'Nutcracker' goes hip-hop

Mr. Tchaikovsky, meet "So You Think You Can Dance."

In the popular dance competition TV show, contestants at the top of their profession in various styles of dance are challenged to perform in styles for which they have no training.

Hip-hop dancers must perform contemporary; ballet dancers are forced to learn the fox trot; and ballroom dancers have to show that they can do a Bollywood routine. This exposure to unfamiliar styles improves them within their own discipline and turns them into more complete dancers, they say.

That's exactly what Burbank resident Raquel Cordova is trying to do with Creations Dance Theatre, Inc., a nonprofit arts organization. Together with co-founder and fellow dancer Felicia Guzman, Cordova created the dance company earlier this year with the intention of bringing other dance styles into the world of classical ballet.

"My background is Peruvian and hers is Mexican," Cordova said. "We wanted to incorporate the Latin influence into the ballet."

With this spirit in mind, the dance company will present a one-night-only performance of Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 4. While it promises to capture the memorable tradition of the holiday classic, it will also offer some contemporary twists designed to broaden the appeal to a wider audience, Cordova said.

Their initial concept of incorporating Latin styles has since expanded to include even more influences ranging from hip-hop to taekwondo.

"We have created an atmosphere of collaboration so everyone feels ownership," Cordova said. "Having their ideas heard and incorporated into the choreography really draws out the shyer dancers."

One of those shy dancers is Cordova's 6-year-old son Johnny. Johnny will be performing as one of the children in "The Nutcracker." In the first rehearsal, the reserved youngster was encouraged to include some lessons he learned in his taekwondo classes in his dancing. After the rehearsal, Johnny excitedly told his mom, "I love ballet!"

Amara Baptist stars in the production as both Clara and the Sugar-Plum Fairy. Amara met Cordova and Guzman when they were performing together with the Burbank's Media City Ballet.

"I pretty much just do classical ballet," Baptist said. "I haven't taken classes in other styles, but I did an Afro-Peruvian show that Raquel designed, and it really whet my appetite for trying other styles of dance. When Raquel started Creations and asked me to join, I said 'yes!'"

Having played Clara three times before, Baptist is excited to play the dual role in this production.

"Since the Sugar-Plum Fairy is the dream version of Clara, I wanted the chance to clearly show that relationship as it was intended," Baptist said. "I think there is sometimes a disconnect for the audience in the traditional performance with a child actor playing Clara and an adult ballerina playing the Sugar-Plum Fairy."

This variation is one of many in the dance company's version of the ballet. One highlight should be in the performance of the famous "Russian Dance." Instead of the usual configuration of one man and two women dancing, this production will feature only the two women who will be incorporating hip-hop into the classical movement.

"Those girls are awesome," Baptist said.

The dance company rehearses in donated space at Penny Lane Dance Academy in Sherman Oaks, but is planning on moving into a permanent space in Burbank once the fundraising makes it possible.

"We hope to have our very own home in Burbank by next summer," Cordova said.

Tickets to the performance have been donated to local nonprofit groups as well.

"Keeping with our mission, we are providing organizations a chance to experience the art of dance at no cost to them," Cordova said. "Performing in such a large venue downtown made this possible."

The beneficiaries include the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley, Valley View Vaulters (a nonprofit organization that teaches equestrian arts to people of all ages, including those with special needs), Learning Independence Inc. (a school that teaches adults with mental and physical disabilities to live independently) and the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

"Creations Dance Theatre has been very good working with the Boys & Girls Club," said Brittany Vaughan, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Club of Burbank and Greater East Valley. "In fact, in conjunction with this performance of 'The Nutcracker,' they are going to teach our kids some of the dances next summer."

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Infobox

Who: Creations Dance Theatre presents "The Nutcracker"

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 4

Where: Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles

Tickets: $25, $15 children under 12/seniors 60+/college students; and $5 more at the door

Contact: (866) 811-4111 or online at https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/8385005 or http://www.CreationsDanceTheatre.com

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