A dark and eerier ‘Nut’

NECCA students to present circus school’s annual remix of The Nutcracker

BRATTLEBORO — Next weekend, the New England Center for Circus Arts (NECCA) will present their holiday show, The Flying Nut: A Dark & Stormy Night, a quirky fantasy that puts a circus spin on the perennial Christmas favorite, Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker.

As in the classic ballet, a party leads to a magical gift, but in this new offbeat version, which NECCA office manager Janet Lowry, calls “a vertical Nutcracker,” the gift leads not to a series of dances, but rather to a circus adventure in mysterious lands.

The Flying Nut brings together onstage NECCA's Professional Adult Program with the Youth Performance troupe, as well as a few surprising guest artists.

Performances are at NECCA's main studio located on the third floor at 74 Cotton Mill Hill in Brattleboro. Times are Friday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 15 and Sunday Dec. 16, at 1 and 5 p.m. The show is expected to sell out, as it has previously, so it is recommended to purchase tickets in advance.

A popular favorite, The Flying Nut is returning for its fourth year, but changes are in store.

“Every season it is somewhat different,” says Aimee Hancock, who is co-directing this year's performances with Jamie Hodgson.

“Besides the ballet we are finding our inspiration in Tim Burton's movie, The Nightmare before Christmas. Audiences should expect a darker, eerier show than in years before, with twists, and things that you would not find in the regular story. The show promises to be exciting and mysterious, with surprises, especially how we are manipulating the use of the set here at Circus Arts.”

Some of the circus acts featured in the two-hour show include roller skating partners, an acrobatic tumbling act, rotating rectangles, handstand contortions and hoop diving from a Chinese circus tradition.

NECCA has long been committed to challenging people's expectation of circuses, and Hancock says that in this year's show, some acts may strike audiences more like contemporary dance than circus.

Originally from Canada, Hancock is now in her fourth year at NECCA, where she coaches the professional track program.

“We are always trying out new things with this piece,” she said. “Some years we have stuck more faithfully to the original ballet, and others we are more freewheeling. This year is definitely the latter, and we shift things around quite a bit. We emphasize more the battle scenes, tricksters, and the underworld.”

Hancock says that she and Hodgson came up with the synopsis and made their directorial choices out of their own “rich and fertile imagination.” She is reluctant to say that this vision constitutes something as weighty as a theme, but she does admit that there will be some revision of the traditional tale, especially the main character, Clara.

“We have deliberately placed Clara in a more modern mentality,” she explains. “Instead of the little girl being so benign and passive, we make her a stronger person. We accent her feelings, the reasons she chooses the things she does, and why she ends up where she is. We have re-conceived the work as a grown woman telling a story from her past.”

All these changes do not mean that Hancock doesn't love the original Nutcracker, on which she has worked over the years in different productions in various places.

“It is such a rich and suggestive story,” she says. “And we use in The Flying Nut that wonderful Tchaikovsky score. It is such a great soundtrack for what we do. But we will be using that music sometimes in unexpected ways. Rather than always employing the familiar full symphony orchestra, sometimes the music will be played on other instruments, like a solo guitar.”

The Flying Nut is a show for all ages,” says office manager Lowry. “By that, I do not mean that it is a kids' show that adults can tolerate. I would call it an adult show with nothing too weird in it to bring the children, who will enjoy it thoroughly. It's a blast.”

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