ballet US

Yes, The Nutcracker ROCKS!

This Christmas at Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Clara is a bored teen, who has to endure her family’s posh holiday party on the Upper East Side. This is until her eccentric Uncle Drosselmeyer shows up and starts shaking things up with his rock music, magical toys, and a special gift for Clara: a Nutcracker holding an electric guitar! ‘Uncle Dross’ then transports Clara to a magic land—the Jersey Shore—where the traditional Land of Sweets is instead a candy shop in Asbury Park. 

Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater (AXCBT), Monmouth County’s only professional ballet company, will perform in the Vogel Auditorium this holiday favourite with a high-octane, rock-and-roll Jersey Shore twist. Joined by Josh Canfield as Uncle Drosselmeyer, the production also features a revamped Tchaikovsky’s score, composed and arranged with the help of the popular New Jersey rock bank, The Gaslight Anthem.

We asked Gabriel Chajnik, the Artistic Director of AXCBT who conceived, choreographed and is the director of The Nutcracker ROCKS!, some questions about this rocking production.

Q) The Nutcracker is the most popular ballet amongst the public and it is a true Christmas tradition. In The Nutcracker ROCKS you decided to modify its story into a modern one, more relatable to the audience. But you took it a step further by rearranging the original Tchaikovsky score to include an overlying rock element. Were you always interested in creating more “modern” or “rock” versions of ballets, or did you decide to do this, especially for the Nutcracker, since it draws a much wider audience?

A) When I was approached by our President Elise Feldman to create a new Nutcracker for the Axelrod Contemporary Ballet Theater, I knew right away I wanted to connect to the legacy of great music and musicians in our shore area like Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and many artists that have made a big influence in the musical landscape of America. Alex Levine and Alex Rosamilia from The Gaslight Anthem inspired me to create a dance theater work that honors the great energy of the Jersey shore. Instead of taking Clara to the land of the sweets as in the classical version of the ballet, in The Nutcracker Rocks! “Uncle Dross” takes Clara to Seaside Heights. 

Q) I also find it very interesting how you decided to incorporate spoken words in this production. I saw something similar being done by the English National Ballet a few years ago, as part of their “My First Ballet” series aimed at a younger audience, but in their productions, they decided to include a spoken external narration. What inspired you to have more “musical-style” elements in your The Nutcracker ROCKS instead?

A) Great question, the Axelrod Performing Arts Center has a long lasting history of producing great musicals, and a roster of great artists that have performed on the Axelrod stage. For The Nutcracker ROCKS!, I worked in collaboration with Reuben Jackson and Jason Cohen to find the right language to bring the story to the contemporary times to allow young minds to understand the story, and to give adults more insight into the characters personalities. 

Q) I read that for the Axelrod production of the Jungle Book, you introduced elements of Bharatanatyam, by collaborating with a master of this Indian classical dance form. So it looks like you are a proponent of including genuine cultural expressions of elements that appear in the storyline. I am curious to know how that translated into your production of The Nutcracker ROCKS. I am thinking this in light of the cultural stereotyping present especially in the traditional costume and makeup choices for the Chinese Dance, as brought to light in recent years by the initiative “Final Bow for Yellowface”.

A) This is also a wonderful question! In The Nutcracker ROCKS!, I wanted to shift the focus from Victorian-era values to contemporary times. As you said, in the classical version there are many references to nationalities and their stereotypes. My point of orientation in creating the second act dances are the delicious sweets that can be found all along the seaside boardwalk on a beautiful summer day! So instead of “Chinese Tea,” our variation is called “Purple Chocolate Fans,” and instead of “Spanish Chocolate” our dance is called “Red Velvet Fudge,” all actual sweets that can be found in the stores at Seaside Heights on a beautiful summer day. I felt it was important to move away from the stereo, typical and cliché. 

Want to see The Nutcracker ROCKS? Hurry up! The production opened on December the 2nd, but there are still a few dates left to attend this exciting performance.

Friday, December 9, 7:00 p.m.
Saturday, December 10 at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, December 10 at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 11 at 1:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 11 at 5:00 p.m.

Get your ticket online at or by calling 732.531.9106, extension 14. Ticket prices range from $32 to $46, with student tickets available for $20, with special rates available for groups of ten or more.

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