By Michelle Trauring
Some stories are told through history books. At Studio 3 in Bridgehampton, it’s told through the layers of paint on a gingerbread house.
“I’m here at the studio and I’m saying, ‘Let’s see, how many coats of paint do I have …” the dance school’s founder and artistic director Diane Shumway said, trailing off as she counted. “One, two, three …”
She would eventually get to six, the most recent coat marking this year’s production of “Mixed Nuts: A Twist on the Classic Nutcracker,” staging this weekend at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. While the show’s theme is constantly changing—from infusing the 19th-century ballet with modern technology to creating full-on mashups, while incorporating dance styles ranging from ballet to tap to hip hop—one thing does remain the same.
The bones of that gingerbread house, she said, and the chaos that likely ensues from the mini-ballerinas spilling out of it.
“I brought pieces of the set over to the studio because it’s always good to get the gingerbread girls coming out of that gingerbread house before the show,” Ms. Shumway explained. “They’re so amazed at it. They come out of it and they won’t even dance.”
With a little persuasion, they squeak out their tendus and pliés, and are easily the cutest part of the show, Ms. Shumway said, as they have been since the first year. The premiere theme centered on the release of the iPad, which Clara receives as a present from her Uncle Drosselmeyer instead of the physical Nutcracker, who traditionally takes on the Mouse King and ultimately whisks the young girl through the Land of Sweets.
“We were nervous about doing it because not only were we sort of going outside of the traditional classical ballet, but we were also really changing up the story and the characters,” Ms. Shumway said of the first-ever “Mixed Nuts.” “We had the idea, we had it in our head, but we didn’t really know how it was going to play out until the performance.”
It went over without a hitch, she said, and a new tradition was born—one that keeps her dancers coming back season after season. This year is the studio’s biggest yet, with a whopping 50 children—which is right at the limit Bay Street Theater will allow, she said—and will take audiences to Neverland.
“Instead of the Land of Sweets, it’s the Neverland of Sweets. We’ve got Peter Pan and Tinkerbell and, instead of Clara, it’s Wendy Darling. Captain Hook steps in now instead of the Mouse King, and we have our brand new hip hop teacher playing the role,” she said. “He’s got a great hip hop number he’s choreographed for the battle scene. It’s completely something else; it’s not the classic ‘Nutcracker’ music.”
Dance studios across the East End typically stage a version of “The Nutcracker” around this time of year, but “Mixed Nuts” is the only one of its kind, Ms. Shumway said. And despite the modern twists and turns, it is still a classic at heart.
“It brings us back to a period in time. It creates a kind of magic at the holidays,” she said. “You take kids to the production and they could be the terrors from hell, and they’ll sit on the edge of their seats and just be totally drawn into that ballet. It’s magic.”
That sense of excitement lasts year-round at the studio. Ms. Shumway is already thinking about how the gingerbread house will look next winter, and in the meantime, her dancers will be patiently waiting—sometimes up until the very last minute.
“The kids just can’t wait to know,” she said. “Typically, we hold off. We start rehearsals and maybe at the first rehearsal, we give them an idea. By the second or third rehearsal, they’ve got to know what they’re doing, otherwise they’re very confused. But as soon as we tell them, oh, they just go crazy.”
Studio 3 will stage its sixth annual “Mixed Nuts: A Twist on the Classic Nutcracker,” on Friday, December 16, at 7 p.m. at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Additional performances will be held on Saturday, December 17, and Sunday, December 18, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 and $20 for seniors and children age 10 and under. For more information, call (631) 537-3008, or visit dancestudio3.com.