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Lumia Dance Company to incorporate flow arts in ballet classic ‘The Nutcracker’

(Katie Frei/Daily Bruin)

“A Nutcracker Story”

Lumia Dance Company

El Portal Theatre

Nov. 27

By Megan Fu

Nov. 21, 2021 10:41 p.m.

Lumia Dance Company is lighting up the stage this holiday season.

Premiering Saturday at the Los Angeles El Portal Theatre, “A Nutcracker Story” marks the flow arts company’s first live performance. A contemporary remake of the 1892 Russian ballet, the production tells the story of young Clara’s Christmas Eve party and her enchanted nutcracker doll who wages war against the Rat King. The classic ballet will be reimagined with LED props, original choreography and circus arts, founder and alumnus Sofia Nelson said.

“We wanted to take a blend of something that’s really old and classic and really modernize it with a prop, so that’s how we landed on ‘The Nutcracker,'” Nelson said.

Having relied on dance as a creative outlet throughout her life, Nelson said she founded Lumia back in 2019 in an effort to bring flow arts to a mainstream audience. This emerging performance art movement encompasses the melding of prop manipulation, dance and storytelling, she said.

Despite working full time as a pulmonologist, Nelson said she makes time in her schedule to pursue her love of flow arts. Because of the numerous dance styles involved in the production, creative director Morgan Jenkins said the choreographers had to work together closely to transition seamlessly between each genre. Nelson said Lumia has been meeting every weekend since the beginning of August for 10- to 14-hour rehearsals.

“When you have a prop as an extension of your body, you’re really able to create shape and express yourself creatively,” Nelson said. “You’re less limited by what you’ve been blessed with physically, and you have a lot more range in terms of the stories you can tell, the characters you can create.”

[Related: UCLA student plays with fire as member of performance group The Firemingos]

While “The Nutcracker” story has been retold many different ways since its inception, Jenkins said there’s never been a flow arts version. In this retelling of “The Nutcracker,” Lumia’s dancers will handle props such as LED hula hoops, tethered weights from Māori tradition known as poi and rope darts to imbue the traditional tale with new cultural roots, said the group’s COVID-19 health advocate and choreographer Eshwari Murty.

A collaborative effort between the production’s 12 choreographers, the show’s second half will highlight the rich history behind these props by showcasing them in their traditional dance styles and music, Nelson said. In the second act, Clara and the prince venture into the Land of the Sweets, where the Sugar Plum Fairy rewards them with an array of dances celebrating different cultures.

“We’re tapping into (‘The Nutcracker’) journey across different cultures and histories. … We’re really trying to pay homage to the history of these props,” Nelson said. “We’re just taking it and making it our own.”

Aside from the added flow arts elements, Jenkins said the team has also taken creative liberties in choreography by deviating from the traditional ballet genre. Elements of contemporary, jazz, lyrical, hip-hop and Native American hoop dance will all be featured to complement the diverse range of props, Nelson said.

[Related: Student-run WACsmash event brings dance, art into digital space]

Although this adaptation diverges from the typical ballet, Murty said it was important the company adheres to the classic plot so audiences can still recognize the story. Considering most of the dancers performed in some variation of “The Nutcracker” growing up, she said the group wanted to maintain the heart of the original tale so audiences can enjoy the same holiday nostalgia.

“This production is so far off from anything anyone has ever seen,” Murty said. “The amount of props, the amount of different styles of dance, but at the same time pulling at this familiar string of ‘The Nutcracker’ – something that everybody knows.”

The show was originally set to debut in November 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic halted the rehearsal process and led to a yearlong postponement, Jenkins said. After investing the past three years into her labor of love, Nelson said she cannot wait to see her Christmas fantasy finally come to life on stage. Jenkins hopes the production can inspire the next generation of flow artists and serve as a festive gateway into the community.

“I hope (the audience will) be inspired to try some of these props for themselves,” Jenkins said. “I hope that someone will leave saying, ‘Oh, I want to try hula-hooping’ or ‘I want to buy a pair of poi.'”

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Megan Fu
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