Ballethnic Urban Nutcracker Atlanta 30-year production

ATLANTA — It’s a spin on a holiday classic with a twist as a local ballet company adds a little soul to the classical ballet production, “The Urban Nutcracker.” 

Ballethnic is the oldest professional Black ballet company in the South, according to the founders. The dance company started on the Spelman College campus with the help of the former Chair of Dance at Spelman. It began when a couple noticed that there needed to be more opportunities for Black dancers.

Dr. Theresa Howard remembers the first performances of the 30-year production.

“It’s so magical; see the children’s eyes just twinkly. I was that child that had the sparkly eyes,” Howard said. “We are pulling from our roots and showcasing with makes us different and special.”

Her daughter, Laila Howard, was once the star dancer of the production, where she graduated as the rehearsal director.

RELATED: Metro Atlanta couple start ballet company for Black dancers

“I get emotional when I think I’ve been a part of this for so many years, and I get to share my love with the next generation,” Laila said.

Ballethnic’s “Urban Nutcracker” occurs on Atlanta’s historic Sweet Auburn Avenue in the 1940s. 

“The backdrops that we’ve had on stage, you’ll see various parts of Auburn Avenue. Which were high esteem in the 40s that was like the renaissance, The Harlem renaissance,” Howard said. 

Founders Nena Gilbreath and Waverly Lucas II previously prided themselves on the creation of the Urban Nutcracker. The act was made to be a nontraditional form of the original Nutcracker, shying away from its European realities.

Lucas previously described the Urban Nutcracker doll as a play on Marcus Garvey, giving him the name of a soldier instead of a doll. 

“One of the reasons or one of the things that I knew that we were on the right track when we produced Urban Nutcracker for the first time, there were people who were so fascinated by the fact that there was every body type and every skin tone,” Gilreath previously told 11Alive earlier this year. 

With a twist on iconic characters, like the Sugar Plum Fairy as Brown Sugar with her chocolatier. 

“Brown sugar has a little bit more sass, you know, just exhibiting our Blackness, our curves,” Howard said. 

With the beats and moves of the Black Russians and the bubbly Coca-Cola dancers, vibrant costumes bring the moves to life, fusing classical ballet and various types of dance.

The cast consists of over 75 dancers spanning different generations.

“Our youngest dancers are three to four years old and our oldest is 70 to 80 years old,” said Dr. Howard.

Since 1990 Ballethnic has created space on the stage for all dancers. As the company marks 30 years of the soulful holiday production, they hope to continue representing what’s possible to the next generation of dancers.

“We’ve inspired communities abroad to produce urban nutcrackers. I think it’s important that we reflect our communities and continue to tell them your stories are important,” said Laila.

The production will start this weekend on Friday at the Morehouse King Chapel. For those who would like to buy tickets, click here.

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