At this time of year, Alberta Ballet dancer Jared Ebell is fully immersed in the world of The Nutcracker. But, growing up on Vancouver Island’s east coast, he was more familiar with salmon lures and surfboards than Sugar Plum Fairies and Mouse Kings.
“I do remember seeing one Nutcracker as a kid at one of the local schools,” says the Nanoose Bay–raised dancer from Edmonton, where he’s starring as the magician Drosselmeyer in his company’s production of The Nutcracker before it hits Vancouver. “But it really wasn’t part of my family as a kid. We were usually too busy fishing and surfing. I came from a classic West Coast family—one that was really outdoorsy.”
That said, Ebell was able to find the nearby Parksville Ballet School by age six, a facility that trained him in a range of styles and gave him a good base in the technical skills he would later pursue with such passion.
“After every day in school I’d go to the Parksville Ballet School till 8:30 at night. It was a good little school—and a good opportunity because, obviously, when you’re one of the only guys on Vancouver Island doing dance, you get a lot of attention,” he says with a laugh.
Ebell, who loved the dance forms of musical theatre as much as any other at the time, stresses: “I never thought I’d be a ballet dancer. They did tap, jazz, modern, all different styles. But [teacher] Ms. [Linda] Klassen was adamant that to do any dance you had to do ballet. So usually I had a ballet class every day, and then another style of dance.”
At 17, Ebell embarked on what he calls a career-changing year at Arts Umbrella. Heading across the Strait of Georgia to move in with his cousins at the corner of King Edward Avenue and Cambie Street, and enrolling in part-time courses at Magee Secondary School, he was looking to boost his ballet skills to “make it in the dance world”. What he found was new motivation through Arts Umbrella’s dance-program artistic director, Artemis Gordon.
“Artie could see I had a lot of potential and I was eager, and she really took me under her wing,” Ebell recalls. “She encouraged me to keep going. I always remember her saying, ‘You just gotta do the work. Just keep going.’ It was crazy: I improved so much in one year.”
That led to full-fledged training at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School the next year, where, the affable Ebell remembers, despite all his progress, he was still playing catchup in studios where others had been rigorously classically trained for most of their lives. “There were kids half my age and they could lift girls over their head better than I could,” he says with another laugh. “But that work ethic stuck with me. That’s what I’ve learned: try not to waste a minute of your career!”
It’s clear all that work has paid off. And, interestingly, Ebell now finds himself in a company that has such a wide repertoire that he’s able to draw on everything from his musical-theatre acting skills to edgy contemporary movement. This season, Calgary-based Alberta Ballet is staging everything from Cinderella to a work set to the music of the Tragically Hip, called All of Us.
It’s no surprise that Drosselmeyer, one of The Nutcracker’s most intriguing characters, is such a kick for the diversely talented Ebell. “It’s just a fun, eclectic little role where you get to embrace your craziness a little bit and make it your own as well,” he enthuses. “The Drosselmeyer in this one is a little more eerie and otherworldly.
“I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration this year from watching Johnny Depp doing Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But it’s also great to watch [George] Balanchine doing Drosselmeyer and stuff like that.”
Ebell has already performed the extravagantly staged, Imperial Russia–set Nutcracker in Victoria, where family, friends, and his first ballet teacher all came to cheer him on, and he looks forward to bringing it to Vancouver so more of his pals can catch it.
And it won’t be till after this year’s Nutcracker is done its holiday touring season that he’ll get to put his ballet slippers aside to catch some R&R back at his family home on the Island.
“That’s when I do lots of fishing and I’ll be able to fill up my freezer in Calgary,” he says. And as for surfing, these days, because he can’t risk injury at his professional level, he’ll only go out on the smaller crests.
The big waves? “I’ll keep those till after I retire.”
Ballet BC presents Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre from December 28 to 30.