The Chocolate Nutcracker Is Coming to Pittsburgh with African Dance and a Modernized Story

The classic Christmas story — with a twist — will be presented Saturday in honor of Black History Month.
Chocolate Nutcracker 1 K Gerard Painter Jr


Pittsburgh is about to get a Nutcracker unlike any traditional version the city may have seen before, performed in African dance by an all-Black cast.

“The Chocolate Nutcracker,” with two shows set for Saturday, in honor of Black History Month, is a contemporary adaptation of the classic tale.

Artistic director Norma Jean Barnes says the dances will be reflective of the African diaspora and the retelling will focus on celebrating African culture while including Asian and Eastern European dances as well.

“It’s not going to be set in a Victorian setting in the 1800s,” Barnes says. “I think that not only will this retelling celebrate African culture, it’s really going to be a celebration of world culture.”

Barnes is hoping to take the traditional story, where a young girl named Clara receives a nutcracker on Christmas Eve that turns life-sized before doing battle with the Mouse King, and modernize it for today’s audiences.

She says the first act of the ballet, which will be performed at The Pittsburgh Project on the North Side, will remind the audience of their own family gatherings with a multigenerational cast of parents, grandparents, children and friends coming together to celebrate the holidays.

“I mean, it’s mostly a story of young people, but it’s also a story of families and coming together,” she says.

Chocolate Nutcracker 1 K Gerard Painter Jr 1

Barnes was introduced to the idea of an all-Black version of “The Nutcracker” while working at the Theodore D. Young Community Center in Greenburgh, New York. The community center had an arts program that offered, among other things, dance classes. Tatum Harmon, a ballet dancer with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, suggested she and Barnes collaborate on a performance of “The Nutcracker.”

After the show, Barnes noticed the impact it had on those involved.

“It was really just so wonderful for the children … they received it so well and it just really built their confidence and their self-esteem. I just saw such a transformation,” she says.

Barnes hopes dancing in “The Chocolate Nutcracker” will empower Black children here, too. She wants the ballet to “build bridges across the city” and bring a feeling of community by incorporating different cultures from Pittsburgh and across the world.

“We’re living in a time where there’s just so many different things going on right now and there’s so much negativity, so many challenges, and I just want them to leave with a sense of hope,” she says.

“The Chocolate Nutcracker” is being produced with fiscal sponsorship from New Sun Rising and with grants from the Heinz Endowments’ Small Arts Initiative and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. For more information, email

Performances of “The Chocolate Nutcracker” are set for 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are available here.

Categories: Things To Do