If locally born dancer Tara Williamson is enjoying anything at Alberta Ballet, it’s variety. In October, we saw her at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, wearing studded leather chaps and a Clockwork Orange–style bowler, gyrating around as one of the Demons in the Elton John ode Love Lies Bleeding. Just a couple months later, and guess what? Williamson’s donning a frothy white tutu and tiara to dance the part of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the company’s ornate rendition of The Nutcracker. The epitome of the pretty, delicate ballerina, it’s about as far from the lewd droog antics of Bleeding as you can get.
“Actually, I would say they would be opposite characters,” Williamson says with a small laugh, speaking to the Straight from Calgary, preparing for Alberta performances of the Christmas classic before heading here. “That’s the fun of Alberta Ballet: you never know what you’re going to do!”
Not surprisingly, when Williamson was a little girl taking classes at the Richmond Academy of Dance, she dreamed of performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Nutcracker, it turns out, was the first ballet she ever went to as a child. “It does still carry the magic,” she explains, adding that she’ll also perform the role of the impossibly elastic Arabian Dancer on alternate nights. “You still get that feeling when you dance it. You know there are a lot of little girls in the audience and you do want to send that message that you are a magical, majestic person.”
It was straight from the Richmond Academy—at 17, when she graduated from high school—that Williamson went to Alberta Ballet. She had connected with Jean Grand-Maître’s troupe during summer programs at Banff, and worked her way up from a student at its school to a member of the company. She’s been there now for six years, dancing title roles in everything from Romeo and Juliet to Carmen, and it’s the variety that seems to keep her at her first professional company.
“One thing that makes Alberta Ballet stand out is that we do classical ballet and then very contemporary works, so the dancers have to be very versatile,” she says, noting that it’s not always easy. “It sets so many challenges to your body: you have to be really upright in classical ballet, as well as be able to move and travel in a contemporary way.” Luckily for Williamson, she studied not only traditional ballet, but also modern, jazz, and even hip-hop when she was younger—all of which she values now.
Even her parts in Edmund Stripe’s lushly designed, late-19th-century Russian rendition of Nutcracker show Williamson’s ability to morph from one character to another. She helped make the Arabian dance a highlight of Nutcracker when it debuted here last year, and she points out the number has a completely different mood than the Fairy’s scenes. “I love performing the Arabian because it is very calm and very sensual. You have to be really bendy and the movement is very relaxed. You have two men partnering you, so you kind of feel like an Arabian goddess,” she says. “With the Sugar Plum, it is more technical and there’s definitely an emotion I want to come across. She’s so beautiful and carries herself like a queen of the land.”
And if nothing else, it’s a role that brings her home for the holidays: Williamson will spend Christmas Eve till Boxing Day with her family, before the show hits the Queen E. stage. And you can be sure she’ll know a few people in the audience. As for the rest of us, chances are good we won’t recognize her from the Love Lies Bleeding show.
Alberta Ballet’s Nutcracker runs from next Wednesday (December 28) to December 31.