While Katy Alaniz Rous sat with her 3-year-old son, Amitai, and a Chanukah picture book, she was struck by its similarities to “The Nutcracker.”
Though the beloved ballet scored by Tchaikovsky is primarily performed during the Christmas season, Rous imagined a Jewish interpretation with characters right out of the story of Chanukah.
Plus, she wanted her Jewish friends and family to feel included during the holidays.
“Everyone goes out and supports the arts this time of year,” said the 33-year-old artistic director of World Dance Fusion in San Francisco. “So it got me thinking about how well the story of Chanukah fits with ‘The Nutcracker.’ Now people I talk to say it’s about time for a Jewish ‘Nutcracker.’ ”
“Maccabee: The Jewish Nutcracker … A Chanukah Story” will be performed Thursday, Dec. 16 and Dec. 19 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall.
Judah Maccabee (the Nutcracker prince) fills the male title role, while the young female lead (Clara in “The Nutcracker”) is called Miriam.
At her parents’ Chanukah party, Miriam becomes frustrated about not celebrating Christmas with her friends from school. When Godfather Maccabee (Drosselmeyer in “The Nutcracker”) and his son arrive to tell the story of Chanukah, Miriam’s parents complete the ancient narrative by explaining that Jews now live all over the world.
The second act sees Miriam falling into a deep sleep. She dreams about the battle between the Maccabees and Greek soldiers; the rededication of the temple on Mount Judea; and performances from a variety of Jewish entertainers, including the Sufganiyot Fairy (Sugar Plum Fairy).
Rous employed her knowledge of Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dance to choreograph the movements. There’s even a comedic moment with an Italian clown (Mother Ginger in the original) — but that’s all she’ll give away.
World Dance Fusion was formed as a result of Rous’ upbringing in San Francisco, a city known for its rich multicultural dance community. A native of San Francisco, Rous has studied more than 20 forms of cultural dance, in addition to ballet, modern, jazz, tap and hip-hop.
Her company has a core group of dancers in New York City and San Francisco.
“The Jewish Nutcracker’s” cast comprises more than 100 dancers, both kids and adults. The two female leads are Jewish and have children, something Rous did purposely to give the younger female performers role models to emulate.
“With the support of the Jewish community, successful women can be dancers, choreographers and moms,” Rous said. “We don’t have to give up one to have the other.”
Rous didn’t always know she was a part of the Jewish community. Shortly before her wedding five years ago, her mother told her that she was Jewish. The news surprised Rous, who had already arranged to have a rabbi marry her and her husband, who is Jewish.
Though raised with what she called “a void of religion,” Rous has embraced her newfound Jewish identity. She and her family attend Shabbat services at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco.
“The Jewish Nutcracker” is her way of expressing religious pride, in addition to unifying an audience through movement inspired by different countries.
“Even before I knew I was Jewish, I was trying to connect people through cultural dance,” Rous said. “The people in my Jewish community are so accepting of this idea and inclusive, so I hope it’s a wonderful reception.”
“Maccabee: The Jewish Nutcracker … A Chanukah Story” will be staged 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 16, and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 19 at the JCCSF, 3200 California St., S.F. For tickets, visit www.thejewishnutcracker.com.