Raised lighters and screaming fans aren’t typical features of a dance performance. But this holiday season, prepare to have your socks literally rocked off at Buttcracker, a festive and delightfully irreverent modern dance show where the lighters and fans will be right at home. From the producers of the smash hit Buttrock Suites, which graced Seattle stages and concert halls in the early 2000s, Buttcracker draws its influences loosely from the Nutcracker and heavily from the raucous energy and melodrama of buttrock. Buttcracker runs this weekend at Seattle Central College Erickson Theater on December 18-20.
Buttrock Suites originated when the producers—Diana Cardiff, Jana Hill, Sara Jinks, and Matt Mulkerin—teamed up to create a dance show set entirely to buttrock music, complete with big guitar riffs and even bigger hair, in 2003. Though they all shared a certain nostalgia toward the genre, from growing up listening to Def Leppard and Bon Jovi (among others), for Cardiff it was the over-the-top drama inherent in the music that made her want to choreograph and dance to it. Since the first performances at Velocity in 2003, the show has had several different iterations at sold-out venues like the Triple Door, Neumos, and Bumbershoot. Part of the appeal, says Jinks, is that “it crosses to a different audience [from dance], which is really fun.”
The audience Buttrock Suites tapped into is both extensive and loyal. While modern dance can sometimes feel obscure or intimidating for people not in the dance world, “there’s nothing to be scared of here,” says Cardiff. All the artistic decisions are intentional, but there’s nothing people need to get. It’s irreverent and fun and “gives people the permission to feel nostalgia,” Jinks notes. The tone of the show is decidedly celebratory and joyous, which also adds to the appeal and feels particularly apt during the holiday season. “The number-one rule” says Mulkerin,” is that we’re not making fun of dance, and we’re not making fun of the music.” There’s revelry and silliness, but the sophisticated choreography and highly skilled performers elevate both the music and the dance.
So what exactly constitutes buttrock, you might ask? It’s a question the producers debate frequently and passionately, but all agree that it has more to do with attitude and style than just the music. Some maintain that Journey and Foreigner are clear examples, while others say that bands like Boston, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard are most representative of true buttrock. It’s “sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” says Mulkerin. Jinks and Hill added that it needs wailing guitar, spandex, and excessive hairspray and makeup—all of which will feature prominently in Buttcracker.
Since the last Buttrock Suites installment, some of the producers have had children, started businesses, and found “real” jobs, but they’re certainly not letting a few years slow them down. Having worked together for so long, they’re a tight-knit group and all seem equally excited to be teaming up again for Buttcracker. “I love the final product,” says Mulkerin,” but the process is even more fun.” Since the show is not created by one single choreographer, the process involves everyone suggesting songs and then each person taking the lead on pieces they’re most drawn to. This “gives the show a unique voice,” says Hill, “because everybody has a different take. It’s pretty special.” The end result is a varied concert with diverse styles of humor and choreography—from grounded modern dance to aerial. For this holiday edition you can expect a handbell choir gone rogue, a white-trash Santa, a bunch of Drunkles (aka drunk uncles), and a saucy leopard print-clad aerial number.
While all of the producers are dancing in Buttcracker, they’ve also invited dancers from the younger generation to join them this time around. The original crew has had to educate some of the younger cast members about their musical selections (not all millennials are familiar with Foreigner’s catalogue), but they’ve had fun bringing new people into the process. And the newbies, some of whom grew up idolizing the Buttrock Suites performers, are loving the opportunity. For Gabrielle Nomura Gainor, “as a young dancer, there was nothing more inspiring than to see these artists selling out venues like the Triple Door and having fans scream for them at Bumbershoot—and having fans, not just audiences, period.” To be performing with them now is “like being a fangirl who gets to go on tour with the band,” she says.
Gainor also notes that watching Buttrock Suites was especially impactful because it felt inclusive to both her as a dancer, and to her Gen X parents who were more interested in the music. “The appeal of Buttcracker extends beyond those who enjoy dance, or ACDC, for that matter. This is a show that anyone who needs a break from being ‘PC’ will adore. It’s so wrong, which makes it so right.”
Though the holiday season is filled with cheer and merriment, there’s also a good deal of stress associated with this time of year. Buttcracker is the perfect antidote: it will dash away any holiday blues with hilarity and hair metal. So whether you go to see the great performers, or just to loosen up and have fun, be prepared to rock out.
Ugly sweaters and festive holiday buttrock attire is encouraged. Buttcracker runs this weekend, December 18-20, at Seattle Central College Erickson Theater. Several shows are already sold out, but tickets are still available for purchase online here.