On December 1, when Zoey Francis, Anija Guillory, Shawn Bernard, singers Nebu Nezey and Donald Reed join the other 100-plus members of the corps de ballet and cast of “The Creole Nutcracker: A Magical Journey with a Louisiana Twist,” they can rest knowing they are a special part of Louisiana history. This is the fifth year of the production, an interpretation of the 19th century fairytale ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Creole Nutcracker incorporates some classical ballet elements, as the website states, “seasoned with the food, the language, and the music of the charming Creole culture.”
Co-creator Leigha T. Porter says, “This year we are adding more of that Louisiana Flavor with some additions to the dance portion that will include a zydeco scene with some of the best zydeco dancers from the state. It’s going to be a Louisiana party for sure.”
Creole Holiday Heritage: The Creole Nutcracker Is a Perfect Holiday Experience for the Family in Louisiana
Leigha Porter (l) and Jazmyn Jones (r)
Porter and co-creator Jazmyn Jones desired to expose the youth of Acadiana to the arts, while creating a production that enabled many to perform as well as receive performance experience. The Lafayette, Louisiana natives are accomplished dancers and choreographers with résumés that include work with Debbie Allen (Porter) and American Ballet Theatre Teacher Certification Pre-Primary – Level 3 (Jones). Porter is the founder and artistic director of F.I.R.E Expressions Performing Arts Conservatory which promotes Faith, Inspiration, Relationship, and Experience through dance, where Jones serves as a dance instructor and also functions as the director of Difé II, a junior pre-professional dance company.
The pair debuted their vision of Creole Nutcracker in 2018. Since then, Porter and Jones have continued to tweak and fine-tune the Christmas celebration that showcases Louisiana sub-regional holiday festivities. Porter states, “The most amazing part about The Creole Nutcracker is the ‘community’ we have been able to build. We’ve created a community of support” at a time of year when “different people from different backgrounds can come together and celebrate our unique Louisiana culture.”
The Swamp Scene
This year’s production includes some additions to the dance portion that features a zydeco scene with some of the best zydeco dancers in the state.
Creole Nutcracker is not the first classical ballet to be re-interpreted with a focus on Creole culture. In 1984, the Dance Theatre of Harlem produced “Creole Giselle,” in which the story’s events are set in 1840s Louisiana with an Afro-Creole focus. When the curtains go up for Creole Nutcracker and Zoey Francis (Clarice), Shawn Bernard (Mouse King) and Anija Guillory (Sugar Queen) take centerstage, they will join the ranks of Black ballet stars like Virginia Johnson who have used their talent and gifts to fête Creole life.
For Porter, that’s one of the best parts of the production. “It’s always great to see all of the kids shine on stage.”
The Creole Nutcracker will take place on Friday, December 1, 7 p.m. ET, at the Heymann Performing Arts Center in Lafayette, La. Tickets are $35-$110 and can be purchased online. Follow the production by visiting the website (thecreolenutcracker.com) and their Facebook page (@creolenutcracker). [Photos used by permission of The Creole Nutcracker.]0