Edgar Allen Poe stories and poems set to music from the Nutcracker? Sure, why not. This weekend, Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts presents a new show that juxtaposes the work of one of America’s most famous writers, known for a macabre style more often associated with Halloween than Christmas, and Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic, The Nutcracker, for a little something different.
For Edgar Allen Poe’s Nutcracker (the un-ballet), the folks at Interact brought in composer Aaron Gabriel, who has added a mid-American musical score, and thrown in dance, physical storytelling, and silent film as part of the high-energy show.
According to Taous Khazem, who directs the production with Scotty Reynolds, the inspiration came from Interact’s artistic/executive director Jeanne Calvit, who had proposed a three-year investigation into the idea of the fool. Last year, as staff were researching this concept, Reynolds came across the Poe story “Hop-Frog,” about a hunchback (Poe didn’t know that wasn’t a very PC term) who travels to a kingdom and is poorly treated. So he takes his revenge.
In Poe’s version of the story there’s a king (rumored to be based on Poe’s literary enemy Elizabeth Ellet as revenge for interfering with an affair he was having). In Interact’s version they have a mayor instead of a king who oversees a rural village just at the start of a five-day festival.
In the story, Hop-Frog is accompanied by a ballerina, who helps outsmart the king, which stirred the idea of using Tchaikovsky. “Aaron [Gabriel] got excited about rewriting The Nutcracker,” Khazem says, and kept the same pitches of the music, while changing the harmonies and rhythms.
Hop-Frog is a trouble maker in the story, as well as a trickster, and the theme of the clock from the Nutcracker is also worked into the show. The piece stays away from too much plot. “We simplified to the bare minimum,” Khazem says.
Performing in the show are Interact artists with and without disabilities, with guest professional actors and musicians as well. They perform the work at Interact’s new'ish space in St. Paul (their first production in the location was last spring).
IF YOU GO:
November 21 through December 19
7 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday
1860 Minnehaha Ave. W., St. Paul
$20 general admission, $5 on Wednesdays, $5 for people with disabilities with one companion/staff.