“I always wanted my own ‘Nutcracker,’” says Brian Sanders. That’s not an errant Christmas wish for the Philly choreographer and founder of the provocative, acrobatic company JUNK. It’s the backstory for his own new holiday tradition in the making, “Snowball,” which will premiere in December at the Annenberg Center.
“I wanted to tell a little bit of my own story of navigating youth. We have greed and lust, a little true love, a little magic, and you stir it all together and hopefully we have a wonderful fairy tale,” Sanders says.
This particular fairy tale involves the shy Lil’ Tim Flake and Gem, a reclusive heroine with trust issues. The two battle the evil Ice Queen out to take control of their beloved alley, Grey Lane. There is an evil Duke of Toads and a gang of bunnies that, Sanders says, fall into a rich tradition of long-eared heroes. “Every fairy tale and nursery rhyme has a Flopsy and Mopsy, a White Rabbit, a Bugs Bunny — it was endless, the bunnies. I don’t know why, and I don’t think people have explored the bunny archetype, but I’m having fun with that.”
While many in Philly mainly know JUNK for their acclaimed, often racy FringeArts performances, Sanders says that family-friendly entertainment is a core component of the company’s mission, and a primary aspect of their touring shows. For “Snowball,” audiences will be encouraged to interact with the show, from hissing at the villains to dancing along with a “Time Warp”-inspired number and engaging in a snowball fight at the climax.
“There’s a formalism to so much of dance, where you have to sit with your arms crossed in your lap,” Sanders says. “But I think it can be a cheering, raucous experience, too. When we do these family shows, the kids are hooting and screaming and hollering and loving it, and the adults are shushing them the whole time. But we respond to their reactions more than we do to a subdued, comatose audience.”
Inspired by the popularity of Tchaikovsky’s music for the venerated “Nutcracker,” Sanders opted to score his winter wonderland with the popular music of his own generation — namely, ’80s pop hits. He refuses to divulge the details (other than the fact that the villainess was nearly christened the “Vanilla Ice Queen”) other than to say, “the genre of music involves a lot of hair gel.”
He’s looked to the “Nutcracker” for other guidance as well. “I’m literally looking at ‘The Nutcracker’ for permission,” Sanders says. “I was nervous about killing the queen, which is a pretty violent act, but hell, if they can kill a mouse king on stage then I can kill an ice queen. And I know it’s a bit hokey, but I still love going to see ‘The Nutcracker’ and those magic moments. I’m hoping to find and achieve my own moments of magic.”
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
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