Last night at the Joyce Theater, Michelle Dorrance was the latest choreographer to throw her hat into the Nutcracker ring. There have been countless balletic versions, hip hop Nutcrackers, burlesque Nutcrackers, so many different Nutcrackers that it begs the question: does the world really need another Nutcracker? Turns out the answer is yes, if it's as clever and well-done as Michelle Dorrance's version.

Josette Wiggan-Freund and Joseph Wiggan in Dorrance Dance's <i>The Nutcracker Suite</i> © Christopher Duggan
Josette Wiggan-Freund and Joseph Wiggan in Dorrance Dance's The Nutcracker Suite
© Christopher Duggan

Dorrance co-choreographed her tap-dance Nutcracker Suite with Dorrance Dance company member Josette-Wiggan-Freund. She used Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's jazzy arrangement of Tchaikovsky's timeless score. The curtain goes up and one is shocked that this isn't a minimalist Nutcracker – it's a full-blown affair. The colorful costumes by Andrew Jordan and sets by Carolyn Mraz are a feast for the eyes. This Nutcracker Suite is for kids and adults; Michelle Dorrance realized there's no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Dorrance's choreography displays great respect and affection for Nutcracker traditions. The storyline follows the blueprint of Nutcrackers all over the world. Lonely girl Clara (Leonardo Sandoval in a gender-bending twist) is suffering through her parents' party. The party is livened up by the arrival of Drosselmeyer (Warren Craft) who gives Clara a Nutcracker (Brittany DeStefano). Drosselmeyer brings dancing dolls and a Nutcracker Prince. There's a battle between the mice and the soldiers. Clara kills the Mouse King by throwing something at him... in this case a ball. There are dancing snowflakes. Clara and Nutcracker journey to the Land of the Sweets, where the "Sugar-Rum-Cherry" (Josette Wiggan-Freund) and her Cavalier (Joseph Wiggan) entertain Clara and the Nutcracker Prince with national divertissements.

Dorrance Dance in <i>The Nutcracker Suite</i> © Christopher Duggan
Dorrance Dance in The Nutcracker Suite
© Christopher Duggan

Dorrance's dancers are terrific and contributed to the festive atmosphere with their openhearted, generous dancing. Leonardo Sandoval is a wonder – he so mimics the body language of a shy adolescent girl that one soon forgets his gender. Wiggan-Freund and Wiggan were both so sexy and energetic, exactly the kind of hosts you'd want to meet in the Land of the Sweets.

There are so many lovely moments. A few that stand out: the Tap of the Snowflakes complete with a confetti of falling snow; and the Sugar-Rum-Cherry's sultry solo to Ellington's jazzed up version of the famous celesta variation; the Sugar Plum Cherry and her Cavalier's duet that has no music – the frenetic tap sounds are the music. I loved when Mother Ginger opened her dress and the stage was flooded with dancers doing a tap version of a Russian trepak, complete with the deep squats and split jumps. In the joyous Waltz of the Flowers, Clara finally comes out of her shell and dances.

Dorrance Dance in <i>The Nutcracker Suite</i> © Christopher Duggan
Dorrance Dance in The Nutcracker Suite
© Christopher Duggan

The evening started with All Good Things Come to An End (2018). The work is a bit gimmicky; it's a post-apocalyptic world and only four female performers survive. They enter the auditorium wearing toxic-waste cleaning gear and enter a space that looks like a run-down studio. They then tap-dance famous myths and fairy tales. The songs by Fats Waller and Artie Shaw evoke Depression-era vaudeville.The four dancers (Michelle Dorrance, Hannah Heller, Melinda Sullivan, and Josette Wiggan-Freund are terrific).

The issue is the vignettes that were supposed to represent a myth. Some were delightful, such as the Myth of Narcissus which had Melinda Sullivan preening in front of three different mirrors. Cane and Abel was two dancers tapping with canes and battling with the canes. Eventually "Cain" killed "Abel" with... a cane, cleverly melding of the Biblical story with a tap dance tradition. In "Ugly Duckling" Michelle Dorrance flopped about in over-sized shoes and a baggy feathery wrap until she shed her "feathers" for a sleek see-through black body-suit. Others worked less well; The Myth of the American Dream had some war, some death, but was muddled in its overall execution.

Still, both All Good Things Come to an End and Nutcracker reveal intelligent choreography and a terrifically talented company. Dorrance Dance has two other programs scheduled in their three week residency at the Joyce but all programs include The Nutcracker Suite. Check it out. It's a real holiday treat.

*****