Co-Artistic Directors Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza sparred in This Ain't The Nutcracker.
Sarah Higgins, courtesy Attack Theatre

Attack Theatre

Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
December 28, 2001–January 6, 2002

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

True to its defiant title, Attack Theatre's This Ain't The Nutcracker trampled on staid holiday dance fare with bare feet, combat boots, and stilts.

The ninety-minute multimedia event packaged several conceptually based repertoire works into a single story line whose premise involved the audience being able to eavesdrop on the apartment life of a fictitious Pittsburgh judge. Seeing what he saw as he changed channels on his television, the audience caught glimpses of what would be played out live onstage.

This Ain't The Nutcracker's distinctly diverse collection of works traversed through boxing analogies, the repetitive motions of old-fashioned switchboard operators, and a choreographic homage to Nijinsky, to name a few.

In "The Negotiation"—the second of six vignettes in the first half of the program—Attack Theater Co-Artistic Directors Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza were pitted against one another in a playful and aggressive struggle over control of a newspaper. The pair moved through release-technique modern choreography that had them lifting and leaning on each other and falling into clever positions that allowed one dancer to snatch the coveted newspaper from the other.

Another comedic work, "Kharmen Suites," integrated dancers and musicians in a lighthearted piece influenced by Georges Bizet's Carmen. Costumed in fishnet stockings and combat boots and equipped with a Carmen-like bravado, de la Reza and Perks DanceMusicTheatre dancer Rebecca Stenn orchestrated a succession of unusual dancer-musician couplings that had de la Reza carrying bassist Jay Weissman on her back and Kope lying flat on the stage supporting cellist Dave Eggar as he played excerpts of Bizet's score.

Adding to this unique palette of dance works, Stephen Petronio Dance veteran Kristina Isabelle—wearing mime makeup and costumed in a tutu—performed "The Waltz," a balletic solo danced on wooden stilts. Apart from the novel nature of the work, Isabelle's performance was captivating for the way it managed ballet's fluidity on unconventional footwear.

Of the production's many vignettes, two sections stood out for their emotional content and impact. In "Rhapsody," Stenn and Weissman portrayed a music-box maker and his lifesize mechanical dancer. Dressed in a wedding gown, Stenn moved with mechanical precision, violent upheaval, and melancholy grace to Weissman's music, which he played on a miniature piano that approximated the sound of a music box. The work explored an evolving relationship between the two characters that was heartfelt and poignant. Stenn's performance in "Rhapsody" was a splendid meshing of tender vulnerability and physical presence.

In "The Embrace," Kope and de la Reza engaged in a movement study of lovers as they revolved on a turntable within a pool of ambient light. The dancers bent and folded onto each other in subtle outpourings of human intimacy to a cello concerto by composer Olivier Messiaen, played with virtuosic brilliance by Eggar.

With This Ain't The Nutcracker, Attack Theater created a bold new form of holiday magic, an intelligent and inventive alternative to traditional holiday dance works.

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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