ART BEAT: Gwinnett Ballet Theatre adds twist to classic 'Nutcracker'

Holley Calmes

Holley Calmes

As Gwinnett Ballet Theatre's "The Nutcracker" continues at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center with the 16 performances of its 28th season, Artistic Director Lisa Sheppard Robson couldn't resist taking this holiday favorite and turning it upside down. So many jokes and take-offs on the traditional ballet had been running through her head for years, and she decided it was time to let the ideas run wild.

"The Nutty Nutcracker" will be offered at 6:30 p.m. Sunday as an extra show, one with a bit of a bite.

"We all have ideas about what the characters might do if they could just step outside their roles and let their hair down. Our 'Nutty Nutcracker' will be totally family friendly, but don't expect anything or anybody to act like a 'normal' Nutcracker production," Robson said.

Satirizing the Nutcracker has been done by numerous companies all over the country, but Gwinnett Ballet Theatre will present the first known "nutty" version in the Gwinnett area. After the 2:30 p.m. matinee Sunday, the dancers will take a short break and then get ready to "cut loose" with some clever takes and jokes on their Nutcracker roles. Even the Gwinnett Ballet Theatre Orchestra will be on hand to accompany the dancers with live music, and musicians are notoriously famous for their satirical humor. Who knows what might happen?

One musician participating is Stephen Norwood, an R&B artist from Atlanta with a powerful voice and stage presence. He has already performed on TV and radio and at some very impressive jazz club venues. He sang at a pre-game concert at an Atlanta Braves game and opened for the legendary B.B. King. In October, he was named "Macy's Rising Star 2009" and performed at the Lighting of the Great Tree on Thanksgiving.

No one knows yet what Stephen might be singing, but it probably won't be Tchaikovsky. The GBT production's beloved Herr Drosselmeyer, magician Bill Kress, will also be in "Nutty Nutcracker," and his contribution is closely under wraps. The full compliment of dancers will be waiting in the wings with glee, eager to make a spectacle of themselves.

"The audience is going to have a ball," Robson said. "We've thought up some really funny gags, tricks and twists on these beloved characters. I can't tell you what's going to happen, because that would spoil the surprise. But you can expect some unusual music choices, maybe a pirate attack, some unexpected dance decisions and a few temperamental ballerinas. After all, Sugar Plum has a bad day every now and then."

Tickets will be available at the door for $10 per person regardless of age. Ticketmaster will not be selling tickets to "Nutty Nutcracker," nor are they available at the Gwinnett Center Box Office. Seating is on a "first come" basis.

"A sense of humor is invaluable at this time of year," Robson said. "Putting on our 'Nutty Nut' has been a great way to let off steam and just have fun."

For more information call the GBT studios at 770-978-0188. Tickets for the "regular" Nutcracker are available through Ticketmaster.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. E-mail her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.