the Broadway Stage on Saturday

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Friday, December 18, 2009, at 05:47PM
IMGP9831 Ed Fuentes

Artistic Director Robyn Gardenhire and Mary Tarpley on stage at The Orpheum Theatre. Tarpley takes on the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy for "The Nutcracker Swings."

Grand jeté meets jazz on Broadway this Saturday as City Ballet of Los Angeles brings the Mouse King to the stage––with some attitude––in its rendition of "The Nutcracker." Set in 1940's Los Angeles, via Hancock Park, "The Nutcracker Swings" combines Tchaikovsky and Duke Ellington for two performances at the Orpheum Theater.

City Ballet Founder Robyn Gardenhire's decade-long wish to bring ballet to Broadway, with a mix of classical and jazz sampling, is not an experiment in style. Rather, Gardenhire sees jazz as a way to have ballet explore Los Angeles, and Downtown, as a setting for major and original works.

Gardenhire's dancing career included times in companies with Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theater and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project. She founded City Ballet in 2000 to offer inner-city children a path toward professional dance careers.

In an October performance at Cicada Restaurant, City Ballet used jazz and ballet with "Behind the Red Door," a piece that was performed to music from John Coltrane's 1960 Atlantic Record release "Giant Steps."

Based in City West, the company opened the Ford’s summer season and Target Dance Series with “Peter and the Wolf Jump Cool,” a hipster 1960s rendition that used jazz organist Jimmy Smith’s adaptation of Prokofiev’s score. Even the poster took on the era, as dancers were the “cover art” on a simulated 60’s jazz album.

"I'm so nervous," said Gardenhire on stage before Friday night's rehearsal."I've been in love with this beautiful theater for a long time. And, it's the first time I will be dancing on stage since I retired."

Gardenhire will take on the dance company Nutcracker tradition of having a director dance the role of Councilor Drosselmeyer. "I was thinking of playing up my androgynous look," she said, but "I decided to play it feminine."

Credit Orpheum owner Steve Needleman for tracking City Ballet's growth and offering the theater at a rate that allowed the company to make the ambitious show happen.

"She is persistent," say Needleman. "We have been in conversations for 2 to 3 years. The timing is right. It's a great organization."

The show carries on a long tradition of companies mounting variations of “The Nutcracker” as a way to pay homage to their environment. This time, while it reflects a City’s past, it's also a nod to its future, taking on the spirit of those wanting to bring back Broadway.

The Nutcracker Swings / The Orpheum Theatre / December 19, 2009 / 2:00 PM Show, 08:00 PM Show / Bring an unwrapped toy to donate to the Salvation Army Holiday giving and have your picture taken with the Sugar Plum Fairy


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