From the Stage to the Streets, Nimbus Dance Works makes dance a reality for the community at large.
“Like most cities, the city in our story is alive and bustling with energy and personality....but itʼs also sometimes sad and angry and tough and lonely....and when things get too sad and lonely for too long, sometimes people forget what is most important and when that happens we must look to the children for they can show us the way.”
And so begins the “Jersey City Nutcracker,” a Nimbus Dance Works Production that cherishes the tradition of the ballet classic by bringing it into the present, incorporating contemporary dance and hip hop with a modern day story of young dreams for a city. Named from “Nimbus”, which has a double meaning of “thundercloud” and “aura surrounding a person or thing”, the dance company has become both in its home town of Jersey City.
Samuel Pott, founder and artistic director at Nimbus, didn’t start dancing until college. “I wanted to sign up in high school, but when I found out you had to wear tights, I was like, no way!” he laughs. He took a modern dance class in college, and was taken over by it. “I loved the work of it, the way I felt my body changing,” he said. Before long, he was traveling with dance companies all over the world before joining the Martha Grahm Dance Company.
“After dancing professionally, it became clear to me that it wasn’t speaking to me entirely in terms of what I wanted to do to impact the community.” Pott moved to Jersey City in 2004 and founded Nimbus as a project-based dance company in 2005. Eleven years later, “The Jersey City Nutcracker” not only brings ballet to communities who may not otherwise see the production but brings Jersey City residents into the magical world of ballet.
“We thought, do we need another story about a German family?” Pott explained, referring to their inspiration for Jersey City Nutcracker. Along with Alicia Suitor, a Jersey City based playwright, Pott wrote the first version in 2009, and the production has evolved considerably since then.
In The Jersey City Nutcracker, Christopher and Maria, two teenagers, meet downtown for the tree lighting, and then run away for an adventure. Exploring and discovering their city, they make magic out of traffic cones and shopping carts. They discover a Nutcracker in a golden suitcase before the Ratting takes over the stage in a powerfully choreographed fight scene.
“We wanted to create a “Nutcracker” that spoke to Jersey City kids so they could relate to it on some level,” said Pott. Pott’s vision didn’t stop at bringing ballet to the masses, but bringing students from Jersey City into the world of dance. Many of the young dancers in the production are from Snyder High School’s dance program. “Some of these kids come from really challenging backgrounds, but they want to dance. In terms of kids who have to get through a lot of barriers, lack of family support, lack of access to actual dance classes, some kids can’t buy ballet slippers or tights...those students really represent that.”
In 2011, Nimbus was scouting for young dancers at Middle School 4 (MS4) in Jersey City. Tamir Rios, then in 6th grade, was just dancing for fun. After being asked to join their youth program, he attended their rigorous after school training classes.
“I guess Mr. Pott saw something in me,” Rios, who plays Christopher in the Jersey City Nutcracker, says humbly. “A couple of months later, I got a call from one of the professional dancers at Nimbus, saying you need to come down and take class and start dancing with us.” Rios received a scholarship and has been dancing ever since.
“When I started dancing ballet with Nimbus, I had no technical training, I was like what’s going on?” he laughs. “It was a new world.”
Scholarship recipients at Nimbus, or pre-professional dancers, are at the studio training 5 or 6 days a week. Additionally, the students are part of a self development program, “Opportunity Knocks”. A profession from St. Peter’s University works with them, they get college preparation courses, time management classes, a support group. “So they’re developing a really cool tight-knit clique who support each other and push each other,” said Pott. The students perform in front of large audiences with professional dancers and sets and costumes, and lighting. "Our hope is it lights enough of a spark and gives them enough momentum to overcome barriers," he added.
“It is a challenge keeping up such a rigorous schedule because I’m in school, studying more, and I have my technique classes at Nimbus.” explained Tamir. “But dance for me is how I express myself, it’s hard for me to stop dancing, I’m always moving in class. I was injured for 5 weeks, and I was watching dance shows and I wanted to dance, I couldn’t stand it!"
In the Jersey City Nutcracker, Maria softens the Ratking by giving him a flower. In return, he brings her and Christopher to a manhole on Mercer Street where they are invited to see a colorful, bright version of a city where everyone is dancing, a vision of what Jersey City could be.
The Jersey City Nutcracker is being performed December 18th through the 20th at MS4 on Grand Street in Jersey City.
Reflecting on what makes it such a special version of The Nutcracker, Tamir says, “It’s telling the story of our people. You’re going on this journey to see what Jersey City is.”