Tiptoeing into tutu mode for Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker
Last month, Alberta Ballet dancer Nicole Caron was on the Queen Elizabeth Theatre stage wearing a gauzy slip, moving sensually to the sounds of Sarah McLachlan in Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Before that, she helped premiere the new k.d. lang–inspired Balletlujah! in Cowtown, in a lead role that found her kicking up her heels on-stage for almost the entire production. But this month, the Vancouver-raised dancer makes a dramatic switch, transforming into the ultimate tutu ballerina as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the company’s glistening, czarist-Russia-set Nutcracker. But such extreme shifts are just a part of dancing for Alberta Ballet, which pirouettes fearlessly between contemporary and classical worlds.
“Putting a tutu back on is definitely a challenge,” admits the 12-season veteran of the company, who has just landed in Victoria, the first stop in AB’s annual Nutcracker tour. “It’s just a matter of working in class: it’s quite a challenge for the body to retrain. It’s getting back to the basics—that perfect first position.”
Caron adds that the costume certainly helps put her in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy and other parts she’ll dance for this version: “As soon as I put on that tutu I feel more classical. Whenever you get that costume on, you start feeling more in your role. You feel yourself shifting and pulling up. We always wear a practice tutu every day so we can feel our posture.”
At least Caron can rely on a muscle memory that goes deep when it comes to The Nutcracker. Born in Abu Dhabi, she moved to Canada at two and by eight was taking serious ballet courses at the Richmond Academy of Dance.
“Growing up, I was always doing Nutcrackers. [Utah’s] Ballet West came out and auditioned children, so I was a party child in their production of The Nutcracker, and Richmond did it as well,” she remembers. Speaking of the Vancouver kids involved in the Alberta Ballet staging, she adds: “That’s why it’s so neat seeing those local children and how excited they are to be in the show. Even though we do this every single year, it’s fun to see the families and the children involved. I remember being in the Queen E. Theatre for the first time as a child and what a huge stage it seemed to be.”
In the days just after Christmas, that stage will be turned into a Russian winter wonderland in the opulent, $1.5-million production. One of Caron’s favourite scenes is that of the so-called Snow Czarina and her dancers, complete with sparkly white flakes, arctic wolves, and dancers in long, classical white tutus.
Caron really gets her chance to shine, however, when she dances the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the second act, amid a set gilded like a Fabergé egg. Among her most difficult variations is an endless series of fouettés. Caron admits she’s exhausted afterward.
The scene takes its toll in other ways, too, as it turns out. Caron reports the gorgeous scrolling design on the show’s special dance floor is murder on the pointe shoes. “It’s painted and it rips our shoes like crazy,” Caron reveals. “Normally, we can maybe do a couple shows with pointe shoes, but in this one we’re lucky to do one pair a show—and they’re $100 a pair.” Apparently, Alberta Ballet spares no expense for its czarist wonderland.