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Breakin’ Tchaikovsky

Legendary rapper Kurtis Blow talks holidays and The Hip Hop Nutcracker

The Hip Hop Nutcracker updates the holiday mainstay with a jolt of fresh energy. Photo credit: Tacoma Arts Live

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The Nutcracker is one of those stories that seems destined to never truly leave the public consciousness, having been adapted to ballet from an Alexandre Dumas story, which itself was an adaptation of an E.T.A. Hoffman story, back in the late 19th century. Since then, it's endured innumerable permutations for stage and screen, including a recent failed attempt to launch a gritty film franchise drawn loosely from the story's parts. The fantastical imagery, the iconic music, and the ties to Christmas have proven to be powerful motivators for keeping The Nutcracker around for so many years. We've seen this tale told in so many different ways that it's heartening to see a show like The Hip Hop Nutcracker come along to show that there's still plenty of life to be found in this perennial classic.

As the name might suggest, The Hip Hop Nutcracker merges the original story, along with the iconic score by Tchaikovsky, with the style of hip-hop, rejuvenating what might otherwise be a comfortable, if overly familiar, holiday show. DJs mix with string quartets, ballet meets breakdancing, and a vital jolt of energy is created. Tacoma Arts Live (the new name for the former Broadway Center for the Performing Arts) is bringing back The Hip Hop Nutcracker Nov. 15, after unexpectedly selling out two performances last year. This year's performance is also sold out, though joining the wait list, and/or begging folks on the street for a ticket, are both valid ways to try and get your foot in the door.

Still, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to talk to Kurtis Blow, the hip hop revolutionary who serves as MC for the show. Kurtis Blow holds the estimable distinction of being the first rapper signed to a major record label, Mercury, way back in 1979. That first single, "Christmas Rappin'," became a smash hit, and cemented his status in not only the hip hop world, but in the holiday music world, which he returns to with his involvement in The Hip Hop Nutcracker.

"Just to be a part of the holiday, I mean, that's my beginning," said Blow. "My first hit, my baby, my favorite, of all the songs by Kurtis Blow, is "Christmas Rappin'," and I just want to thank all of the radio DJs and personalities across the country for actually making that song a classic. They play it every year, just like Nat King Cole, and it's a huge part of my legacy. It's gonna be around for a long time after I'm gone, and I want to thank god for the blessing of coming around full circle to The Nutcracker; like the Christmas rap, it's about that feeling we get with this holiday, this feeling of love, and thanking your loved ones for putting up with you. ... It's the most incredible thing I've seen, and been a part of, in a few years, to have this piece by Tchaikovsky reincarnated into a modern hip hop piece. And it still has the same love and flavor of the classics."

Legend though he may be, Kurtis Blow speaks with humility and grace about how he made it as a godfather of one of the biggest music genres in the world.

"There are so many people who made sacrifices, and donated their time, and supported," says Blow. "If you came out to a cool party and just paid to get in, at Club 371 or the Renaissance Ballroom -- the people of hip-hop were the ones who made guys like me. My hat goes off to all of them, and they should be walking around with their head held high."

If you're lucky, you'll soon be able to see Kurtis Blow unite several generations of holiday spirit with multiple art forms for an electric experience on the Pantages stage.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 15, Pantages Theater, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $29-$89, 253.591.5894,

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