Photos from the final days of ‘Buttcracker’

The spirit of Seattle’s heavy metal spoof of ‘The Nutcracker’ lives on.

People raise their glasses in a circle

Cast, crew and friends of the irreverent show toast the end of the "Buttcracker" run during the cast party for the final installment (“Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!”) at the Rock Box on Capitol Hill on Jan. 12, 2020. Diana Cardiff, far right, a producer of the show, says the cast and crew have become more of a family over the years. “It kind of makes it an extra ‘end of an era’ feeling,” she says. (All photos by Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

With their mullet wigs and metallic leggings, the producers and performers of Buttcracker have come to define a unique approach to dance in Seattle over the last five years. The founders of the show created it out of a desire to present a more approachable dance performance: an experience free of creative limitations and one based in humor. The ‘80s-rock parody of the The Nutcracker had its final curtain call at the Erickson Theatre in Capitol Hill on Dec. 22, as reported by Crosscut earlier that month. Crosscut followed the performers and crew of Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust! through their final two months together.

Polaroid photos taken by cast members are scattered on a table backstage at the Erickson Theatre during closing night of “Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!” on Dec. 22, 2019. Producer Matt Mulkerin says he thinks the show contributed a different kind of dance environment to Seattle — one free of internal competition or pressure. “With other dance companies, there’s a different feeling, partly because most of the time you have to go through an audition process and there’s kind of a hierarchy, and you have to work to fit in," Mulkerin says. "Whereas we are looking for people that fit in, and we just want to bring in and use their strengths to make the show better.”

Building bridges for new audiences into the dance world: That’s how producer Diana Cardiff thinks Buttcracker has impacted the Seattle arts community.

“I think it has helped break down some barriers people might have had [regarding] coming to see a dance performance,” Cardiff said. “I know for a fact that there’s a whole chunk of friends of mine who hadn’t really seen me perform in other things, and then I did Buttrock Suites [the Buttcracker predecessor] or Buttcracker, and that got them over their fear of modern dance and theater and those expectations. Some of them now have subscriptions to On the Boards, or go see other things, because they are like ‘Oh it’s not scary, I can go see dance stuff and it’s fine.’ ” 

Creating a show that was approachable and joyful — not only for the audience, but for the performers as well — was a priority for Cardiff and the other three producers (Matt Mulkerin, Jana Hill and Sara Jinks) when they developed Buttcracker, a holiday extension of their similarly themed Buttrock Suites, five years ago.

“There is no limitation on stupid.… Make interesting choices,” Mulkerin encouraged other dancers during rehearsals and performances. The producers were interested in providing a safe space for dancers and choreographers to create without constraints. Everyone was encouraged to be free with their dancing — to zig when others zagged. 

“Giving other people perhaps not a permission slip, but a ‘hey look, you can take your crazy ideas, and you can put them out there,’ and they are not necessarily going to get shot down,” Mulkerin said.

Now that the producers and performers have taken their final bow, the group hopes the spirit of Buttcracker will persist in the Seattle arts scene. 

“It doesn’t have to be the Buttcracker,” Jinks said. “Even if that show doesn’t happen, if the younger folks in the cast want that feeling and that intention, they can go and make something totally different, new and wonderful that has that same spirit and that same sensibility and that same audience. There’s so much potential there and that doesn’t have to die with this show.”

Producer Diana Cardiff watches from backstag,e as other cast members perform during closing night of 'Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!' at the Erickson Theatre on Dec. 22, 2019. She says that during the final performance, she had to keep telling herself that it was just like any other night, because thinking about it made her too emotional. “[The last night] was pretty transcendental,” Cardiff says. “I really made a conscious effort to watch all of the pieces, if not on stage, then back in the greenroom on the TV, to really try to absorb it and get that mental image in my head.”

Cast and crew, along with some audience members, huddle together backstage for their preshow ritual before the final performance of 'Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!' at Erickson Theatre on Dec. 22, 2019. Producer Sara Jinks says she has seen friends and audience members who haven’t been to dance performances come to a “Buttcracker” show and then start becoming more involved in the arts in Seattle. “It is goofy and funny and dumb but it’s also well crafted," Jinks says. "Everything is deliberate and intentional but mixed with fun. I feel like it’s kind of the gateway drug to dance.”

Producers Sara Jinks, left, and Diana Cardiff work together during rehearsal at Theatre Puget Sound on Nov. 2, 2019. Cardiff, Jana Hill and Matt Mulkerin have been working together since starting “Buttrock Suites” in 2003, in which Jinks was a performer. All four have been producing together for the past five years. “If you’ve been a performer all your life, not performing anymore is really, really hard,” Jinks says. “I have a sense that probably Diana and I are going to keep going. I don't think we can stop.”

Producer Diana Cardiff decorates the bar area of Erickson Theatre during move-in day on Dec. 7, 2019. The lobby was decorated in rock-themed Christmas and “Nutcracker” knickknacks. 

Producer Jana Hill brings a box of props out of her house to load into a truck during theater move-in day on Dec. 7, 2019. Over the years, Hill and her husband, Matt Mulkerin, also a producer, have offered their home up not only storing “Buttcracker” props and costumes, but also as a welcoming space to host other cast members and friends of the show. This year the couple hosted a Christmas dinner in their home for several of the other performers. By the end of the night, a dance party had started and the group choreographed together.

Cases of beer, bourbon and stage props are stored in producers Jana Hill and Matt Mulkerin garage before they’re taken to Erickston Theatre on Dec. 7, 2019.

Performers and crew take a moment for hugs on stage before audience members take their seats during closing night of “Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!” at Erickson Theatre on Dec. 22, 2019.

Producer Matt Mulkerin waits outside his home to load props and costumes into a truck to bring to Erickson Theatre on Dec. 7, 2019. Mulkerin and his wife, Jana Hill, plan to move to Belize once the show is over. “We are always looking for that next adventure and that next experience,” Mulkerin says. “And we know that even though we are going to be really far away, we are still going to be creating together.”

From left, producer Sara Jinks, dancers Sarah Paul Ocampo, Karen Garrett de Luna and producer Diana Cardiff rehearse at Theatre Puget Sound on Nov. 2, 2019. Jinks is 48 and has been working as a professional dancer in Seattle for 25 years. “In a sense, being an older dancer, it’s like the culmination of my career," Jinks says. "I can't do that anymore. It’s time to slow down and do something else. It’s just been so joyful to top off all of those years with just reckless abandon and pure joy.”

Producer Jana Hill watches other performers rehearse at Theatre Puget Sound on Nov. 2, 2019. Hill said she loves being able to explore and be curious with her dancing. “We obviously work our asses off,” she says.” I mean producers start in March and then the dancers start to come in August. We work our butts off to establish that dynamic and to have the moment to be free.”

Producer Diana Cardiff stretches backstage during dress rehearsal at Erickson Theatre on Dec. 12, 2019. Cardiff has been working on the “Buttrock Suites” and “Buttcracker” since 2003. “It’s kind of hitting me in that it’s not just the end of ‘Buttcracker,’ it’s the end of the whole ‘franchise’ that we did for so long. That makes it even more like wow,” Cardiff says. But she doesn’t want to stop creating. She already has an idea for an outer-space-themed show she wants to work on next. “We were just having a wrap up meeting the other day, and I was talking about the show I eventually want to do, and we just started choreographing in my apartment. Then Matt and Jana are like, ‘we are coming back for it’ and Sarah had a piece in mind and was showing it to us. It’s like ‘here we ago again!’ ” she says.

Steven Newton leads audience members in Christmas carols in the lobby of Erickson Theatre before the show on closing night Dec. 22, 2019. Producer Diana Cardiff describes the “Buttcracker” experience as much more audience-inclusive than other dance shows. “The show starts the minute people walk in the lobby,” she says. “And it doesn’t really end until half-hour after the show, when we are still hanging out in the lobby."

Producer Diana Cardiff, left, and dancer Becca Blackwell stand arm in arm during the final cast party on Jan. 12, 2020 at the Rock Box in Capitol Hill.

Cast members perform a spoof of the nativity scene during the final night of “Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!” on Dec. 22, 2019.

Producer Jana Hill hugs dancer Amy Lambert backstage before the final show at Erickson Theatre on Dec. 22, 2019. “The last night there was an amazing sense of pride, finality,” Hill says. “I was the person that would hug someone and walk away and just feel the love, because I knew if I looked them in the eyes for too long I would just start bawling, and I still had to dance for the next two hours.”

Bags of costumes sit backstage, worn for the last time during the final night of “Buttcracker V: The Last Thrust!” on Dec. 22, 2019 at Erickson Theatre.

Producers Jana Hill and Matt Mulkerin share a kiss backstage during closing night on Dec. 22, 2019. “He calls me the the yin to his raging yang,” Hill says of her husband. “He keeps me going, I keep him going and with the ‘Buttcracker.’ It’s just an amazing symbiotic thing.”

Audience members flash the "devil horns" rocker sign during curtain call for the final show on Dec. 22, 2019. “The majority of people who wanted to be there on closing night wanted to be there with us to experience that feeling of it being over,” producer Diana Cardiff says. “There was a bunch of people there who got it, who have been coming to the shows for years and knew that it was going to be a big deal and knew it was going to be emotional.”

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About the Authors & Contributors

Dorothy Edwards

Dorothy Edwards

Dorothy Edwards is formerly an associate photo editor at Crosscut.