‘The Nutcracker’ takes a new twist in LIC

“The Nutcracker” — It’s that classic Christmas tale we all grew up with.

Clara and her family opening presents around the tree, her mysterious magical godparent Drosselmeyer, and the spellbound Nutcracker that at the stroke of midnight ... transports Clara to the 1922 World’s Fair in Rio de Janeiro?

This is “The Nutcracker” as envisioned by choreographer Julie Petrusak, artistic director of the JP Dance Group, whose Dance the World Nutcracker Festival will be showing at the Secret Theatre in Long Island City every night from Dec. 15 to 20.

In fact, the production asserts early on that this will not be a typical rendition of “The Nutcracker.” In place of Tchaikovsky’s classical composition arranged for chamber instruments is Duke Ellington’s jazzy arrangement of the suite. Ellington released his recording in 1960, but when the show opens, half the dance troupe is attired in flowy flapper dresses and it becomes clear that this story takes place during the Jazz Age of the 1920s.

But this minor time warp is far from the only twist Petrusak has in store for audiences. Enthusiasts are likely to recall that “The Nutcracker” transforms into a handsome prince who takes Clara to his kingdom in the Land of Sweets. They meet the Sugar Plum Fairy, and a celebration of treats from around the world ensues.

In Petrusak’s take, the charmed Nutcracker conjures up a wondrous snowstorm whose winds spirit Clara away to a Brazil celebrating 100 years of independence with a world’s fair in its capital city.

In place of the “danse arabe” or “danse chinoise,” Petrusak has configured a rotation of highly talented traditional and modern dancers to round out her second act. This includes Harika Chatlapalli’s emotive and devastatingly precise Kuchipudi classical Indian dance, and Pei-Rong Wu whose traditional Chinese fan dance soars with grace. The Xochipilli Dance Ensemble puts on a Mexican folk dance full of bravado, and their vibrant costumes dazzle the eye.

The dizzying array of “guest” acts includes in addition: a Bollywood-style dance company, a Middle Eastern dance group, a modern Haitian folk fusion group, a Bulgarian folk dance company, a Jamaican dance hall group, a Middle Eastern folk dancer, a contemporary hip-hop-fusion group and another traditional Chinese dancer, in the Dai ethnic form.

It will be possible to attend three different nights of the Nutcracker Festival and see entirely different acts, apart from the core group.

For Petrusak, who grew up dancing a much more traditional “Nutcracker,” the production is an opportunity for innovation. “I wanted to update it to be more relevant to our times,” said Petrusak, before adding “and everyone loves the Twenties!” Nostalgia is highly valued today, and a multicultural Nutcracker is perhaps nowhere else as at home as in Queens, one of the most ethnically diverse urban areas in the world.

Petrusak is proud to show her festival at the Secret Theatre, where she had performed for years as a dancer herself. On the shift in focus from dancing to production, she notes how rewarding it is to see her vision come to fruition on stage.

“When I was little I used to build little houses in shoeboxes, and when you’re dancing I think you’re building this world around you in your brain,” she said.

In the JP Dance Group’s artistic statement, Petrusak’s choreography is noted as “a slightly abstracted, surreal version of the original narrative.” This is precisely the case with her “Nutcracker,” which offers an energetic and playful shake-up to the old holiday standby, making good use of the dream logic inherent to the original ballet.

In the spring, the JP Dance Group will be performing “Saltwater Cures Everything,” an interactive dance event that removes much of its traditional seating in lieu of beach towels and beach chairs, and promises to feel more like a day in the sand and surf than a dance recital.

‘Dance the World Nutcracker Festival’
When: Dec. 15 to Dec. 20
Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23 St., LIC
Entry: $25; $20 seniors, students