ST. PETERSBURG — Michael has a deep passion for dance. He inhales and exhales it every day of his young life. This gift was passed down to him from his grandmother Zola who encourages him to fulfill his destiny, but the gritty and sometimes stifling effects of living near a large urban area can be devastating. This is the preface to Jai Hinson’s original 2014 holiday production, “The Family Blessing,” performed Dec. 20 and 21 at the Mahaffey Theater.
The producers of “The Chocolate Nutcracker” unveiled this exciting new dance theater production, which showcased the talents of local community youth along with professional choreographers and dancers.
Together these artists combined colorful and dazzling styles of dance, music and theater to tell the story of how a young boy’s search for true happiness led to a revelation that he had “the blessing” all along at home with family and community.
After a tragic incident on the streets of an urban community, the main character Michael, played by Marquis Floyd, becomes dismayed and begins to question his own ability and his surroundings. Grandma Zola tried to console him since he isolated himself in his room from the tradition family holiday celebration at Christmas. Similar to the “Nutcracker Twist,” Michael falls into a deep sleep where he is joined by Grandma Zola who is now a teenage dancer like Mike.
Together, they relived the travels of Grandma Zola who toured the world successfully as a professional dancer. The high-energy production exposed the audience to cultures from all parts of the world including India, Africa, Latin America and Native America. From urban staccato and syncopated funk and hip-hop to ballet and Bollywood, the show captured the essence of cultural diversity at its best.
Audiences stood up multiple times to applaud the performers who went all out to entertain. However, one of the most unique and endearing features of the show is the bonds that have and continue to form as these young people worked together.
This extravaganza was presented by ARTZ 4 Life Academy as part of their mission to enhance education, promote diversity and develop life skills through cultural and performing arts. Many former youth cast members have gone on to pursue professional careers in film, on Broadway and in performance troupes throughout the world.
Several senior cast members in this production started out as three and four year olds at the academy.
In addition to putting together a dazzling production within a four month timeframe, this project has been the vehicle for transforming the lives of many young people in the Tampa Bay area. Over 150 youth from all parts of the Tampa Bay area participated in this annual holiday production.
Floyd, a former student in ARTZ 4 Life Academy’s afterschool and summer arts programs, is a long-time member of Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet, graduate of Pinellas County School for the Arts at Gibbs High School and current dance major at Boston Conservatory of Music, Dance and Theater.
For more information on ARTZ 4 Life Academy, please visit artz4lifeacademy.com