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Holiday Arts Preview

Choreographer Jennifer Weber on mashing genres in ‘The Hip Hop Nutcracker’

Weber discovered hip-hop watching music videos as a kid in Amherst. In November, the touring show makes two stops in New England, and a film version starts streaming on Disney+.

Bryan Longchamp, Dustin Payne, Lisa “LBOOGIE” Bauford (as Drosselmeyer), Lily Frias, and Jon “Gifted” Jimenez in the stage production of "The Hip Hop Nutcracker."Cheryl Mann

Jennifer Weber is having a big month.

The Amherst native has wanted to make a film version of “The Hip Hop Nutcracker,” a production she directed and choreographed, since the show’s premiere in 2014. Now, in addition to the live show touring the country — with stops in Worcester and Providence — “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” comes out on Disney+ on Nov. 25. Weber’s adaptation fuses Tchaikovsky’s original score with DJ BOO’s hip hop beats, and follows Maria-Clara’s journey from a New Year’s Eve block party to the streets of New York and the land of sweets nightclub. The film version of the story will feature ballet legends Mikhail Baryshnikov and Tiler Peck and the award-winning hip-hop dance crew The Jabbawockeez.


Weber’s also looking forward to the official Broadway openings of two new shows she choreographed. “KPOP” the musical, a backstage look at the world of KPOP superstars, opens on Nov. 20; the pop-music Shakespeare adaptation “& Juliet” opens on Nov. 17.

For Weber, it’s “a magical moment.” “It feels absolutely wild — some of these things I’ve been working on for 10 years, and it’s like everything’s coming together in a week!” she said.

Weber’s particularly excited to see “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” come to TV screens this season because dance videos were what sparked her love for hip-hop as a kid.

Drosselmeyer (played by Comfort Fedoke), Toy Two (played by Tiler Peck), and Maria-Clara (played by Caché Melvin) in Disney's "The Hip Hop Nutcracker."Ser Baffo/Disney

“Growing up in Amherst, there wasn’t a big hip-hop scene,” she explained. So Weber would record Janet Jackson videos on her TV and learn the choreography. “For me, all these music videos were what kind of piqued my interest in that kind of energy and style that I didn’t see anywhere else,” she said.

As she’s built a career as a hip-hop choreographer, Weber has often blended hip-hop with ballet and other dance styles. “I absolutely love mashing up different things and putting different people together in the room,” she explained. “There’s something so beautiful in showing that people who seem opposite can be on the same page.”


Jennifer Weber grew up in Amherst before becoming an in-demand New York hip-hop choreographer.Courtesy of Jennifer Weber

As she adapted “The Nutcracker,” Weber said she found many elements of the classical show and its score lent themselves well to hip-hop choreography. She staged the famous fight scene between the toy soldiers and the Mouse King’s army as a dance battle between hip-hop styles. The mice were “b-boys and b-girls,” using a style of breakdancing that’s floor-heavy and “gives you a very mouse-ish feel,” Weber explained. The soldiers were “poppers”; “popping” is a dance style that Weber said “has really strong angles and very intricate shapes” suited to sharp, uniform movement.

This kind of genre-blending is the future of the dance world, as Weber sees it. “When I look at young kids today who are really into dance culture, they’re learning every style and they’re amazing at everything,” she explained. “I think that there’s gonna be a lot more crossover [between styles], and I see that in all senses of the industry.”

Hip-hop founding father Kurtis Blow (born Kurtis Walker), has been MC for “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” since its world premiere, and he is excited to see that the classical dance world is “tuning in to hear and listen to what hip-hop has to say,” as he put it. He also said it’s essential to give credit to “the originators and the creators of this subculture” when it’s blended with other things.


Weber is “doing her part as much as she can by including the [hip-hop] pioneers” in the show, he said — not only Blow himself, the first rapper to sign with a major record label, but Run-DMC’s Rev. Run, who’s the film version’s MC.

“It was our mission to spread the joy, spread the love,” said Blow of hip-hop’s pioneers. “‘The Hip Hop Nutcracker’ brings that reality ... to life. ... We’re still doing it, spreadin’ the love.”

“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” tour comes to the Providence Performing Arts Center on Dec. 7 and the Hanover Theatre and Conservatory in Worcester on Dec. 29.

Joy Ashford can be reached at Follow them on Twitter @joy_ashford.