“Nutcracker for a Difference” Will Feature Jazz and Benefit Local Nonprofits

Confluence Ballet will bring the classic ballet to life set to jazz and blues.
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There are a few predictable signs that the holiday season is rapidly approaching: Christmas music, chilly weather and performances of “The Nutcracker.” The cast at Confluence Ballet is hoping to surprise still with a new version of the easily recognizable classic.  

Confluence Ballet’s “Nutcracker for a Difference,” set for Dec. 17 at Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, is a 1920s retelling of the classic story with jazz and blues central to the performance.

To go along with the musical arrangement, some of the choreography leans more toward contemporary dance. Kaila Carter, a dancer and choreographer for the show, says the intention is to have a ballet that’s more inviting for a general audience than more classical renditions of “The Nutcracker.” 

“You want to make sure that you’re able to connect with people from your community, and make them feel comfortable in a space where, typically, they might feel like they don’t belong,” she says.

The company, based in the West End in the same space as Pittsburgh Musical Theater, was established in 2021 with the goal of creating a nonprofit dance space dedicated to diversity and equity; it’s a majority female company with an all-female cast of dancers for “The Nutcracker.” Confluence recruited Simon Phillips, a male dancer from Pittsburgh’s Attack Theatre, to play the role of the Cavalier. 

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Léa Havas, Confluence Ballet’s artistic director, says they chose jazz and blues to create something new that Pittsburghers won’t be able to see anywhere else this season. The ballet will use music composed by Tchaikovsky but with arrangements by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and David Berger, a jazz composer and arranger who studies the music of Duke Ellington. For the choreography, Havas was inspired by Latin dance, jazz music and a stylized form of ballet. 

For “Nutcracker for a Difference,” Confluence will partner with two local nonprofit organizations to bring awareness to the charities: Pittsburgh Musical Theater, an arts education organization in the West End, and Hello Neighbor, which helps resettled refugee and immigrant families adjust to their new home by partnering them with a mentee family. Confluence Ballet is sponsoring two resettled families to see the show. 

Meghan Phillips, one of the show’s dancers and choreographers, says it’s all about the community.

“I just think it’s a really unique opportunity to show off all the strengths of our community here in Pittsburgh, and just showing how we can all work together to make a better community,” she says. 

“Nutcracker for a Difference” will be performed at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 17, at Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty. Tickets are $35 at the door, $30 pre-order, $25 for seniors, college students and ages 5-17. Group orders (12 or more) are $22, and children 5 and under are free.  

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