“The Nutcracker” gets a modern makeover

By Terri Flagg
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

For nearly two years, Wanona Satcher has had visions of leg-warmer-clad sugar plum fairies salsa dancing in her head.

The idea for a 1980s-themed “Nutcracker: The Musical,” Satcher said “came to me driving down [Highway] 55 one night.”

Image of Wanona Satcher, mastermind of the 1980s themed "Nutcracker, The Musical."

Wanona Satcher, shown here on her front porch near Eastway Elementary School, can’t wait for auditions for "Nutcracker, The Musical." Satcher masterminded a new take on the classic, incorporating 1980s-themed costumes and a variety of dance styles to expose children to a variety of artistic forms. Staff photo by Terri Flagg.

And as auditions approach, Satcher’s dream is finally becoming a reality.

Satcher, 28, came up with the idea for the musical as a way of celebrating diversity and exposing local youngsters to a broader range of the arts.

“They play every kind of Nutcracker imaginable,” said Satcher. “I’ve never seen one like this.”

Satcher’s version of the familiar Christmas ballet, set and costumed in the 1980s style, emphasizes diversity by incorporating six types of dance: classical ballet, salsa, Capoeira, contemporary/jazz, tap and hip-hop.

“I wanted the kids not only to be influenced by ballet but to also showcase their style,” she said.

Auditions are open to people ages 6 to 23 and will be held at the Walltown Children’s Theatre at 1225 Berkeley Street in Durham Friday, April 16 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 17 at 1:30 p.m.

“We want students from all over,” Satcher said.

Those who wish to audition should bring their own accompaniment; be able to sing, act and dance, and they should know their vocal range, Satcher said.

The musical will be performed Dec. 11 and 12 at the Holton Career and Resource Center, Satcher said.

Satcher, an architect who moved to Durham from Pinehurst, said she wanted to do something to bridge the gap between the two towns’ experiences of the arts.

“I’m right in the middle and I’m seeing what’s lacking on both sides of the section,” she said, adding that the children in her Durham neighborhood were missing out on learning the classics like ballet, but those from more affluent cultures like Pinehurst miss out on learning about ethnic dances like Capoeira, a Brazilian art form that combines dance and martial arts.

With two young cousins who are the only African-American dancers at their Pinehurst ballet school and who often visit Satcher in Durham, this is something Satcher frequently witnesses first hand.

“I’ve always been around lots of different cultures,” said Satcher. “My parents made sure I was, and I am so glad they did, because I’m able to talk to anyone and network.”

Satcher thought a good way to merge the communities would be through a musical.

“Music and dance universally brings people together,” she said. “There are a lot of ethnicities in ‘The Nutcracker’—Arabian, Spanish, Russian, Chinese. But it did not include the African culture. We’re modernizing it. What would it look like now?”

One element Satcher is particularly excited about in her retelling is the fight scene between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King. In Satcher’s version, it will be performed with Capoeira.

“It’s a mix of street fighting and breakdancing, with no touching,” Satcher said of Capoeira. “Talk about using your body in a way that doesn’t hurt someone, but you can still express yourself.”

Satcher, who has no dancing or play production experience, found the perfect partnership with Cynthia Penn and Joseph Henderson from the Walltown Children’s Theatre. Penn and Henderson are working on the script and choreography of the production. The co-directors want to use the unique production to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the children’s theater, which was founded in 2000.

Penn explained why she was enthusiastic about working on the musical.

“What drew me to the project at first was the absolute commitment and excitement that Wanona had to do a production of this type and realizing that a lot of things she wanted to do in the production fit in with our mission,” she said. “It’s two-fold. It’s for the children in Northeast Central Durham, but it’s also for the children in Chapel Hill to come in to experience a community they wouldn’t know.”

Another goal of the production is to provide students with a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed in the arts.

“We want to make a portfolio for each student to take with them,” Satcher said. “We want to start them off with something tangible, to teach them something about professionalism. At the end of the day, you’ve got to be good at your craft. You can’t have any excuses.”

Satcher is thrilled that things are finally under way.

“It’s a lot of work,” Satcher admitted. “But we want to make it a big, big deal.”

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