In Debbie Allen’s Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, Allen discusses her obstacles growing up, struggles with self-esteem as a dancer, stereotypes, family, and the ballet and modern dance industry. She created the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker in 2008 to inspire children of color to pursue their dance dreams. This documentary is a tribute and celebration of Debbie Allen’s illustrious career as a dancer and cinematographer and focuses on staff, teachers, and students’ cultural experiences. Debbie Allen’s Dance Dreams explores her critical yet whimsical perspective on the art of dance.
“I decided to take on the task of creating the Nutcracker with a different take and without Tchaikovsky. It is about a journey to real and imagined lands. I always wanted to be in Flowerland, and to be the Sugar Plum Fairy was my dream.”
In Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, she calls upon friends, principal ballet dancer Lauren Anderson and Tony-Award winning tap dancer Savion Glover to teach students in the Academy in preparation for the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker performances. With revealing interviews from her husband, family, dance instructors, and students, viewers get a backstage look at the grueling process of rehearsals and preparations as her Academy prepares for their annual performance in Los Angeles, which also serves as their largest fundraiser for the Academy.
Debbie Allen draws on her experiences and zest for diversity to create an inclusive choreography. Set on Christmas Eve, The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker begins at the Johnson home, hosting a holiday celebration. Christmas gifts are shared, and a young Kara receives a nutcracker filled with her favorite hot chocolate. When she falls asleep, her dream begins as her Nutcracker comes to life. Three mice from New York City, also called “The Real Rat Pack,” narrate the story. They travel with Kara to different lands where the diverse choreography comes alive. They travel to Candy Cane Land, Egypt, The Indian Rainforest (Bollywood), Jazzland, Russia, and the Land of Kimono Dolls. Each dance showcases jazz, hip-hop, modern, and ballet.
Jalyn Flowers and Destiny Wimpye both play the lead role of Kara in the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. Flowers admits she was nervous when cast in the lead role. A student at Debbie Allen Dance academy since she was five years old, she grew up in the Academy. “I was nervous and happy because I had such a big responsibility not to mess up or screw up the entire show,” Flowers says. Allen purposely double casts roles, so dancers have an opportunity to enjoy different experiences in the production. Wimpye says, “I literally freaked out when Ms. Allen told me I would play Kara…it’s that feeling when you have a goal, and you reach it, and it’s like YES! I was so happy”.
Allen handpicks each director to work with students and perfect the choreography. Dancers as young as four audition and begin rehearsals and training for the production. Debbie Allen created her dance academy after her daughter, Vivian, faced racial discrimination at a dance company she attended.
“We are giving this opportunity to young people because I don’t care how old I get, in my heart, I’ll always be that child who was in Houston, Texas and couldn’t go to ballet school because I was black, or couldn’t go to see the production of “The Nutcracker” because everything was segregated,”
Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker highlights how the arts impact children. The children learn essential life lessons in confidence, determination, camaraderie, passion, and work ethic. Debbie Allen’s Dance Dreams: Hot Chocolate Nutcracker is streaming now on Netflix.