Tony Williams enjoyed an incredible career in dance. Becoming the first African-American principle dancer in the Boston Ballet paved a way of life for Tony that would sculpt his social vision forever. It was access to an arts education that provided that essential first spark when Tony was brought into the Boston Ballet fold in the 1960 to develop his undoubted talent.
Through Tony’s experiences, he had a vision of using a dance education model to unite diverse communities in Boston. He saw that gathering young people together to connect to artistic expression brought out qualities of empathy, mentorship and leadership. The art was the medium. To reflect this, Tony conceived of a reimagining of the Nutcracker. By making it a Boston story, and merging beautifully the classical dance form with dances representing other cultures, Tony brought us the Urban Nutcracker.
In 2001, the production debuted at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.
For three performances, the show brought a new energy to the artscape in Boston. There was an excitement at such brave artistic adventure, produced by a tiny organization. Arts funding had been cut state-wide, everyone was sadly downsizing but Tony pushed on and found a partnership in working with a stuggling (yet beautiful) space. The Urban Nutracker brought holiday cheer to Dorcheser. It was a multicultural celebration that worked as a beautiful piece of art!
Through growth in the coming years, the Urban Nutcracker extended its run and moved from the Strand Theatre (during its period of renovation) and was hosted in the Wheelock Family Theatre and in the Back Bay Events Center, where it ran until 2017. It was here the show built a sustainable foundation with the Boston ars community. The production now enjoys a run of 15 performances and Tony is never content to leave it at that.
Every inch gained means many miles of dreaming follows. Access remains crucial to the message of the Urban Nutcracker, which runs community discount programs and an autism-friendly performance. To the Urban Nutcracker, “access” is never a buzzword, it is serious business. And all the while, the critics rave.
In its 15th year the Urban Nutcracker enjoyed a makeover with new sets and costumes (costumes made in Boston!) to sustain the production for the medium term and to bring continue to bring a vibrant holiday cheer to audiences.
In 2018, the City Ballet of Boston became the Urban Nutcracker’s core company and moved to the Shubert Theatre in Boston’s theater district.
Pictures: Strand Theatre, 2001; Urban Nutcracker on stage at the Wheelock; first reviews of Urban Nutcracker.