The Nutcracker makes more than holiday spirit each year
There’s something about a first that really sticks with you, especially when the experience is full of emotion and vivid imagery. A performance of the Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker is one of these things.
Alberta Ballet’s artistic director Jean Grand-Maître had this experience when he first performed the holiday classic at age 20 with Montreal’s Les Grands Ballets, but it wasn’t quite what one may expect from a gracefully performed production of The Nutcracker.
“I was playing a parent in act one and I had a little boy. I was holding his hand and we came out on stage and the music was playing and I turned to him and he looked all stressed out. And I looked down at his feet and he’d peed—he was standing in a little puddle in his costume,” Grand-Maître laughs. “I took him off stage, we dried him up and put him right back on stage again because I knew if he didn’t go back on, he’d never go back. But he became one of the best actually because he really exploded on stage once he had nothing to lose!”
Though perhaps horrific at the time for the young dancer, it’s experiences like this that hold E.T.A. Hoffman’s holiday classic story of a young girl’s cherished nutcracker doll coming to life in a memorable place.
For choreographer Edmund Stripe, The Nutcracker reminds him of his father who would often go to the ballet in London’s Covent Garden several times per month. Stripe’s own first performance was as a soldier with the Royal Ballet School in London.
“The battle scene—the music itself is really rousing,” Stripe says. “I find it quite emotional actually, and that really stuck with me.”
There’s no doubt that the production with its masterful choreography, Tchaicovsky’s bewitching music performed by a live orchestra, and magical scene changes and costumes, is a work of art. But there’s more to The Nutcracker than theatrical magic.
It all began for the Alberta Ballet when Brydon Paige—now known for his contribution to laying a stable foundation for professional ballet in Canada—a newly hired artistic director for the Alberta Ballet in 1976, decided all ballet companies should have a nutcracker performance and somehow convinced the struggling company to spend $60,000 on putting the production together.
To give an idea of the company’s growth: at current, the Alberta Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker sits at a price tag of over $2 million. Now, the company spends about $60,000 each year to refurbish the costumes and keep them looking fresh.
In the end, the performance paid off, and contributed to the Alberta Ballet’s lasting success as a professional dance company in a place that can be at times, cut-off from the arts.
“I think almost every ballet company in North America can tell you now that they’re alive because of The Nutcracker,” Grand-Maître says. “It’s really the bread and butter.”
With over 28 performances total in four different cities this year, the crew of over 70 dancers will be celebrating the 10th season of Stripe’s nutcracker creation.
Beyond supporting the company, The Nutcracker is a “magic portal to reach new kids,” Grand-Maître says.
Each year the company works with a different group of roughly 80 kids in each city they tour to, selected to perform the roles of the notorious rats or the party-goers.
“The children never forget it,” Grand-Maître says. “They actually inspire the company dancers, because they bring a lot of energy backstage and to the theatre and inspire the dancers who might find it repetitious after awhile, but for the kids, it’s never the same.”
To get an idea of how long that history can be, he mentions Nicole Caron, who just retired from the company after 16 years. She danced over 500 nutcrackers.
Jennifer Gibson, one of twin sisters who share the role of young Klara in the Alberta Ballet production, can relate to this.
“Sometimes you get a little inside your own head as a professional dancer doing nutcracker for 12 plus years,” Gibson says. “But as soon as you see these young children—they kind of just stop moving and just stare at you—to see them get all excited about putting their costumes on and getting on stage, it re-inspires you if you’ve kind of forgotten why you keep doing nutcracker.”
Thu., Dec. 7 – Sat., Dec. 9
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Starting at $34