Over the past decade, Bella Dance Academy’s production of The Nutcracker has become a fixture on the Christmas musical scene in Yellowknife.
The popular Russian ballet, featuring Tchaikovsky’s popular music, will open Friday night for its 11th season at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre, with two additional shows on Saturday.
The cast this year will feature 112 performers, 24 of those who are adults and the rest being youth ranging from age four to 18.
Though the number is consistent with past years, there were 85 cast members last year.
Yellowknifer dropped in on Tuesday and Wednesday nights as the cast was putting the finishing touches on its performance at the NACC stage.
Throughout the evening director Phoenix Smith was reminding performers to smile, pick-up movements, shift foot positioning and adjust timing on entering and exiting the stage.
“It is a lot,” she said laughing, when asked if the crew was especially large to manage this year. “We’ve had less in the past but it’s the most in the four years since I’ve been doing the show.”
Smith said while The Nutcracker does take place every year, there are elements that change to keep the performance fresh for viewers and parts that remain the same – so to give audiences the sense of tradition and familiarity.
Of the parts that change, she said the biggest one is the casting every year and the size of the crew. She said she tries to make sure performers aren’t playing the same role each year as many performers come back year after year.
Kaydn Crossman, a 12-year-old Weledeh Catholic School student plays Clara, the central character who receives the Nutcracker doll, falls asleep and experiences the toy coming to life before travelling to the Land of Sweets.
“She has been in the show been for a while and has a beautiful smile and stage presence which is why I went for her this year,” Smith said, noting her age is important too so to retain the wonder and magic of the child experience at Christmas. “She brings so much to the stage in terms of characterization. She is lovely to work with.”
Crossman said getting the role was very special but also nerve-wracking.
“I’ve been doing the show for four years and I was really excited (to get the Clara role) but I was also really nervous because it meant I would be on stage the whole time,” she said. “It meant I would have to learn a lot of choreography.”
Crossman said she has spent about six hours every weekend working on her dance skills since September and feels the overall show is “much better than when we started.”
She plays opposite Terrence Leopold, the Nutcracker Prince, a 22-year-old who has done community theatre in recent year, but up to this show had no ballet experience, let alone with The Nutcracker.
“To be completely honest I don’t know the story at all that well,” he said, adding that Smith had asked him to audition for the role earlier in the year. “I had never done ballet before and I wanted to try something new for sure. So far it has been a very interesting experience to be surrounded by actual dancers and being the new person who has never done it all.”
Amanda Leonardis, an 18-year-old dancer, has been performing the ballet for 10 of the 11 years. She is now a teacher with the academy and it will be her last year with the show. She will be marking it by playing her long-held dream role – the Sugar Plum Fairy, who is the queen of the Land of the Sweets.
“Ever since I was a little kid that was my dream role because it was always the older kid, they were always on point and it was always the big role,” she said.
She hopes to add to the feeling of the beginning of the festive season with the annual Christmas classic.
“Since Yellowknife is so small, we don’t have big Christmas activities, so I find that the Nutcracker is the thing that kicks off the Christmas season – at least for me,” she said.
Leonardis said the event is often a traditional activity that families look forward to around Christmas.
“I know quite a few of the kids and the parents and it always feels like a big family coming together.”