The Shell-Shocked Nut: A Nutcracker for the East Village

shell-shocked nut nutcracker
Katie Lowen, John Gutierrez, Afinatou Thiam, and Dania Bressler reherse for “The Shell-Shocked Nut,” an adaptation of “The Nutcracker” set in the East Village.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

There are no nutcrackers, sugar plums or gingerbread soldiers in Martha Tornay’s adaptation of the holiday classic set in the East Village.

“The Shell-Shocked Nut” instead follows the fantastical journey of a young girl and a female war veteran suffering from post-traumatic disorder, who travel by a hot-air balloon that appears in Tompkins Square Park.

“In our fantasy land, they go around to all these different places in the neighborhood. They visit the ghost of CBGB, dance with candy children at a local candy shop,” said Tornay, artistic director of the East Village Dance Project, where the show’s young performers take classes.

Tornay came up with the concept when she held a class at the Avenue C studio shortly after Superstorm Sandy.

“The kids were all sort of shaken by, some of them, losing their homes, and all of them being dislocated from their schools,” she said. “I put on the ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and they loved it.”

The studio decided to work on a project based on Tchaikovsky’s ballet, but with a few twists.

“We thought, why not make it an expression of our neighborhood?” said Victoria Roberts-Wierzbowski, one of the show’s choreographers and a modern dance teacher at the studio.

The girl and veteran’s journey explores life after war and the theme of stress.

“I realized that was a lot of what these kids and myself were going through because of the hurricane,” said Tornay, whose sister is an Iraq war veteran.

shell-shocked nut nutcracker
Autumn Scoggan, John Gutierrez, Afinatou Thiam and Kiki Williams rehearse for “The Shell-Shocked Nut,” an adaptation of “The Nutcracker” set in the East Village.
Credit: Bess Adler/Metro

The studio held a small performance with just students last year, but January will be the adaptation’s professional debut. Twenty-five young performers, ages 4 to 19, join 25 professional dancers, including local artists, in the new rendition.

“The Shell-Shocked Nut” uses pieces of the ballet’s original score, but also features music from The Ramones, Duke Ellington and a saxophone quartet.

“Martha has an uncanny ability to make things that are very non-traditional and set them in tradition. Here she turned ‘The Nutcracker’ into a neighborhood and political statement,” said Amikole Mareasa, who is in the performance with her son and daughter.

Mareasa and her family have been dancing at the studio for more than a decade. Her 15-year-old daughter Afinatou will play the veteran, or “shell-shocked nut.”

Mareasa’s son Safouane, 10, said dancing made him feel “free.”

Tornay said she hopes the show is similarly cathartic for all the performers.

“Because we all suffer from our own stress disorders,” she said.

The Shell-Shocked Nut
Jan. 3 at 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 and 5 at 3 p.m.
Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 E. Fourth St., between Second Avenue and Bowery
212-475-7710
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 seniors, students and children 12 and under
LaMama.org

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter @AnnaESanders


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