The Nutcracker comes to Philly, this time in an all-Black cast
How a diverse cast will help increase access to ballet for young dancers
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Young ballet dancers across the country recognize the classic performance of the Nutcracker as a holiday favorite, but now a more diverse cast aims to make more of those dreams a reality by breaking down barriers in Philadelphia.
Chocolate Ballerina Company, a community-based dance organization in Philadelphia, has made it its mission to help break down barriers for young BIPOC dancers since its launch in 2017. The dance company provides a sense of hope, discipline and confidence to Philly’s underserved community through dance, training and the development of professional experiences.
As first reported by WHYY, Chanel Holland, the founder of Chocolate Ballerina Company, hopes to bring a classic ballet performance with more diversity to South Philadelphia this Winter.
The show, titled Nutcracker: Dipped in Chocolate, will be a one-day performance and offer viewers a chance to see the Tchaikovsky classic ballet with an all-Black cast.
“I never felt like I saw myself in ‘Swan Lake’ when I went to see it at the Met,” Holland told WHYY. “I never felt like I was being well represented in Romeo and Juliet at the Academy of Music from Pennsylvania Ballet.”
Although there is more diversity in the arts and entertainment industry, the access to ballet remains limited to those who are low income.
According to WHYY, Holland said the art of ballet remains much more accessible to people with expendable income as it takes thousands of dollars over the years for ballet lessons at a pre-professional level.
However, Holland remains committed to breaking down those financial barriers by providing free ballet lessons and leotards, as well as open rehearsals, and free tickets to the company’s summer performances.
The winter performance of Nutcracker: Dipped in Chocolate will take place Dec. 18. Although the venue hasn’t been announced yet, Holland told WHYY it will happen somewhere in South Philly, giving Philadelphia a new tradition to hold on to.
“How you go to the Macy’s downtown and you look forward to the light show, you stand and you wait along the shoe area, you’re like, ‘This is happening, it’s going to be great,’” Holland said. “That’s what we want to do here.”
Auditions for the dance company’s Nutcracker show have already begun with open auditions held on Aug. 22 for pre-professional dancers ages 7 to 23 and will continue in an effort to bring in more young dancers.
According to WHYY, when eight-year-old Mikailah De Coteau, who’s been dancing since she was two, saw the poster for the all Black Nutcracker she begged her mother AJ to take her.
AJ said her daughter has had a different experience with dance training in the U.S., but that Chocolate Ballerina’s performance can have a huge impact on young BIPOC dancers.
“She has recently talked about feeling excluded being like the only Black girl in ballet classes and in other activities,” the older De Coteau said. “So when she saw the poster for the all-Black Nutcracker she was very excited.”