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Royal Winnipeg Ballet's The Nutcracker returns for five performances

Dance Victoria will stage a live version of the seasonal favourite for the first time in three years this weekend.

THE NUTCRACKER

Where: Royal Theatre, 805 Broughton St.
When: Dec. 2-4, 7 p.m.; Dec. 3-4, 1 p.m.
Tickets: $61.50-$119 from the Royal McPherson box office (250-386-6121) or rmts.bc.ca

The Nutcracker has returned.

Dance Victoria will stage a live version of the seasonal favourite for the first time in three years this weekend, which has audiences engaged.

The majority of tickets to all five Royal Theatre performances of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet production are effectively sold out, with only single seats remaining. Dance Victoria has not presented the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s version since 2018, so demand has been considerable, accroding to Gillian Jones, executive director of Dance Victoria. “The community has been really rallying behind it,” she said.

The lead-up to Nutcracker weekend has been extra exciting for Jones, who joined Dance Victoria as executive director in July. Though she was raised in Victoria, the Claremont Secondary graduate spent the previous nine years at the Edmonds Center for the Arts in Washington State, where a touring production of the Christmas favourite was mounted on a much smaller scale each year.

Though versions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic tale are performed in cities worldwide each December, she’s eager to see The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s much-lauded version, which is told through a Canadian lens. Canuck-specific elements like polar bears, Mounties and a hockey game are written into the story, which makes the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production among the biggest of the year for Dance Victoria. With 27 company dancers from Winnipeg, 45 members of the Victoria Symphony, and 72 children from local dance schools in the Nutcracker Ensemble, there’s a total of 180 people — including 35 backstage crew — involved with each of the five performances this weekend.

“The scale of it, the sheer number of people in front of and behind the scenes, to put the production on the stage, is huge,” Jones said.

KerryLynn Turner of the Victoria Academy of Ballet has been leading the dancers in the children’s ensemble through rehearsals in recent months, which has upped the excitement level around the Dance Victoria studio, Jones said. That buzz has carried over to all facets of the production, weeks ahead of opening night. “It is this large-scale production, but it is very much rooted in community,” Jones said. “That’s the exciting part, and what people locally are getting behind.”

The Nutcracker was revitalized in 1999 for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, with choreography from former Boshoi Ballet ballerina Galina Yordanova and Nina Menon of the National Arts Centre. That is the version that will be performed this weekend, with an extra element of intrigue as far as the young dancers are concerned. Josh Hidson, Tymin Keown and Mackennzie Mount all trained as amateurs in Victoria before becoming professionals with the Royal Winnipeg, and will return this week to their one-time home bases.

“I’m sure the opportunity to be on the Royal Theatre stage is a big deal for them, coming from Victoria,” Jones said. “Victoria is such a great environment to grow up as a dancer. There are a lot of resources and mentorship opportunities to really thrive here as a dancer. That is something we’re all taking pride in, seeing that change in the climate.”

There has always been a strong charitable aspect to Dance Victoria’s annual production of The Nutcracker, and that will not change this year. The company’s Nutcracker Kids program, which turns individual donations from the community into tickets for a variety of family service agencies, resulted in a record number of complimentary tickets this year, with help from $15,00 in additional funding from the annual Times Colonist Christmas Fund campaign.

That is a meaningful part of the production, above and beyond the quality of dance that is being presented. “Being able to make The Nutcracker possible for a child or family who might have some financial barriers, I think that really touches people,” Jones said.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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