OAKLAND -- Video backdrops of Lake Merritt, Fruitvale and Fairyland and a young girl asleep on AC Transit's #1 bus are not the typical images associated with the perennial favorite "The Nutcracker." But, the collaboration between Laney College and College of Alameda on this favorite holiday treat is anything but typical.

"I really wanted a new take on this old holiday tradition," said Priya Shah, co-chair of Laney's dance department. "Oakland has such a wonderful diverse community, and I wanted to honor all the various ethnic and community groups that make this such an amazing city."

Shah's vision resulted in "Nutcracker International," which plays at 7 p.m. on Dec. 20 and at 2 p.m. on Dec. 21 at the Odell Johnson Performing Arts Center on the Laney College campus, 900 Fallon St., in Oakland.

A complex undertaking, the production features dance students from Laney and College of Alameda, two community dance groups, Laney's culinary and cosmetology departments as well as video footage and special graphic effects.

A new character, Mama Clara, narrates Act I, weaving the magical scenes together along with video and special effects to give an historical overview of Oakland. Erika Padillo-Morales, who is a student at Laney and a staff member at the College of Alameda, plays Mama Clara and helped co-write the narrative with Shah, who serves as artistic director of the project.

To help set the show in Oakland, Shah had videographers take film footage of various Oakland landmarks and neighborhoods.

"We have the Act I party scene taking place in the Camron-Stanford House on Lake Merritt and the Land of the Sweets in Act II occurs at Fairyland, so we will have footage of those locations," Shah said.

Shah also changed the young girl Clara from falling asleep on the parlor floor to falling asleep on the #1 AC Transit bus.

"I really wanted to update the ethnic relevance of the various dances and show the beauty and diversity of Oakland," Shah said.

To that end, choreographers Zak Diouf (Laney College) and Danny Nguyen (College of Alameda) have re-created the Arabian Chocolate dance into the Senegalese Cinq Centimes (cookies), which will be performed by Diouf's professional dance company, and the Chinese Tea dance became Vietnamese Honey Comb Cake and Cambodian Sesame Cookies dances using traditional West African, Vietnamese and Cambodian dance themes. Laney College's Colette Eloi also restaged the original "Nutcracker's" snow scene into a traditional Haitian dance.

Another re-creation celebrates the LGBT community with the traditional Russian dance transformed into Russian Rainbow Ribbon Candy complete with rainbow colored costumes, and the Spanish dance, performed by the Aztec group Xochiquetval, has a distinctive salsa flavor.

"It's going to be an amazing show," Nguyen said. "We have colorful, elaborate costumes and very athletic, strength moves, even an aerial circus act. It's a very collaborative, very diverse project that shows how strong we all are when united."

Laney's Culinary Department will add to the fun with its recreations of the various dances such as the Russian Rainbow Ribbon Candy and the Senegalese Cinq Cenines into actual eatable treats to be enjoyed at intermission.

FYI
Tickets to the "Nutcracker International" are $15 for adults and $10 for children. Admission is free, however, at the Dec. 21 matinee with a donation of a wrapped gift for a child under the age of 10. Santa Claus will also make an appearance after the matinee show. Tickets will only be sold at the door. For more information, email vshah@peralta.edu.