Slutcracker Marries Ballet and Burlesque

The Nutcracker is performed countless times each holiday season, but there’s only one place to see it in the burlesque style with props like a 10-foot phallus: Somerville. Surprisingly, that’s not the most memorable part of the Slutcracker. What truly stands out is how well a style of dance more associated with bumping and grinding than pirouettes both complements and transforms this classic ballet.

The brainchild of Vanessa White, a trained ballet dancer turned burlesque performer and choreographer, the Slutcracker is celebrating its seventh season this year.

“I’ve been dancing since I was a kid,” said White, who was teaching dance to kids while attending college when she suffered what seemed like a career-ending injury. “I didn’t dance again for six years.”

She moved to Cambridge, where she still lives today, and was working at 1369 Coffee House in Inman Square when a serendipitous encounter with an old friend gave her the chance to get back on stage. White quickly realized that dance was an “important part of my life that was missing.”

Slutcracker Tree

 Image courtesy of Hans Wendland/The Slutcracker.

White transitioned from ballet to burlesque after connecting with the now-defunct Boink, an erotica magazine out of Boston University. She coordinated a show for the launch of an issue that was attended by about 500 to 600 people at the Middle East in Central Square.

“It was a great night and then it was over,” White said. She knew she wanted to put together more shows and began doing so at various locations in the area. Burlesque fulfilled her desire to continue dancing, but she missed aspects of practicing ballet.

“I missed ballet, the discipline and hard work of it,” White said. “In burlesque you have a lot of freedom. It’s very empowering. I wanted to combine those two worlds.”

It was while watching an old ballet video that she hit upon the idea of turning the Nutcracker into the Slutcracker. After working on the piece for several months, she began to approach local performance spaces about hosting the show and found a home for it at the Somerville Theatre (55 Davis Square).

That first year some of the set pieces for the Slutcracker came from the trash, the costumes were sewn the night before and the cast worried they’d be playing to their moms.

“It feels crushing to a first-time producer. You feel like you’ve let everybody down,” White said of selling so few tickets before the first run. That was until Fox 25 did a story about the Slutcracker and it ended up selling out for nearly the entire weekend.

Slutcracker Hoops
Image courtesy of Peter Rufo/The Slutcracker.

Many things remain the same at the Slutcracker, but some changes have occurred over the years. For example, the first year the show ran, the name didn’t appear on the marquee.

“Slut has become a popular thing in recent years,” White said. “There’s been an evolution of that word. Embracing the word slut seemed important to me.”

And once the show became a success–it’s gone from four performances in 2008 to 16 this year–it became clear that “a lot more people like it than not.”

While the Slutcracker attracts people from a wide range of backgrounds, from college students and 20-something hipsters to little old ladies, the largest contingent of attendees is suburban women.

White attributes the diverse audience to the fact that the cast itself is diverse, with people of all shapes and sizes and experience levels.

“I think the popularity of the show stems from the accessibility of it,” White said. “People tell us the show made them feel sexy and that they could do this.” And they can, as White holds open auditions each year for the coming performances.

Slutcracker Line
Image courtesy of Hans Wendland/The Slutcracker.

Feminism and positive body image have been trending in society as a whole lately, though White said that there’s often more talk than walk behind a lot of it. She sees the Slutcracker as a real-life manifestation of those things.

“I feel good that we’re doing it and it’s pretty awesome that people are into it,” White said. “They’re totally excited and maybe surprise themselves as to what they think is hot. Expand your definition of beauty. Think how much more beautiful the world is. I want to live in that world.”

You can live there too this December when the Slutcracker returns to the Somerville Theatre with performances throughout the month. Tickets are $27.

Cover image courtesy of Hans Wendland/The Slutcracker.

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