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The Bang Group’s “Nut/Cracked”: Holiday Flair with Thumbs, Bubble Wrap and A Noodle

by Bonnie Rosenstock
December 24, 2018
The Flea Theater
41 White Street
New York, NY 10013
212.226.2407 (box office)
The Bang Group’s “Nut/Cracked” is a rollicking, quirky celebration of “The Nutcracker.” Choreographed by the company’s co-founder, David Parker, “Nut/Cracked” has been making merry for 16 seasons (but only the second time at The Flea in TriBeCa), growing and morphing along the way.

“Nut/Cracked” evolved out of Parker’s acclaimed male duet for thumbs, which he set to the “Grand Pas de Deux” in 1992. A fully realized, expanded production premiered in 2003. This season consisted of 22 performers, 22 dance sections, three alternating casts and a special appearance by youngsters from several dance programs. On my evening, Friday, December 21, a dozen kids from The Dalton School ably performed “Forefinger” (“Dance of the Red Flutes”), which involved pointing forefingers.

The first half of the hour-long, kid-friendly production consisted of jazz and popular arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. The second part were selections from the traditional orchestral suite, performed by The London Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Philharmonic and The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House at Convent Garden.

The opening number, “Shaving Cream,” had Saint Nick (Parker), wearing a red Santa cap and shaving his lathered-up face. He did a very proficient tap dance (later joined by company co-founder Jeffrey Kazin, for a tap off) to the lively Russian Trepak, lyrics by Fred Waring, which the popular musician-bandleader recorded in 1948, as part of his own humorous five-part “Nutcracker Suite.” “The Nutcracker” doesn’t have any lyrics, so Waring’s fast-paced running commentary on the dance, including the drinking of vodka, was a delight. Waring and his group, the Pennsylvanians, sang two other sections of his suite (“Overture” and “Sugar Plum”) for “Red Box 1” (a lively trio with gift boxes) and “Shades” (a comic mock sinister trio in red hoodies and sunglasses), respectively.

There were so many cleverly choreographed and well-danced numbers by this talented group, from the witty to the sublime, drawn from tap, disco, ballet, contemporary dance, and sometimes tap en pointe. A jazz version of “Sugar Plum,” played by the Westminster Handbell Choir, accompanied “Flashlight,” an amusing tap dance in toe shoes, deftly performed by Dylan Baker, who moved his hand-held flashlight to different spots and then had to keep up with it by dancing into the light.

“No Red Box” to Duke Ellington’s “Chinese Tea,” a solo by Jason Collins, involved the dancer slowly sucking one very long Chinese noodle in his mouth as he walked in place on toe shoes. “Bubble Wrap” began as a solo by Amber Sloan, to Glenn Miller’s “Waltz of the Flowers.” Sloan skirted the perimeter of a large rectangular piece of bubble wrap, eyeing it, teasingly, will she or won’t she? Well, she did, with gusto, as she body slammed onto it. She was later joined by Nic Petry, who placed an absurdly small piece of bubble wrap on the stage, and the two of them did a comical dueling stomp number. In “Flowers” (“Waltz of the Flowers”) dancers swooped around the stage while smelling a bouquet of plastic flowers and sneezing uncontrollably in an assortment of ways. The irrepressible Deborah Lohse (sometimes known by her alter ego TruDee in her solo shows) sneezed in style and provided comic relief in her various appearances.

“Thumbs” was shrewdly and skillfully performed by Petri and Kazin, who stayed connected to each other with their thumbs in each other’s mouths through twists, turns, over and under legs and all manner of flexibility.

There are many renderings of “The Nutcracker.” But for sheer fun, sans nutcracker and fighting mice, put “Nut/Cracked” on your holiday wish list.

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu

Photo © & courtesy of Yi-Chun Wu

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