This year, the Owen/Cox Dance Group is bringing its annual jazzy adaptation of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King to the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kan.
Returning to perform in the production is a powerful dancer with an explosive name: Winston Dynamite Brown. A frequent guest artist with the group, Brown says he relishes his role as the Nutcracker.
Growing into an explosive name
Winston Dynamite Brown grew up in Kansas City, Mo., he says for years, he struggled with the implications of his name.
Brown's father was a truck driver for Yellow Freight for 31 years. His best friend was a trucker named Winston Dillard, and his CB handle was Dynamite. So Brown's parents named him Winston Dynamite Brown.
"I just spend my entire life trying to live up to it," Brown says with a laugh. "I love it. It used to be something I used to shy away from as a kid. You know, as a kid you are trying to figure out who you are and maybe you don’t want to be that guy."
Over the years, Brown says he has made his name his own.
"As a dancer, I try to tap into those two things: the extremes, the subtle versus the rawness," he says. "So I’ve actually grown into it, but I struggled with it for a long time. I used to drop it off, but now I insist on using it because it reminds me that it is not only what my parents wanted me to be, but it reminds me of the dynamic range I try to present when I am working."
Putting in '110 percent of himself'
Over the last decade, he's done intensive programs with Alonzo King's Lines, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Jacob's Pillow, and danced with companies around the country, from Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company to Pilobolus.
Jennifer Owen, co-artistic director of the Owen/Cox Dance Group, says she always looks forward to working with Brown and the energy he brings to his performances.
"Winston is such a phenomenal dancer," says Owen. "We love working with him. He is just such a great dancer, very powerful, very versatile, very positive. He always puts 110 percent of himself into it. There’s a real generosity of spirit to his dancing which I love to watch. It’s rare and he’s a gem."
Working with students of dance
As part of the Nutcracker production, Brown is also tasked with working with dance students from his former school, Paseo Academy. The students, in their roles as mice and soldiers, work side-by-side with the professional dancers.
Owen says it is a unique opportunity for both the professional dancers and the students they instruct.
"It’s really great to have our professionals working with the students so they can see what it’s likes as a professional dancer in a professional environment and see the certain expectations that maybe haven’t been placed on them before, that they have to live up to," she says. "It is a very positive experience for the students every year."
Relating to the students he teaches
Brown has fond memories of his first stint in a professional production as a Paseo Academy student.
"I remember back in '96 and '97 when I was training at Kansas City Ballet how much it meant to me to be a part of that production, a part of their Nutcracker," Brown says. "It’s one of the first times I met (dancer) Christopher Barksdale, who I grew up wanting to be."
Brown says dancing in the Owen/Cox production with Barksdale, who performs as the toy maker, Drosselmeyer, is a "full circle experience for me."
"So you never know who you may be influencing, how you are influencing them," he says. "It’s nice to give them this kind of opportunity to expose them to what their possibilities could be."
Helping the students with their homework
Brown and his wife, Latra Wilson, also a dancer, have been training the Paseo students over the past several weeks preparing them for their moment on the stage.
"It can be a lot for a young dancer to walk in a room with all these professional dancers," Brown says. "You can get lost in what they are doing. So this gives them an opportunity to revel and marvel in what we are doing and then they can focus on where they need to be because they’ve already done their homework."
Owen says she looks forward to presenting their version of The Nutcracker - with new and returning dancers - each year.
"It’s a different take on a traditional classic," she says. "It’s more raucous. A little bit darker. It’s funny and it’s great for all ages."
Owen/Cox Dance Group presents 'The Nutcracker and the Mouse King' at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College, Saturday, December 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 22 at 2 p.m. 913-469-4445.