Portland's 'Nutcracker Burlesque' still sexy, silly after 15 years

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PORTLAND — A group of entertainers took a risk 15 years ago when they decided to parody a holiday classic with a sexy, burlesque production of “The Nutcracker”  ballet.

But the show has developed a strong following, and this year it will have a new twist, according to Alison Berry, the artistic director at Vivid Motion.

“Burlesque isn’t just about striptease,” Berry said this week. “It’s meant to be both provocative and humorous. Our show has magic and comedy, strong dancers of all body types, and sparkly costumes.”

The 15th-anniversary production of “Nutcracker Burlesque” runs Dec. 15-23 at St. Lawrence Arts on Munjoy Hill. Tickets are $18 and are now available online.

This year’s show will take audiences back to the 1980s, Berry said.

The main character, Clarence, dreams of being a dancer at the Rat Queen’s Club. But despite the support of his friend the Nutcracker Princess, the queen doesn’t see his talent and is busy with a party that’s getting out of control.

“Will Clarence be able to cut footloose and get his groove on? And just how many pairs of legwarmers will appear in the show?” the show’s website asks.

Berry said Vivid Motion was created in 2003 by Brigitte Paulus and Ellen Joyce Rathbone to provide a place for adults who love to learn and perform dance.

“Nutcracker Burlesque” was the company’s first production, she said, and Paulus and Rathbone got the idea because both had once danced for professional ballet companies and had performed in some variation of “The Nutcracker” many times.

“They were well aware that the old show was ripe for mockery,” Berry said, “(so) they had the idea to give it new life as a sexy, silly adult production.”

Berry, who’s in her 11th year with “Nutcracker Burlesque,” said, “There’s beauty in watching the Christmas Eve fairytale come to life on stage with strong, graceful dancers in all of their sparkling, elaborate costumes.”

“Ours isn’t the only Nutcracker that’s caught on,” she added. “Nearly every ballet company in the country presents a version of ‘The Nutcracker’ each year. It’s been a popular tradition in the Western world since around the 1940s.”

Berry said “Nutcracker Burlesque” is not “the same story, but it has similarities, “although our (costumes) leave less to the imagination.”

“We have strayed from the classic plot to make our story fit an adult’s world,” she said. “All of our characters are imagined as grown-ups (and) the second act changes up from year to year with different choreographers’ visions and sometimes with updated music.”

“We do have dancers taking off their clothes onstage,” Berry added. However, like the classic show, “we also have dancers sharing the story while showing off their impressive ballet technique, engaging the audience, and having fun.”

With this year’s production, she said, “audiences can expect a couple of favorites to make a comeback, including the incredibly popular men-with-umbrellas number.”

“We’re also excited to make some changes this year with a retro theme that permeates the story and music right down to the costumes and makeup,” Berry said.

While Vivid Motion may be best known locally for “Nutcracker Burlesque,” Berry said its spring show will be a “family-friendly, modern rendition of the classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairytale.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

“Nutcracker Burlesque” has “magic and comedy, strong dancers of all body types, and sparkly costumes,” says Alison Berry, director of this year’s Portland holiday tradition.

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