Separate productions of the classic winter ballet The Nutcracker have announced a record number of performances by two Sunshine Coast dance organizations, with ticket sales launched this week.
Waldorf Ballet, which is based in Sechelt, and the Sunshine Coast Youth Dance Association will each present unique versions of the ballet over multiple dates in early December.
Music for Nutcracker was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky for its Saint Petersburg premiere 130 years ago. The story is based on a short tale published at the start of the 19th century by German author E.T.A. Hoffman.
“What I love about Nutcracker is there’s so many different kinds of personalities,” said Waldorf Ballet artistic director Johanna Waldorf. “You go from a party scene where you’re talking about children and the excitement of Christmas to seeing adults like Drusselmeyer and Clara’s mother. It asks a lot of the dancers through the first act — not only their technique and dance skills, but to be real actors out there.”
The two productions follow in the deft footsteps of the Coasting Along Theatre Society, which in 2012 mounted a ballet production of Nutcracker at the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse. Coasting Along was the invention of veteran dancers Kathleen and David Holmes. Following David’s death the next spring, Kathleen oversaw annual performances at the Raven’s Cry until 2019.
Surmounting 2020 cancellations due to COVID-19, both Waldorf Ballet and the Sunshine Coast Youth Dance Association last year initiated distinct productions, at the Raven’s Cry Theatre and Gibsons Heritage Playhouse respectively.
“Performing under the banner of the association allows students from different studios to come together for the performance,” said Zoe Barbaro, assistant director of the Gibsons Dance Centre and co-director of Nutcracker at the Heritage Playhouse. “It reinforces the fact that we’re all part of a big dance family, and lets friends from up and down the Coast appear side-by-side.”
The Sechelt cast is made up entirely of students, while the Gibsons production has engaged professional dancers to perform principal roles. Instructor Marcel Tremel returns as Drosselmeyer and Vancouver-based dancer Barbara Guerreiro resumes the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Giovanni Rizzo will do double duty as the Cavalier and Snow King. Eibhlin Manatsis, a local dancer who first appeared as a mouse in the original Coasting Along shows, will star as the Dew Fairy and Snow Queen.
The Waldorf cast also features an instructor as the enigmatic Uncle Drosselmeyer: Jennifer Helland teaches at both Waldorf and Kalijo Pilates. Meanwhile, Annah Kotai assumes the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy and Sophie Cimbala will play the Snow Queen.
Each production has updated the traditional storyline for 2022. In the Waldorf version, Drosselmeyer’s nephew Hans pays a visit before being transformed into the Nutcracker. Gracelyn Mailey and Brooklyn Turner will alternate between the roles of Hans and the Dew Drop Fairy.
For the Gibsons performances, which feature tap instructor Gabriel Ditmars and hip hop specialist Connor Dixon sharing the Nutcracker role, the traditional Russian Trepak dance has been updated to a Ukrainian version.
“We felt that change was appropriate, since our company includes dancers with Ukrainian heritage, and we have students at our studio this year who are refugees from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” said Barbaro. Tchaikovsky’s original score actually uses Ukrainian folk melodies for the sequence.
The Waldorf Ballet Nutcracker runs Dec. 9 to 11 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Raven’s Cry Theatre. Tickets are available at waldorfballet.com. The Sunshine Coast Youth Dance Association version starts at 7 p.m. on Dec. 14 through 19, with 2 p.m. matinee performances on Dec. 17, 18 and 19. Tickets are on sale at sunshinecoastnutcracker.com.