Patrick Neas, Special to The Kansas City Star
This will be the last year for Kansas City to enjoy two beloved but very different “Nutcrackers.”
The Kansas City Ballet is retiring the Todd Bolender “Nutcracker,” and the Owen/Cox Dance Group is taking its avant garde “Nutcracker and the Mouse King” on the road.
The Owen/Cox Dance Group will perform “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” for two final local performances Saturday and Sunday at the Polsky Theater in the Carlsen Center of Johnson County Community College.
We’ll probably bring it back in a few years, but we’re going to take a break from performing it in town and instead we’ll perform it in venues around the region,” said Jennifer Owen, co-artistic director of the group. “So if people want to see it and they haven’t, this is their last chance for a while.”
“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is a funhouse mirror version of the traditional “Nutcracker,” playing up the darker themes of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story on which the ballet is based and using Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s score as a jumping-off point for the People’s Liberation Big Band’s kaleidoscopic jazz improvisations.
Owen’s choreography is incredibly creative and informed by her many years of dancing in “The Nutcracker” herself. She’s performed in Nutcrackers that have been as surreal as her own version.
“The first job I had was with the Russian State Ballet, and we premiered their new production of ‘The Nutcracker’ in the Arab Emirates,” she said. “I was 18, and we performed in various venues around the Arab Emirates and in Abu Dhabi, where we performed it on the beach of the Persian Gulf. We had to change our costumes in this tent that was very sandy, so we had sand in our tights and sand in our shoes. It was very humid, so there was a lot of condensation on the stage and it was very slippery. I remember the presenter was a little bit disappointed because he was promised that snowflakes would fall during the snow scene, but it wasn’t able to be rigged that way, so although there were snowflakes dancing on stage, there was no snow falling on the beach.”
Owen and her husband, Brad Cox, composer and co-artistic director of Owen/Cox, are looking forward to bringing their holiday treat to other audiences in the region, who almost certainly will have never seen anything like it. In fact, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is so well done and such a unique work of art, I think it has the potential to go national.
“We would definitely love to do that, it just depends on finding the right venue and the right presenter and finding the funding to do so,” Owen said. “We just formed a touring company this year, so it’s nice to have people actively researching and making contacts to various presenters who might be interested in bringing the production there. We have a few on our list, and we’re hoping that something works out. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”