As far as Christmas traditions go, Tchaikovsky's ballet “The Nutcracker” is perhaps one of the most beloved. Adored by generations of adults and kids alike, it’s a true classic filled with fairies, magic, sweet dreams and great music that evokes the season like no other ballet.
But if you’re looking for a different take on an old favorite, look no further than Studio 3’s “Mixed Nuts,” an annual mash-up of dance styles and storylines that adds twists and turns as it flips all that is familiar on its head.
“It’s ‘The Not-cracker,’” admitted Diane Shumway, founder and artistic director of Studio 3, during a recent visit to the Bridgehampton dance space. “It’s really a holiday show.”
This will be the eighth year for “Mixed Nuts,” which is presented every December at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor by dancers from preschool to high school age, and every year the theme is different. Past productions have included mash-ups with “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Grinch,” “Peter Pan” and even “The Great Gatsby.”
This year? How about “The Nutcracker” meets “The Wizard of Oz,” where young Clara is actually Dorothy, the magical Herr Drosselmeyer is the shady fortune teller/wizard, and the Rat King is transformed into the Wicked Witch of the West?
And that part where the Christmas tree grows huge at the start of Clara’s dream will, of course, be the tornado sweeping across the flat Kansas plain.
See how it works? Before you know it, you’ll be on the Yellow Brick Road to a classic holiday mash-up.
Studio 3’s assistant director and dance instructor Meredith Shumway is Diane Shumway’s daughter, and she explained that the idea for “Mixed Nuts” originated as a way to highlight the studio’s young dancers in a variety of styles, not just ballet.
“When I was in college, I was in the dance program, and the professor, knowing not all the dancers were ballet dancers, wanted to do a holiday show,” recalled Meredith Shumway. “The question was, how do we do a Nutcracker that’s not based in ballet?”
It was a question that she brought home to the East End when she began teaching alongside her mother at Studio 3. “Eight years ago, I wouldn’t say we were as strong as we are now in our ballet technique,” Meredith Shumway said. “We had hip-hop, lyrical and tap instead of just ballet.”
“Mixed Nuts” was a way to highlight all the dance forms and the first show focused on technology. Diane Shumway recalled that Apple’s iPad was brand new at the time and it was all the rage. Everyone wanted one, so they made the technology the focal point of Clara’s holiday dreams.
“We had an iPad and put the image of the Nutcracker on it,” Diane Shumway said. “It was all about the latest fashion of the day.”
But the Shumways quickly realized the show couldn’t center on the iPad every year, so the concept expanded to a true mash-up of dance styles as well as storylines. The following year, “Mixed Nuts” had a 1950s sock-hop theme, then came “The Great Gatsby” and in more recent years, storylines based on fairy tales and movies.
“In the beginning, we put it all out there—hip-hop, tap, then as we had strong ballet kids, we’d feature them,” Diane Shumway said. “It depends on the strength that we have. And this year there’s no tap in the show, but we’ve got ballet, jazz, and some lyrical dancing.”
Come next weekend, the 37 dancers in this year’s “Mixed Nuts” will be transporting audiences to the fertile plains of middle America. It all begins with Auntie Em, Toto and Dorothy hosting a party on the farm and the dance opens with lots of party guests and a little bit of “Over the Rainbow” before the cyclone arrives and turns the evening upside down.
While in traditional versions of “The Nutcracker,” dancers look forward to moving up to specific parts through successive years, “Mixed Nuts” is so different from year to year, the dancers never know what role they’ll be playing.
Mya Davis, a junior at Pierson High School who has been in several “Mixed Nuts” productions, will play the fortune teller this time around and also perform the Arabian dance, also known as Coffee.
“It’s different every year and fun to see what the theme will be,” Mya said. “They always find a way to make it work.”
“Coffee has been my dream role,” she added. “I love that I can express myself through movement. Ballet is very strict, but in this I get to do a lot of acrobatics and contortions. It’s a very unique and mysterious piece.”
Last year, Elizabeth Gluck, a sophomore at Southampton High School, danced as Belle who represented the Clara character in “Beauty and the Beast.” This time around, she shares the roles of Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy with Pierson sophomore Brooke Bierfriend.
“I think the role last year was more of an acting role,” Elizabeth said. “This year, I’m focused on the technique and less on the acting aspect of being on stage.
“For the past three years, I wanted to do Sugar Plum and I looked up to Brooke when she did it last year,” she added. “I’m so happy I have the opportunity. Personally, it’s very challenging for me.”
“At first I wondered how the Wizard of Oz would work, but the theme has good roles that match up,” added Brooke, who is a veteran “Mixed Nuts” performer. “This year, I would say my favorite dance is Marzipan. I have never been Marzipan before, and that’s one of my favorite parts.”
Jacqueline Gluck, Elizabeth’s twin sister, is playing Dew Drop and the Wicked Witch in alternating performances. While she loves the classic ballet in the Dew Drop role, performing as the Wicked Witch gives her an opportunity to play the kind of character that doesn’t usually come along in ballet.
“In Dew Drop, you’re a delicate, beautiful flower. So I actually was pleasantly surprised when I saw I could be a Wicked Witch,” Jacqueline said. “I think the most challenging part is finding the character. Usually when you’re dancing, you look happy. For this, I have to make the audience believe I’m an evil person.”
It’s exactly this sort of casting that makes “Mixed Nuts” not only new every year, but a production that has the dancers looking at their art form in an entirely different way.
“I think it’s good for the kids,” Diane Shumway said. “It keeps them sharp and they have to be on their feet.”
Just watch out for those incoming cyclones.
“Mixed Nuts” will be performed at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor at 7 p.m. on Friday, December 14, and Saturday, December 15, and at 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 16. Tickets are $25 and available at dancestudio3.com through December 7. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door on the day of the show.