A Louisiana twist on The Nutcracker is providing more opportunities for Acadiana's African-American community to be involved in the classic Christmas ballet.
The Creole Nutcracker showcases numerous dance and music styles in the setting of south Louisiana's swamps and festivals.
"The traditional Nutcracker is really beautiful. It's great," said Pamala Flugence, whose daughter has danced in both the traditional and Creole versions of The Nutcracker.
"The Creole show was different," she said. "But it was full of the same awe, the same wow, the same expectation I had from watching the other one. But this one was even better because it had the twists of the Louisiana culture. It was very moving and inspirational."
This is the second year for The Creole Nutcracker, which will be performed Dec. 8 at Angelle Hall on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus.
Co-creators and choreographers Leigha Porter and Jazmyn Jones weren't sure last year how the show would be received by the community, but the performance sold out before the opening curtain.
"That's the best part of all of this — the community participation," Jones said. "They're coming out and clapping and laughing and oohing and awing at things we've been working on for months."
The Creole Nutcracker, which features 70 local dancers, follows the same basic story line as the traditional ballet, but it features different styles of dance and music.
A zydeco dance party replaces the opening party scene of the traditional ballet. Clara, the lead of the traditional ballet who befriends a nutcracker that comes to life on Christmas Eve, becomes Clarice in The Creole Nutcracker.
Instead of traveling to celebrations across the world like Clara does, Clarice travels to different Louisiana festivals in the performance. The Dance of the Sugar Queens at the New Iberia Sugarcane Festival replaces the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies in the Land of Sweets.
Clarice will be portrayed by 16-year-old Erica Porter this year.
"I really wanted this," she said. "Last year, I tried out for the lead and I didn't make it. I wanted to try out again because I like to really push myself. It's really different from just dancing in the other scenes. You're like the face of the performance itself."
The Creole Nutcracker showcases classic ballet, modern, hip-hop, jazz and African styles of dance.
This year's performance will feature the Sugarcane Festival in New Iberia, the Frog Festival in Rayne, the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge and the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans. It will also include a surprise festival "that's near and dear to Lafayette" that hasn't been publicly disclosed yet. That's where the African style of dancing will be featured.
"That's what I'm most excited about," said Pamala Flugence's daughter, Kammie. "I've never really done an African piece, and it's so upbeat and fun. I'm glad I got cast in an African dance."
Most of those performing in The Creole Nutcracker like Kammie Flugence and Erica Porter have had formal dance training.
A few, however, have had no formal training. That's the case for Joshua Lackland, 16, who got the part after Leigha Porter caught him breaking into dance during a school pep rally.
"It's been good," Lackland said. "I'm not really a shy person, and I catch onto things really fast. I'm actually planning to continue dancing at the studio after this."
Lackland is referring to F.I.R.E. Expressions Performing Arts Conservatory, which Leigha Porter started in 2013. Jones works as a dance instructor and director of the school's junior dance company.
The women behind The Creole Nutcracker also work as teachers at Northside High School. Leigha Porter teaches special education, and Jones teaches science.
"As public school educators, we see the lack of things for them to do and be exposed to new things," Leigha Porter said. "With The Creole Nutcracker, we wanted to give more African-American kids the opportunity to be exposed to the performing arts and be exposed to it in a way outside of what you see on TV. We wanted kids to not only learn about it but be a part of it as well."
The Creole Nutcracker will include two performances this year. Shows happen at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Dec. 8 at Angelle Hall on the UL campus. Tickets to The Creole Nutcracker cost $18. Learn more at thecreolenutcracker.com.