The Slutcracker: A Burlesque, which is showing at the Somerville Theatre until the end of the year, provides a fantastical escape into a holiday-themed celebration of sexuality, humor and creativity.
Vanessa “Surgar Dish” White, the show’s creator, produced The Slutcracker in an effort to combine her classical dance training with the intensity of burlesque. White said that while she loved the freedom of burlesque, she missed the discipline of ballet.
“I loved that burlesque allows you to be whoever you want,” she said. “It allows for every sort of body type, size, and look.” Five years ago, White flipped through a calendar and brainstormed show ideas. She came to December and giggled when the word “slutcracker” popped into her head. With that, and a little urging from her husband, a show was born.
Performed to sold-out audiences since 2008, the show is a scene-by-scene retelling of the Tchaikovsky classic. Rather than receiving a nutcracker doll, the protagonist—a twenty-something woman named Clara—receives a different “toy” that transforms her suburban, status quo life into one of sexual fantasy and adventure. With its newly recorded musical score—performed by conductor Mikel Toms and the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra—the show has hit a new milestone, according to John Wentworth, a producer, crewmember and White’s husband.
“[The show] is not finished, because it will keep evolving, but it is complete,” Wentworth said. Both Wentworth and White said that looking back, they are amazed at how far the production has come.
The first cast was comprised of White’s burlesque troop, Babes in Boinkland, and a few other individuals. Now, the show has become more than just a burlesque, but also a place that connects multiple members of the dance community. The show incorporates a variety of dance styles, including Broadway-style jazz, hip-hop, ballet, belly dancing, tango and pole dancing. The show now includes such troops as Black Cat Burlesque, Boston Hoop Troop and Rogue Burlesque.
“Before, there were pockets of things happening around the city. But now, many of us that wouldn’t have collaborated before are working together all the time. It involves the dance community at large, not just us underground burlesque freaks,” White said. During each of the last two years, about 70 people auditioned specifically for roles in The Slutcracker.
During its five-year lifetime, the show has received roars of both approval and disdain from the public. While the increasing number of shows never seems to be enough—the number of performances grew from six with a single cast in 2008 to 18 with a double cast in 2012—the cast and crew are still facing obstacles in putting on the production.
The first year The Slutcracker was performed in Somerville, the theatre insisted the performance be advertised as “The Whatcracker” on the marquee, according to White. She said some members of the cast have lost their jobs because they were associated with the performance, and that White herself has been accused of destroying Christmas.
Julia Van Daam, of Alpha Girl Films, has documented the highs and lows of The Slutcracker’s growth into what Boston Magazine deemed “the latest, greatest holiday tradition.” Van Daam’s documentary, Slutcracker Dreams, highlights more than the production’s racy elements. Her documentary also addresses issues of sexuality, body image and empowerment.
“I think that the show has kind of re-taken the word ‘slut’ and is working to transform it into something else that is not a derogatory term,” Van Daam said. “I’ve never seen so many different types of men and women on stage feeling so empowered, secured and happy in their bodies. That in itself is a wonderful message to be giving people in this society.”
Robyn “Femme Brulee” Giragosian, a member of the cast and the graphic designer for The Slutcracker’s printed materials, said the show is more than just a show to the people involved.
“It really brought together all these different people; it’s a big network,” she said. “We love The Slutcracker. It changed my life.”
As The Slutcracker continues to grow, White said that she thinks everyone should see the show. She said in terms of the production, she identifies with an Ani Difranco song called “Freakshow”:
Life in the circus ain't easy,
But the folks on the outside don't know.
The tent goes up and the tent comes down
And all that they see is the show.
“The crowd comes in and sees this amazing thing, but they have no ideas what goes into it,” White said. “The amount of work and dedication and blood, sweat and tears that goes into this show . . . it’s a total DIY. It’s a band of merry misfits that comes together.”
Slutcracker Dreams, the documentary, will be released to the festival circuit in Fall 2013.