Neoclassical ballet

Step into the time of ballet and hip-hop at the Peninsula Ballet Theater

Members of Peninsula Dance Theater | Credit: Cory Weaver

When he started teaching hip-hop dance at Peninsula Ballet Theater, Isaac “stuck” Sanders says he wanted to emphasize the joy of a different type of movement.

“It was a really good change for ballet students to be open to hip-hop,” he said. “We were giving it to them in stages, and then those doors would open. What’s universal about hip-hop is that it’s fun. My goal was to let them have fun and connect and let them be free and experience more.

Incorporating hip-hop movements into ballet was a similar experience for Alee Martinezwho also taught at the Peninsula Ballet.

“When I started I had a lot of ballet students and it’s cool to offer something different,” she said. “There are dancers stuck in the same routine, and you ask them to do the exact opposite, like it’s OK to put your shoulders down. It’s a whole new thing.

Isaac “Stuck” Sanders and Alee Martinez star as The Nutcracker Prince and Clara in Nutcracker Hip-Hop | Credit: Lance Huntley

In 2010, when The Peninsula Ballet moved to the old Circuit City building with 30,000 feet and six studios in 2010, General Manager Christine Leslie decided to use the space for dance of all kinds. Hip-hop classes are among the most popular and always full, she says. In 2016, she asks Martinez and Sanders, partners in life as in dance, to create a hip-hop Nutcracker.

It was extremely popular, selling out every year. But when Leslie asked them, neither Sanders, who is from Sacramento, where he did street dancing, nor Martinez, who grew up in San Jose with parents who competed in salsa competitions in the Las Vegas area. bay, did not know the Tchaikovsky in two acts of 1892. ballet with his mice, his prince and his sugar plum fairy.

They watched a recording and immediately had ideas of what they could do, involving turning the tide of history while keeping what people loved about ballet.

“When we first watched it in our apartment, we were trying to figure out the characters and there was trial and error,” Martinez said. “For those who come to the show every year, they definitely notice things that we fix or change.”

They try to keep it like Nutcracker as possible, Sanders added.

“For example, with ‘Waltz of the Flowers,’ we use music,” he said. “We don’t necessarily waltz, but we slide a lot, and it’s quite graceful and beautiful.”

The dancers of Nutcrackermany of whom are combat and street dancers, look forward to being part of the ballet each December, Sanders said.

“It’s the culmination of a lot of the year for dancers, and it’s so pure and so exciting,” he said. “We’ve all put in so much work and it’s like a huge puzzle that we’re putting together. It’s so fulfilling.

Sanders loves the children’s reaction to the ballet and the wonder it inspires. His daughter and Martinez’s grew up with the Nutcrackerand she is a huge fan.

“We started doing this five years ago and now my daughter is 4 years old, and she’s so familiar with the Nutcracker,” he said. “It’s cool to see her. No matter what song is playing, she knows right away, and she says, “Dad, it’s the Nutcracker.’ So now this tradition is also in our family.

A scene from the Peninsula Ballet Theater Hip-Hop Nutcracker | Courtesy of Peninsula Dance Theater

The show was so successful that the Peninsula Ballet also added a hip-hop Halloween and an upcoming hip-hop Cinderella (premiering March 11-12).

Leslie says after performances in Redwood City Fox Theater, often audience members and performers will dance together in the square outside. She thanks Martinez and Sanders for the enthusiastic response to the broadcasts.

“Stuck and Alee are so good at it,” she said. “It’s not just hip-hop music. They weave a narrative and tell a story.

Leslie says hip-hop dance moves will be more integrated into what they do at Peninsula Ballet – like in the upcoming performance of guys and dolls.

Fredrik KeeferGrrrl Brigade Manager at Dance Mission Theater, began training in ballet at the age of 4 and in hip-hop a few years later. Both styles played a huge role in her development as a dancer, she says, but hip-hop offers a kind of freedom, whereas most ballet classes follow a formula.

“You know what you’re buying when you go to a ballet class,” she said. “You can anticipate what’s going to happen.”

At age 14, Keefer began studying with an influential hip-hop choreographer and director of dance company Mind Over Matter. Allan Friasand that played a huge role in who she is as a choreographer, dancer and teacher, she says.

A scene from the Peninsula Dance Theater’s upcoming production of Guys and Dolls | Courtesy of Peninsula Dance Theater​​​​​​

“My teacher was a very flamboyant black gay man who had a huge presence and influence in my life,” she said. “He’s a big guy, like 6ft, 3in [tall], and he broke down the barriers a dancer needs to look a certain way. I learned his way of integrating the dances and a formula that worked to make the dances look good on stage and how to create a dance and use the music to change the play.

Sanders and Martinez see hip-hop as art, but they’re thrilled that breakdancing is recognized as a sport at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Especially since one of their former students from the Ballet de la Péninsule, Bboy Morris (Morris Isby), will compete.

“He’s a dancer from Sacramento who’s done a few Nutcracker with us and an amazing guy,” Sanders said. “I see so many things in the Olympics that I think if it’s in it why is there no dancing? Breaking and fighting is so gravity defying and amazing, where if you’re the strongest , you go the highest. He deserves to be in the Olympics.

Martinez says she can’t wait to see the dancers who have worked so hard compete in Paris.

“The fact that we have friends at the Olympics who pursue their passions is amazing,” she said. “I’m super excited to watch it on TV.”