EACH HOLIDAY season there are several Nutcrackers for Savannah audiences to choose from. Each tends to have a particular “thing” which sets it apart, i.e., Columbia City Ballet’s is the first in the calendar, Savannah Danse Theatre features a live orchestra, etc.
The STUDIO has Swingin’ at Club Sweets, a jazz-inflected variation on the Nutcracker theme, featuring a more upbeat score and more contemporary dance techniques.
The show follows the adventures of Minnie, Clara’s sister, who sneaks out of the house on Christmas Eve, to go to Club Sweets, which is modeled on a 1930s, Prohibition-era speakeasy.
“When she gets in she sort of mingles with the regulars, and Roger Moss plays Mr. Sweets. It’s a lot of fun,” explains Veronica Moretti Niebuhr, artistic director of The STUDIO. “At the end of that section she’s all alone at the club. There’s a police raid, and then it goes into her dream where she dreams what the party at her house would have been like.”
The music, suitably, is not Tchaikovsky but of a considerably more recent vintage, performed live by a local all-star cast including Moss and Ricardo Ochoa’s Jazz Ensemble.
“All the music is Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, things like that,” says Niebuhr. “The dancing is classical ballet but with a contemporary spin. The variations section is same as in The Nutcracker — Chinese, Spanish — except the music is Duke Ellington. The dancing’s a little faster, but they’re doing all the jumps, lifts, and turns.”
Niebuhr says the major adjustment for her young students in the production as been “more in the style and getting kids to really understand the era. Most of them don’t know what a speakeasy is, and maybe not even Duke Ellington. Getting them into that history makes it a little challenging.”
Niebuhr says modern dance is an increasingly common compliment to the usual classical repertoire.
“A good portion of my students want to be professional dancers, and since there’s not a ballet company around anymore that isn’t doing contemporary work, it’s good experience for them,” she says. “Dancing to live music is also a challenge for them.”
Niebuhr opened The STUDIO, now based in Thunderbolt, soon after her arrival in Savannah from New York City in 2002. Since then she’s concentrated on teaching a comparatively small, but dedicated, group of young dancers.
“I had a lot given to me when I was studying and growing up, and feel a great responsibility to give that back to them, and let them know it’s possible to fulfill their dreams, but it takes a lot of hard work,” says Niebuhr. “That’s why I have such a small school.” cs
Swingin’ at Club Sweets
When: Sat. Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn Street.
Info: 525-5050., www.lucastheatre.com