By Sally Deering
During the holidays, take a walk down Wayne Street in Jersey City (right off Grove) and you might hear strains of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” blasting from a boom box inside the Barrow Mansion, a community center where theater and dance companies hang their hats – and shoes. In one of the larger rehearsal rooms, professional dancers and students from local schools are spinning, leaping and paying close attention to Nimbus Dance Works’ Artistic Director Samuel Pott as he choreographs their movements for the company’s upcoming production of “Jersey City Nutcracker.”
Artistic Director and Choreographer Samuel Pott rehearses dancers in a scene from “Jersey City Nutcracker”
The curtain goes up Fri, Dec. 21st at the Frank R. Conwell Middle School on Bright Street in Jersey City and runs through Sun, Dec. 23rd — for tickets, go to www.nimbusdanceworks.org. After attending a recent rehearsal, it pleases me to report that this is going to be one fabulous show.
Nimbus Dance Works’ version of Tchaikovsky’s classic features the composer’s beautiful score with a twist on its tale. In the original E.T.A Hoffman story, the boy and girl, Christopher and Maria, fall asleep and the toys that are placed under the tree spring to life. In the Nimbus version, Christopher and Maria embark on a journey through the urban landscape instead where dancers play Sugar Plum Fairies, an Arabian Princess, The Rat King and so much more as Tchaikovsky’s score helps bring the story to life.
Now in its third year, and one of Nimbus Dance Works signature pieces, “Jersey City Nutcracker” has become a family tradition among locals. This year’s production features a cast of more than 100 that includes professional dancers who are members of Nimbus Dance Works and students from St. Dominic’s Academy, Henry Snyder High School, Jersey City Dance Academy, Next Step Broadway and Middle School No 4, where the show will be performed.
There are so many students in the show that Pott cast four female students and three male students to play Christopher and Maria on different nights. On the 22nd, Tamir Rios of Jersey City will be Christopher and Gina Pilamunga of West New York will play Maria.
“I’ve been dancing since I was 4, “Gina says during a break in rehearsals. “I’m on my dance team at Memorial High School and my dance teacher suggested I audition.”
An 8th grader at Middle School No. 4, Christopher was discovered by Nimbus when he was seen dancing hip-hop – a bit of a stretch from ballet, but something Christopher is learning to enjoy.
“This is new for me,” Christopher says. “I like it.”
Both students say they’re getting a lot out of the experience, especially learning that to be professional requires more than just dancing well.
“Professional also means facial expressions,” Gina says. “You need to put yourself into the character.”
Sounds intense, but that’s just what Pott teaches the students during rehearsals. While going over the steps in a scene where Maria has to appear terrified of evil rats circling her, Pott emphasizes the difference between giving a cute child performance and making an impact.
“Kids performances look cute; professional performances move the audience,” Pott tells them.
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker with a Twist
“Jersey City Nutcracker’s” collaborative team features Pott as choreographer/director; Alysia Souder as librettist/playwright; Irene Borngraeber, scenic designer; and Jennifer Bentley costume designer. This year, the show is being presented at a larger venue and with new sets and costumes.
“It’s a nice event for families with kids,” Managing Director Ivet Bandirma says. “Goldman Sachs is our title sponsor. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of work and a great experience for the students who get to work with professional dancers.”
Indeed, 120 students from local schools – and schools in Newark – make up the cast of “Jersey City Nutcracker” with kids as young as 5 playing Cookies and their older dance classmates, 6-9, playing Angels. Many of the kids are enrolled in The School of Nimbus Dance Works, which just opened in September 2012.
Nikki Albert of Green Township in Sussex County recently earned a BFA in Dance from the Mason-Gross School of the Arts at Rutger’s University. She is an apprentice with Nimbus Dance Works and after auditioning, Albert landed the role of The Rat King where she dances and performs some complex steps all the while brandishing a sword. Albert is also the story’s narrator.
“I love ‘The Nutcracker’ and the opportunity to work with the company and with the kids,” Albert says. “It’s a lot of fun and I’m learning a lot.”
Gotta Dance in Jersey City
During rehearsal, Pott watches the dancers execute his choreography. Focused, friendly, yet straightforward with the student dancers, Pott points out when the students are off the beat or when their movements need to be finessed. What made Pott decide to start a dance company? It wasn’t a planned decision, he says, just something that grew organically when Pott and other dancers expressed a collective desire to perform.
“At the start it was me and fellow dancers from the American Repertory Ballet and we wanted to do our own projects,” Pott says. “Mostly we’ve been operating out of Grace Church. They’ve always been extremely gracious and generous. We owe a lot to them.”
Nimbus Dance Works plans to present a spring season in Jersey City and at the Alvin Ailey Theater in New York City. Even though it has grown from a grassroots group of dancers to a 501 (c) 3 non-profit dance company, Pott says the mission continues to be about designing and creating projects to get people involved and impact the community.
Dancers in the company rehearse a scene from “Jersey City Nutcracker”
“Many dance companies are about the art of dance,” Pott says. “We try to bring the highest level of dance into the community. Everything we do is based on the question how can we make an impact, change people’s lives?”
If you go:
Fri, Dec. 21, 7 pm; Sat, Dec. 22, 1 and 5 pm; and,
Sun, Dec. 23, 1 and 5 pm
“Jersey City Nutcracker”
Frank R. Conwell Middle School NO. 4
107 Bright Street
Orchestra Seats: $25
General Admission: $18
Seniors, and Students under 17: $10