There is little else in the way of theatrical entertainment that says ‘Christmas’ quite like The Nutcracker.
The Red Deer College Conservatory of Ballet presents the magical show Dec. 15-16 at 1:30 p.m. plus an evening show on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. on the Arts Centre mainstage.
After more than 100 years, Tchaikovsky’s stunning musical score, set against the story of an epic battle between mice and toy soldiers, still draws holiday crowds. Over the past several years, it’s turned into a sparkling annual tradition at Red Deer College as well.
“The show this year is going back to its roots,” explains director Tania Strader, who has been involved with the annual production for 14 years.
“We are going back to the traditional. However, there are always a few surprises. I believe that we can always make something great even better with new ideas.
“There are so many dancers that come back every year, like myself, that by adding new ideas it also keeps it fresh for the cast as well.”
In the classic story, Clara receives a cherished nutcracker from her mysterious aunt Drosselmier. After everyone has turned in for the evening, strange things begin to happen. Clara watches as rats and soldiers battle for victory in an epic fight.
Clara is guided through falling snow and taken to the Land of Sweets where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy who dances magically.
Strader said some of the veterans of the cast were chatting about how they would love to be in a role again that they haven’t been in since they were kids.
“They just love being part of this magical Christmas tradition and really would be anything I needed them to be,” she says. “The veteran dancers even can remember roles that I haven’t included for years and will start dancing them when I play the music. That love for the ballet, its traditions and for our little ‘nutty family’, is amazing. Tradition is important.”
As Strader points out, in a fast-paced world where folks are in a constant rush, it’s nice to come back to something that is so familiar. This year, she’s also managing the biggest cast she has ever had.
“We have a cast of 60 dancers and range from age three to adult. We are now at the point in rehearsals where we are rehearsing scenes and not just the dances. This is when dancers start not to just do the steps but dance the steps and create the magic that the audience will see.”
Strader said that in just 14 weekends of rehearsals, her young cast has pulled off what professional companies accomplish.
“My dancers ask if I have the ‘tingles’ after I watch them dance. This is the ultimate compliment for them. If I get the ‘tingles’ that has meant I have stopped watching the dance as a director and was able to just enjoy the movements – the dancers had few mistakes, they used every ounce of their being to perform the movements, and the overall impression was a work of art.
“That is what I like the most – when all of our hard work turns the ballet from being a bunch of individual dances into a work of art and then I get the ‘tingles’.
Strader explains that it’s her love of ‘tradition’ that keeps her excited about the production and returning year after year to direct it.
“It’s always exciting meeting new dancers but it is also exciting have my regulars come back every year and see how much they have grown as artists. I love to see what the cast is capable of and the magic they can help bring to one of the most famous ballets.”
The Nutcracker ballet is based on a book called The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, published by German writer E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816.
Hoffman, a German writer, composer, caricaturist, and painter, was known for his stories in which supernatural characters reveal people’s hidden secrets. Of course, there’s the sweeping, elegant score written by Tchaikovsky as well. He began work on the project in early 1892 before beginning a tour of the United States, completing it later that summer.
Many versions of the story have been published as children’s books, and it’s been said that in his stories Hoffmann combined wild flights of imagination with vivid and convincing examinations of human character and psychology.
As a ballet, The Nutcracker made its première at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in December of 1892.
“Christmas has always been a very special time for me,” said Strader, reflecting on the show’s success. “It’s a time for family, friends, traditions and an over-abundance of good tidings and cheer. The Nutcracker allows people of all ages to experience the magic of the season with family and friends and the tradition that envelopes feelings of joy, hope and beliefs that there is still good in this world.”
Tickets for all performances are available through the Black Knight Ticket Centre by calling 403-755-6626 or by visiting www.bkticketcentre.ca.