Youth driven ‘KOLA’ aka ‘Black Nutcracker’ returns after pandemic hiatus

KOLA-aka-Black-Nutcracker-dancers-of-Peoples-Conservatory, Youth driven ‘KOLA’ aka ‘Black Nutcracker’ returns after pandemic hiatus, Culture Currents Local News & Views
Young Oakland dancers at the People’s Conservatory prepare for their roles in “KOLA – Oakland’s Very Own Afro Diasporic Remix of The Nutcracker.” 

by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey 

Winter is a season that usually brings families together. In nature, as it gets colder, historically humans have had to pool their resources to survive in societies all over the globe. So after a two-year pandemic, which included a long period of lockdowns, many local Black and Brown youth have not been able to participate in the performing arts because of Covid concerns. 

Prior to the pandemic, Rosalyn Nash, her team of educators and artists, many of whom used to work with her at Roses in Concrete Community School, developed a script out of the bones of “The Nutcracker” ballet to create a performance piece that is more relatable to the lives of Oakland’s Black and Brown youth. Luckily, “KOLA” aka “The Black Nutcracker” is finally returning to the stage, but they are in need of the money that it will cost to fund this youth production. I talked to Rosalyn Nash of the People’s Conservatory to update us on what is going on locally for the holidays. 

JR Valrey: What is “KOLA”? When was it conceived and who conceived it?

Rosalyn Nash: “KOLA”was first titled “The Black Nutcracker,” and it was an idea that was born at Roses in Concrete Community School. We created a really fun ballet-meets-hip hop-meets-capoeira piece that took the leitmotif of the Nutcracker Suite and put hip-hop beats and trap music undertones underneath it to create something more vibrant and fun and relatable to our students. 

“KOLA” was first an idea that I had knocked around with a colleague named Lauren Adams (Sol Development) when we were still teaching at Roses in Concrete. However, the full fleshed-out script happened with Ryan Nicole and Jennifer Johns. The three of us were able to build a new narrative based on the bones of “The Nutcracker” that strived to represent our community. It took us about a year to create the entire script from start to finish. Then we produced the show in four months.

JR Valrey: How did the community respond to KOLA’S inaugural performance?

Rosalyn Nash: The Oakland community really showed out for KOLA’s first run. We were able to present the show to over 3,000 people. Many of our families and students are returning, as well as much of our staff. People have been waiting for this event as we were forced to go into hiatus during the pandemic.

JR Valrey: What is needed financially for the KOLA performance to happen this year? Where will the money go?

Rosalyn Nash: We need to raise $30,000 to cover all of our teaching artist fees, choreographers fees, set designers fees, costume designers fees, composers fees, costumes and props, stage and theater build out, and snacks and drinks for the children throughout the process.

JR Valrey: What is the People’s Conservatory and what does it do?

Rosalyn Nash: The People’s Conservatory is a nonprofit organization that supports bringing elevated arts and cultural  learning to primarily Black and Brown youth in underserved schools.

JR Valrey: What is important about having youth see and participate in a Black and Brown version of the Nutcracker? 

Rosalyn Nash: It was actually my own children who challenged me to create this version of the nutcracker. I had taken them to see The Nutcracker for years, and I remember at one point they looked on the stage and said, “Mommy, we feel like you could do something much better than this. And you could do something with our kids.” 

And I knew exactly what they meant by that. And they were right. It was something that we could do and that we should do. It’s really important for our babies to see themselves on stage and know that they can achieve anything they put their minds and bodies to.

KOLA-by-Peoples-Conservatory-1215-1822-poster, Youth driven ‘KOLA’ aka ‘Black Nutcracker’ returns after pandemic hiatus, Culture Currents Local News & Views

JR Valrey: What is the importance of youth being involved in performing arts?

Rosalyn Nash: I’ve been a child of the performing arts since I was 3 years old. So I live, eat and breathe it. And I know what it has done for me in my life and what it can do for our babies. 

I’ve worked with many different populations of children, and one thing that I can say for sure is that the arts are an amazing way to support a variety of learners, and give them the opportunity to express themselves in nonlinear ways. It’s absolutely essential, particularly for our BIPOC  children, to have a breadth of exposure to the arts in all of their forms.

JR Valrey: How have youth performing arts programs been affected by the pandemic?

Rosalyn Nash: Like many things, it’s been very difficult to provide performing arts access to young people. We pivoted and did a lot on Zoom, but there’s only so many folks that have access to computers and the Internet, and you end up losing a lot of your babies in the process. So coming back together for KOLA has been not only a great arts experience, but it’s been a great homecoming community experience, as many of our young people have not had a chance to be together for so long.

JR Valrey: Once the money is raised, where will the KOLA performance be held?

Rosalyn Nash: The KOLA performances will be held at Agency Oakland, which is an arts and culture venue that I co-founded with my business partner Assan Jethmal.

JR Valrey: How could people get more info about KOLA and the People’s Conservatory? 

Rosalyn Nash: All information can be found on our website at as well as on our Facebook and IG pages, which are also @thePeoplesConservatory. We look forward to seeing everyone there!

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at or on Facebook. Visit to read more.

PHOTO (no caption): KOLA by People’s Conservatory 1215-1822 poster