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Dogs dance their way through 'Mutt-Cracker' ballet (Video)

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Dec. 18, 2011 at 6:18 a.m.

Mouse, the runt of the group, half heartedly rolls a ball across the floor for a treat in the new version of the Nutcracker titled the "Mutt-cracker." Austin entertainer Darren Peterson and his Circus ChickenDog feature rescued pet dogs and a macaw parrot named Lauren.

As the "Nutcracker March" echoed through a piano accordion, Darren Peterson commanded dogs Moose and Mouse to circle a parrot named Lauren Macaw.

"Hi-ya, hi-ya, step right up ... it's absolutely, positively, without a doubt, 99 and 3/4 of a percent guaranteed to be the finest show on Earth," Peterson shouted through the Englein Haus Cultural Event Center Sunday in Hallettsville, introducing his show the "Mutt-Cracker (Sweet!)."

Donning a white dress shirt, black dress pants and a glitter-red bow tie, Peterson re-enacted the story of the "Nutcracker" with Moose, Mouse, a papillon named Jingles and Lauren - the nutcracker.

An attentive audience of adolescents and adults watched the dogs dance and twirl across the stage to "Dance of Reeds," and other classics from the "Nutcracker Suite," jumping over and under boxes, and Peterson himself.

"We liked the show. I never saw dogs do ballet," said Haley Carroll, 10. "I don't know how he trained all the animals. It must have taken so much time."

"I like how he was doing the unicycle and juggling," Haley's friend, Lizzy Adams, added.

For the past several weeks, the Austin-based entertainer has been traveling around Texas with his dog-and-parrot act, promoting a special canine presentation of Tchaikovsky's beloved holiday ballet.

"I thought 'Nutcracker,' and 'Mutt-cracker,' and it sounded too good. Everything is in the name," Peterson said.

Peterson's "Mutt-Cracker" performers are normally featured in his "Circus Chickendog" act, a canine circus that originated about 15 years ago with a sheepish rescue named Chickendog.

"I really wasn't into dogs then. I had a black lab named Hefty Peterson, but I was sort of waiting for him to die so I could be dogless," Peterson laughed. "But I got Chickendog, and I was her sixth owner. She had a lot of problems, but I taught her to play Frisbee and do tricks ... and I thought, 'Throw in a few dogs and I've got an act.'"

What Peterson eventually put together was "Circus Chickendog," a full-blown circus act with five dogs and a parrot. And at the end of the month, Peterson's circus will present a more elaborate version of the "Mutt-Cracker" from Dec. 29-31 at the Vortex Theater in Austin.

The show includes five dogs, a parrot, three jugglers, unicyclists, puppets, giant bubbles, hula-hoopers and live accordion music, Peterson said.

Hallettsville City Council member Alice Summers said the "Mutt-Cracker" was all about pleasing the children and participating in family-friendly holiday fun.

"I thought it was a wonderful show. I loved the faces of the kids. That's what makes Christmas special," Summers said.



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