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Release: Immediate

NOTE TO EDITORS: John Rapson, director of Johnson County Landmark, may be reached at

(319) 335-1633, or by e-mail at <>. Choreographer Sabrina Madison-Cannon may be reached at <>.

Johnson County Landmark and UI dancers will present Ellington's 'Nutcracker' Nov. 23

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa's Johnson County Landmark jazz band and dancers from the UI Dance Department will join forces to present a choreographed performance of Duke Ellington's "Nutcracker" Suite -- a classic jazz re-interpretation of a classic holiday favorite -- at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 23, in Clapp Recital Hall on the UI campus.

The dance-and-music performance will be free and open to the public.

Johnson County Landmark (JCL), the UI School of Music's repertory ensemble for the performance of original compositions by jazz masters, will be directed by John Rapson, head of the UI jazz studies program. A corps of 33 graduate and undergraduate dance students will perform choreography by Sabrina Madison-Cannon, a graduate student in the UI Dance Department.

For the performance, JCL will sit across the back of the Clapp Hall stage and the dancers will perform in front of the players. Costumes, provided by the Dance Department, have been coordinated by Stacey Gray and Madison-Cannon. Technical advisor for the performance is Chuck Ping of the Liberal Arts Production Unit.

Created in 1962, Ellington's version of the familiar Tchaikovsky "Nutcracker" Suite was his first complete record album devoted to arrangements of another composer's music. This unexpected development confused critics of the time, who didn't know how to categorize the album: Was it jazz? Was it third-stream -- a synthesis of classical and jazz? Or was it just a put-on?

As shown by subsequent works -- the re-interpreted Grieg of "Peer Gynt" Suite, the Far East Suite, and other multi-part works that followed -- the "Nutcracker" arrangements signaled an important development in Ellington's career. And recently the suites and other later works have been successfully revived by the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the "Nutcracker" Suite was used by choreographer Donald Byrd for his "Harlem Nutcracker."

Ellington's Suite has nine movements, based on many of the popular pieces from Tchaikovsky's score. Re-named with jazzy titles, they include "Toot Toot Tootie Toot" ("Dance of the Reed Pipes" in the original), "Sugar Rum Cherry" ("Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy"), "Danse of the Floreadores" ("Waltz of the Flowers") and "Arabesque Cookie" ("Arabian Dance").

Although the Tchaikovsky ballet is familiar to dancers and dance audiences alike, Madison-Cannon has tried to re-interpret the dance in the same spirit that Ellington re-interpreted the music. "I have taken the 'Nutcracker,' twisted it and turned it upside down," she said.

"The music is so very different (from Tchaikovsky) in its instrumentation that it brings out different feelings. Because of that I didn't really have any trouble keeping the classical version out of my mind."

Of the nine movements in the Suite, eight will be performed by the dancers, who will enter at the end of the Overture. Those who know the "Nutcracker" ballet will find interesting contrasts to the original. Thus the music originally written for the Sugar Plum Fairy will become a sensual and provocative dance for seven women. The "Chinese Dance" will remain a duet, but the dancers will portray a hunter and his prey. The Russian Dance will feature four men and one woman, but a game about a hat will replace the traditional Cossack strutting.

Only in the "Dance of the Floreadores" has Madison-Cannon made a gesture of homage to the original "Waltz of the Flowers." She has set it as a dance for a group of nine women, making use of circular patterns derived from traditional "Nutcrackers."

The final dance, based on Tchaikovsky's "Arabian Dance" will constitute a finale to the entire piece, with smaller groups of two and three gradually giving way to the entire company as the dancers return and reprise pieces of their earlier dances.

There will be no story line running through this "Nutcracker," although there will be a Guide -- danced by undergraduate Sinead Gildea -- who leads from one dance to the next and has the featured solo in "Sugar Rum Cherry." Other featured dancers will be graduate students Amelia McCarthy and Lavar Kidd in "Chinoiserie"; undergraduate Julie Asmar in "Danse of the Floreadores"; and Jen Randal in "The Volga Vouty".

A major ensemble in the UI School of Music jazz program, Johnson County Landmark has the standard big-band instrumentation, with full sections of reed, brass and rhythm instruments. It is made up largely of students in the UI School of Music majoring in performance or in the jazz area. Its current repertory includes the music of Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Billy Harper, Geoff Keezer, Ernie Wilkins, Count Basie and Brenda Halverson.

The ensemble has been performing at the UI since the 1960s. The group has traveled to jazz festivals in the United States and Europe, picking up awards on both sides of the Atlantic. The group's most recent recording, "A Mingus Among Us," was described as "over 70 minutes of sweet, sophisticated jazz classics" in ICON magazine, and River Cities Reader commented that "JCL, the top big band for the University of Iowa School of Music, captures the power of Mingus' music wonderfully."

Rapson joined the faculty of the UI School of Music as director of jazz studies in August 1993. A recording artist for the Sound Aspects and Nine Winds labels, he is a composer and trombonist whose work mixes ethnic and experimental elements with more conventional jazz forms. His professional career began in Los Angeles, where he formed an octet and performed with some of the leading jazz artists for both recording dates and live performances.

Rapson also taught music theory and composition at Westmont College in Santa Barbara for 10 years. He later taught jazz at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and performed extensively on the East Coast.

Rapson holds a master's degree in music theory and composition from California State University, Northridge, and has completed course work for a doctorate in Ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University.

Madison-Cannon is a native Iowan who began her dance training in the UI Talented and Gifted Program. She continued her training at the National Academy of Arts and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. She started her professional career in 1987 as a soloist with the Philadelphia Dance Company ("Philadanco").

In 1996 Madison-Cannon returned to the UI to pursue a masters degree in dance with an emphasis in choreography. Since returning she has taught for the American College Dance Festival Association and choreographed for the UI Dance Gala and Dancers in Company. She was artistic director of the Black Genesis Dance Theater for two years. She will receive her master's degree from the UI in December.

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