A fresh take on a holiday classic is coming soon to Whistler.
Sea to Sky ballet dancers will drop by the Maury Young Arts Centre on Dec. 9 and 10 to present The Story of the Nutcracker. The show is a collaborative effort, with involvement from Pemberton Dance Studio, Mountain Movement Dance Collective and Whistler’s Dance with Jane.
Rounding out the night are professionals from Coastal City Ballet in Vancouver, who portray the memorable Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier. Funds raised by the event will go towards the Pemberton and District Healthcare Foundation.
A modern twist
The Nutcracker is one of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s greatest works and known by many outside the dance world. It tells a fantastical story of celebration, and one that tends to remain constant whether it’s performed in Canada, Russia or Australia. Yet Pemberton Dance Studio owner Anna Kroupina and her team have a diverse cast and one that does not does not perfectly fit the ballet’s traditional roles.
Kroupina decided to think outside the box, consulting with Trish Belsham of Gruff Goat Dance to adapt Tchaikovsky’s plot into a more suitable form.
“Hence the show is called The Story of the Nutcracker— we hope it can be a story we can relate to, stop and think and make a change,” Kroupina explains. “I’ve been working with [Trish] on developing the plot since February. She helped me quite a bit with twisting the plot and finding moments of interest that could be different from the original Nutcracker.
“[The narrative] could be a little bit more aligned towards our needs, perhaps speak to the problems of today and address society a little bit more. So while our show is the original, it has a bit of a modern twist.”
The main cast is composed of a dozen dancers who star in at least five scenes, and they are supported by 13 more who feature in one or two sequences. The average age of the group is 10, but experience levels run the gamut from seven-year-olds to teens like Ashanti Faith Salio-An, who represented Canada at July’s IDO World Acrobatic Dance Championship.
Young or not, these kids have been practicing anywhere from five to eight hours per week since September, and their instructors believe they are ready.
“The Story of the Nutcracker is actually an educational project,” Kroupina says. “Our auditions were open to everybody and the dancers have grown tremendously. We have dancers as young as seven performing in about five scenes, because they are capable and because they are keen. It's fascinating how fast the kids can remember and connect to the pieces and how they all feel fully engaged.
“Their hard work and dedication truly show that the magic can be done.”
“It's not even just their technique that's been developing. Relationships and friendships are really forming,” adds Pemberton Dance Studio teacher Danielle Poupart. “I saw a couple of them the other day doing this secret handshake and it was just so heartwarming. They're spending time with each other and creating these bonds that will last for so long.”
Poupart and fellow instructor Angela Waldie will take the stage alongside their pupils as a variety of characters: from rats to snowflakes to the protagonist’s mom. As lifelong ballerinas themselves, both are extremely familiar with The Nutcracker and welcome an opportunity to revisit the program in a new light.
“I've done The Nutcracker so many times, and there's definitely a period where I needed to not listen to it,” says Waldie. “Now I’m ready to look at it again with fresh eyes because the roles have changed as I’ve aged and I’m taking on different parts. It's been really great, having all those memories come back and watching the kids do very, very similar steps and roles that we used to do.”
The Nutcracker is the only major Christmas ballet out there, and as such occupies a unique place among others in the genre. Unlike other time-honoured productions like La Sylphide and Swan Lake, it balances dance choreography with colourful characters in a way that can appeal to both ballet enthusiasts and everyday audience members. The story contains archetypal themes of family, fellowship and escapism that have stood the test of time.
“What you are about to see is the full-length ballet set to Tchaikovsky—we haven’t taken any shortcuts,” Kroupina says.
Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Dec. 9, followed by another 2 p.m. matinee the following day. Find tickets online at https://pembertondance.ca/%E2%80%9Cthe-nutcracker%E2%80%9