Dancers on stage before the show.
Dancers on stage before the show.
Photo by Maggie Osgood Nicholls

The Teachings and Hidden Secrets of the Jewish Nutcracker

For the last three years, Encore at the J has been putting on The Jewish Nutcracker at the JCC in Overland Park, Kan… Maggie Osgood Nicholls, Director of Encore at the J, is the creator, writer, and brains behind the whole performance, along with the help of the teachers at Encore. 

 

Over the years Osgood Nicholls has always wanted to put her own Jewish twist onto the Nutcracker. In 2021, she made her dreams come true. Osgood Nicholls started to create and put on the show The Jewish Nutcracker. 

 

Osgood Nicholls shared, “The Jewish Nutcracker started out as an ongoing joke between me and Miss. Caroline [another dance teacher at Encore at the J].” Osgood Nicholls had been talking with her team about the idea for seven years prior to the first show in December of 2021. She knew that eventually, she would want to put on the show and make it an annual tradition. 

 

Osgood Nicholls wrote her own Nutcracker as a story, but based it on Chanukah.  Around the time she was converting to Judaism, she  was creating The Jewish Nutcracker. This was Osgood Nicholls’ peak of Jewish learning, which helped her with the process of adapting The Nutcracker with Jewish aspects and traditions. 

 

The show has become a staple to the students and teachers at Encore at the J. This show is a way for the many Jewish dancers to connect to their culture in a way that has never been done before. 

Dancers on stage during snowflakes dance. (Photo courtesy of Eva Sokol)

Every year, the seniors get a snowflake which they sign with their name and their graduating year. The snowflakes hang in the Land of Nosh (one of the sets in The Jewish Nutcracker, and it coincides with the Land of Sweets). Having someone in the set of The Jewish Nutcracker creates a lifelong connection with seniors at Encore to The Jewish Nutcracker and Encore as a whole.

 

Along with Osgood Nicholls, Caroline Ivision (Miss Caroline) is the co-director of The Jewish Nutcracker. Ivision said she  “created a lot of the choreography,” and “helped make the storyline.” Unlike Osgood Nicholls, Ivision is not Jewish, but over the years working at the JCC, Ivision has learned so much about the Jewish culture. 

 

Ivision said, “I didn’t know a lot about Judaism until I started working here. The Jewish Nutcracker taught me a lot because it has a lot of different aspects of Judaism that I didn’t know.” An example that Ivision gave was gelt. She had thought that they were called chocolate coins, but since working at Encore, Ivision learned the Hebrew word for chocolate coins, gelt. 

 

Many of the Jewish teen dancers have helped with the creative aspects of the Jewish Nutcracker. Livia Noorollah, HBHA junior, created a lot of the artwork in Bubbe’s (Rebecca’s grandma in the show, and is similar to the character of Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer) home in the show. Marin Smith (a former Jewish dancer at Encore), created and designed The Nutcracker costume. 

 

This year Noorollah is the Shamash (the pointe soloist) in The Jewish Nutcracker. The Shamash is the helper candle, and it lights the other candles on the Chanukiah during Chanukah. This solo coincides with the Sugar Plum fairy solo in the regular Nutcracker. 

 

Being a Jewish teen, Noorollah expressed a bigger connection to The Jewish Nutcracker than she would have to the regular Christmas version. Noorollah said she loves, “being a part of The Jewish Nutcracker,” and she has “been in it since it started three years ago.”

 

Encore Dancer Izzy Romero (this year’s lead in The Jewish Nutcracker, Rebecca) spoke about how she would be equally as supportive if she were performing in the regular Nutcracker. Since she is in The Jewish Nutcracker, “it helps me learn and grow my mind on what Judaism is all about.”

 

Whether the dancers are learning about little customs, like eating Sufganiyot (jelly donuts), or about the entire story of the Maccabees fighting against the Greeks (the mice in the show), it teaches everyone about the religion of Judaism.

Dancers eagerly waiting backstage for the show to start. (Photo courtesy of Maggie Osgood Nicholls)

When creating the show, Osgood Nicholls wanted it to be entertainment for everyone. To accomplish this, Osgood Nicholls made an I Spy game in the show. She made three hidden sets of 18. 18 represents the Hebrew word chai, which means life. A few other fun hidden things to look out for in the show include a kosher food symbol, olive trees, and a Hoopoe Bird (Israel’s national bird). 

 

While creating The Jewish Nutcracker, Osgood Nicholls wanted it to make sense. The original Nutcracker is all a dream, but the plot is all over the place. Osgood Nicholls fit “Easter eggs” in the show. This means, she added small hints that help you understand the plot. 

 

Osgood Nicholls shared an example of foreshadowing, “In the beginning of The Nutcracker the little brother [Henry] is jealous of our main character, Rebecca, and he breaks The Nutcracker. He’s jealous because he gets this poppy flower. We wanted that to be significant because you see the poppies later.” To make this significant, the mouse king has a poppy on his lapel which connects those two characters. 

 

Hidden secrets like this in The Jewish Nutcracker are ways Osgood Nicholls made sense of this magical dream of a show that no one has ever fully understood. 

 

The word of The Jewish Nutcracker has spread over the country through social media, and from people talking about what someone had created in Overland Park, Kan., Osgood Nicholls has been recognized around the community for her creation. This show is a first both in The Jewish and dance worlds. Osgood Nicholls created a new tradition for the Jewish people, and a spin on one of the most famous ballets. 

 

Overall, The Jewish Nutcracker has become an annual show of Encore at the J. It is a beloved show and a new tradition for the community. It is an engaging way to learn about the Jewish religion and Chanukah story. Osgood Nicholls and all of her fellow teachers at Encore are so proud of how far the show has come and are looking forward to where it will take them.

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About the Contributor
Ruby Sokol, Writer
Ruby Sokol is a freshman at HBHA. This is her first year in publications. She loves to spend time dancing, playing volleyball, basketball, and soccer. She also loves hanging out with her friends. This year, she is looking forward to writing and working on articles for RampageWired.