Soulful spin on holiday classic

The Western York County branch of the NAACP presented "A Blessed and Soulful Nutcracker" at the McCelvey Center in York on Sunday.
The Western York County branch of the NAACP presented "A Blessed and Soulful Nutcracker" at the McCelvey Center in York on Sunday.

Backstage at the McCelvey Center was a flurry Sunday evening with boys and girls of all ages dressing for their parts in "A Blessed and Soulful Nutcracker," a rendition of the holiday "The Nutcracker" ballet.

The performance featured youth from the NAACP's Western York County Branch Visual and Performing Arts Center. Among them was 11-year-old Michelle Carter of Clover.

Amid the swarm of dozens of dressing girls, Michelle held still as eyeliner, mascara and lipstick transformed her into the role of Clara, who receives a beloved nutcracker as a Christmas gift from the toymaker.

"I'm a little nervous," said Michelle, dressed in an aqua green velvet dress and white ballet slippers.

Across the hall, in the boys dressing room, tennis balls bounced as four confident boys, already dressed in black pants, crisp white shirts and colorful ties, curbed their boredom while they waited for show time.

"I don't get nervous," 10 year-old Christian Threatt of York said. "I've been in two plays already."

Scurrying around taking care of last-minute details was the show's artistic director and choreographer, Suzette Byrd of Clover.

Byrd adjusted costumes, soothed nervous stomachs and got everyone into their places for the adaptation of "The Nutcracker" ballet she created to portray how a Southern black family might experience Christmas Eve.

Byrd said she put her own twist into the celebrated holiday production to give area youth a chance to perform in " The Nutcracker" regardless of their skill level.

"I am working with children who have no dance training to give them the opportunity to learn about dance and not scare them away because they can't master complicated parts in a short time," Byrd, 40, said.

Some of the youth said they did have prior dance and acting experience, including Kara Simpson, a 17-year-old dancer from Gastonia, N.C. Kara's parts included a porcelain doll, snow queen, Spanish dancer and gum drop fairy, performing a variety of dances such as ballet, jazz and modern.

In Byrd's version, the basic plot remained the same as in the classic, but she said the details were changed to include music and types of dance the kids could relate, to such as R&B, hip hop, the Electric Slide, ballet and modern moves.

"The Nutcracker" ballet is based on a book called "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" written by E.T.A. Hoffman.

In the original version, the story begins at an annual Christmas Eve party given by Dr. and Frau Silberhaus and their children, Fritz and Clara.

At the party, a mysterious toymaker entertains children with magical dancing dolls. He presents his godchild, Clara, with a special doll, a nutcracker.

At the end of the evening, Clara puts the nutcracker in front of the Christmas tree, falls asleep and experiences a series of dreams.

Many versions of the tale have emerged since the story was adapted into a ballet in the late 1800s. Such adaptations have included comedic and satirical portrayals, a jazz version and even an American history adaptation performed annually by the Washington Ballet, featuring George Washington as the heroic nutcracker and England's King George III as the villainous Rat King.