Dance-Along Nutcracker's 'Nutmare before Christmas'

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday December 5, 2023
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Dancing kids and adults at the 2022 'Dance-Along Nutcracker'<br>(photo: courtesy San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band)
Dancing kids and adults at the 2022 'Dance-Along Nutcracker'
(photo: courtesy San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band)

Since 1985 the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band has presented the "Dance-Along Nutcracker." Conceived during the darkest days of the AIDS crisis, "Dance-Along" was meant to help a ravaged community take their minds off the illness and death that was everywhere. And the show lived up to its name. The audience was invited to let loose and dance along with the cast.

According to Pete Nowlen, who serves as the band's artistic director, during the show's early days it was difficult to get people out of their seats to dance. One year they went so far as to plant dancers in the audience who jumped up when it was time to dance and grabbed audience members to join them.

"Nowadays the program indicates which ones are dance-along pieces," Nowlen said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "We also flash a big sign above the stage that says 'dance-along.' Nowadays our audiences are very enthusiastic about wanting to dance. It's almost as much fun to watch the kids and adults pirouetting around the dance floor."

Elfin musicians at the 2022 'Dance-Along Nutcracker' (photo: courtesy San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band)  

This year the Christmas spectacular will harken back to Halloween when they present "Dance-Along Nutcracker 2023: The Nutmare Before Christmas." The show will take place on Saturday and Sunday, December 16 and 17, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Forum.

"We though that Halloween would be a fun contrast to the typical Christmas setting of 'The Nutcracker,'" said Nowlen. "And it also serves the story we wanted to tell. At Halloween we dress up and act a little bit sillier than we get to do the rest of the year, which is the perfect analogue to the 'Dance-Along Nutcracker.' Kids and adults get to dress up in tutus, or whatever they want to wear, and get up on the dance floor."

Each year they tell a different story. They start with characters from the original "Nutcracker," such as Clara, Fritz and their uncle. The characters are sent on wild new adventures each year, which makes each show unique and exciting for the audience.

Halloween crossover
"This year Clara and Fritz are living a staid life in Christmas Town until their uncle visits with intriguing stories about the mysterious Halloween Town," Nowlen said. "The kids decide to visit, meeting some of the spooky residents of Halloween Town, and maybe even expand their worldview along the way."

Each year's show includes LGBT themes. Nowlen explained that one of the missions of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band is to build bridges among diverse communities. The audience, he said, is usually sixty percent straight parents with their kids.

"This year Fritz uses their adventures in Halloween Town to help them grow their understanding of their gender fluidity," said Nowlen. "While Mrs. Stahlbaum learns from her brother Drosselmeyer that she needs to expand her vision of what happiness looks like for her children."

A dancing couple at the 2022 'Dance-Along Nutcracker' (photo: courtesy San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band)  

The cast consists of a mix of local theater and cabaret performers. This year they have a number of returning cast members, along with a few new faces. The characters often join in with the dancing, and the kids add to the fun by running up to them during the dance-along segments to hang out with their favorite new characters.

The show serves as a fundraiser for the band. Ticket prices cover the cost of putting on the show, so each year the band depends on the audience's generosity at what they call the Giving Tree to help raise funds for the band's various programs.

Donations last year not only supported the year-round operating costs of the organization, but also helped to launch their BiPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Composer Program. There's also a tutu booth that offers tutus for rent and accessories for sale that help to enhance the dance-along segments under the mirror ball.

Nowlen pointed out that you don't have to have kids in order to enjoy the "Dance-Along Nutcracker."

"Overall, the 'Dance-Along Nutcracker' is a show designed to bring families and groups of friends together, which is especially meaningful during the holiday season," he said. "We've seen it year after year, the joyous atmosphere at the show drives even the most skeptical audience members to the dance floor eventually."

'Dance-Along Nutcracker: The Nutmare Before Christmas,' December 16, 3pm and 7pm, December 17, 11am and 3pm. Yerba Buena Center for The Arts Forum, 701 Mission St. $27-$45.

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