Ready for Act One
Austin Justice Coalition activist makes ballet debut in Ellington's Nutcracker
Ballet in 2024 is about challenging assumptions: Who is it for, and what does it look like? One influential Austin activist, Chas Moore, is used to answering similar questions at the helm of the Austin Justice Coalition, nationally known for spurring local efforts for racial equity and criminal justice.
On January 6, Moore will join Austin's premier Black ballet company, Ballet Afrique, in a unique performance that is outside his usual expertise; He has been in the public eye for years, but this is his ballet debut.
Ballet Afrique will captivate audiences with its stunning production of Duke Ellington's The Nutcracker Suite at The Paramount Theatre. This production, set in the vibrant backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance period, serves as a testament to the enduring spirit of resilience, triumph, and magic.
Ellington put a fresh, jazzy spin on Tchaikovsky's score, reimagining the classic melodies and rhythms with new arrangements that highlighted his boundless creativity. Now, Ballet Afrique brings Ellington's innovative vision to life on stage, offering a culturally altered take on this holiday classic.
"This marks a significant departure for me as someone who hasn't been deeply involved in dance before," Moore stated in a press release. He will play the Rat King, the main antagonist and a tyrannical ruler. "Embracing the challenge of portraying the Rat King allows me to push boundaries and explore new dimensions of artistic expression."
"While my usual endeavors involve activism and community organizing, this opportunity is a delightful detour that adds a vibrant layer to my multifaceted journey," he added.
Chas Moore will play the Rat King.Chas Moore/Instagram @igiveyoumoore
Austin Justice Coalition's mission statement includes that it "mobilizes people to boldly fight racist systems through a Black, queer, feminist, abolitionist lens," shedding an ironic light on Moore's casting as an oppressor in a European story.
"Art, in all its forms, has the power to bridge gaps and communicate messages that words sometimes cannot," wrote Moore in an Instagram post about the show. "This performance not only promises to be a captivating spectacle but also symbolizes the richness of diversity within our community.
Ballet Afrique is making sure local youth are able to see the show, by gifting 100 tickets to children in need. This effort is part of the ballet's "Gift of Black Girl Magic" campaign, in collaboration with Carrying Hope, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter and support services to Texas foster youth. By showcasing diversity on a major stage, Ballet Afrique aims to create a lasting impression of what dance and dancers should look like, inspiring and empowering young minds.
Kristin Finan, executive director of Carrying Hope said in a press release, “Ballet Afrique is creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience for [foster youths], while making an important and lasting first impression of what dance, and dancers, should look like on a major stage.”
With Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite as the opening act of their 2024 season, Ballet Afrique sets the stage for a year filled with captivating performances and meaningful community engagement. Austinites can celebrate the dawning of a bright new year with the persevering spirit of this classic brought to life.
Tickets (starting at $39) for the January 6 show are available at austintheatre.org.