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COA: New Ballet's Nut Remix for 2018


Fifteen years ago, Katie Smythe was perplexed about what what The Nutcraker was really about. She went on to recreate the classic holiday ballet, giving it a Memphis twist.

The production, The Nut Remix, features songs from Duke Ellington's jazz remix to Tchaikovsky's Nuckcraker Suite, including authenic Spanish, Chinese and African dances, as well as performances by Charles "Lil Buck" Riley, who stars in the live-action Disney film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

On this Checking on the Arts, Smythe explains what makes this 2018 weekend performance so speical, compared to years' past. 

Walton: Lil Buck comes back each year to perform with New Ballet Ensemble, but this year he's also in a movie.


Katie Smythe: That is right. He is in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, with Morgan Freeman and Misty Copeland. We were just rehearsing in the studio before I came and there is a crew following him around - a Netflix crew that is doing a documentary on him. It was such a wonderful atmosphere in the studio because he came back to mark through it with the leads, Travis Bulter and LeAnthony Douglas. They are working on the musicality of it and I am thinking: “Is he going to remember it?” But, he is so intrinsically musically talented that he exited exactly as the Snow Queen and King made the entrance. I said: “How do you remember this music so well?” And, he said: “All I have been listening to is Nutcracker for the last year.”

Walton: He plays the Mouse King in the film.

Smythe: He does and it is CG motion capture. So, all of the incredible, liquid things he does with his arms and the punctuating beats that he dances with his legs are picked up electronically and translated into animation. So, they could do whatever they wanted with the Mouse King. He could be a giant cloud of smoke or he could be a real king with a crown on his head. At the end of the movie, it is really Charles dancing with Misty Copeland. So, everyone gets to see how he really dances in the flesh. It’s remarkable but our Memphis audience can see it this weekend.

Walton: The performance is a little later than normal. Usually, you do it in the first weekend of December.

Smythe: Yes. We were trying to plan around the Cannon Center construction that inevitably got delayed. Also, Buck has been traveling with his own organization “Movement Art Is,” and they were in Paris. And, he is working on something called “Love Heals All Wounds” - social justice, environmental justice, economic justice, racial justice. It is an incredibly moving work that he has put together with Robin Sanders who choreographed “The Hip Hop Battle Remix.”

Walton: You have performances Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Smythe: Yes, and Saturday is selling very quickly. We are way ahead of ticket sales from last year.

Walton: What is this show about?

Smythe: Fifteen years ago, I had an idea to change The Nutcracker, but it was born because I never really understood the story. The story takes place in Germany in the early 1900s. I thought, “why can’t we make it about Memphis, now?” and, we had just gone to war in Afghanistan and so I wrote the story around our Nutcracker, a war hero. He is leaving to go to war, but meanwhile, he works in a cafe on Beale Street with Clara, the young lady, and her father. And as he enters in the opening, right after a Duke Ellington Overture, he hands the letter over to the father because he has to tell him “I will be leaving my job, I am going off to war.” Clara snatches it from his hand and reads the letter. She is crestfallen because she is afraid. The whole story is really about her journey, out of fear, and having to trust and have faith that he will come home. And, also her journey around the world because in that cafe, that night on Beale Street, visitors from all over flock into the cafe. She is so curious about all of their cultures - their authentic cultures.

Walton: The performance will have music from all over the world.

Smythe: Yes, authentic flamenco. Authentic Chinese music and dance. As we have discussed before, Tchaikovsky never really traveled and left Russia. He did a great job representing those cultures as best as he could but now we are a global world; we want our children to be citizens of the world. So, we want them to learn these authentic dances that in the case of the Chinese dance, which is 2,000 years old. It’s almost like a social studies curriculum because they learn authentic Spanish, Chinese and West African Dance.

Walton: The Memphis Symphony Orchestra is playing sections and special orchestration written for Nut Remix.

Smythe: Sam Shoup has reorchestrated “The Hip-Hop Battle” to a Trip-Hop rhythm, which are uniquely Memphis rhythms. It is phenomenal once you hear it, you can’t hear the other.

New Ballet Ensemble Nut ReMix is at the Cannon Center. 

7 p.m. Dec. 14

5:30 p.m. Dec. 15

2:30 p.m. Dec. 16


Call Cannon Center Box office at 901-576-1269.

Get more information about "The Nut Remix" and other perfomances by New Ballet at www.newballet.org

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