At first glance, the snow-powdered, tutu-clad world of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker would seem to be a universe away from the sleek, contemporary style of Ballet BC’s usual fare.
But the Vancouver company’s artistic director, Emily Molnar, reminds us that presenting The Nutcracker has been a mainstay in the Ballet BC season not only for her entire 10-year reign, but for well over a decade before that.
And for good reasons.
One is simply, as Molnar agrees, to provide a glittering holiday tradition for local families, performed by one of the top ballet companies in the country. In a unique twist, the RWB’s rendition puts a classic Canadian spin on the traditional story: look for Mounties, polar bears, the Parliament Buildings, and pond hockey.
Aside from that, the classical-ballet masterpiece simply helps make the local troupe’s cutting-edge contemporary creation possible. “Financially, there’s the importance of building audiences and young audiences,” Molnar begins, speaking to the Straight between rehearsals at her own company headquarters. “And it is a foundation for a company’s ability to take risks in other areas. For all of us big ballet companies in the country, 50 percent of our revenue comes from ticket sales, so we are really dependent on ticket sales. So The Nutcracker helps us create new work. For us not to be able to do it would be extremely detrimental.”
Has Ballet BC considered mounting its own, contemporary Nutcracker? After all, last season it staged a new Romeo and Juliet—a sleek new twist on an old story ballet—to widespread applause.
“We’ve thought about that and yes, we could do that. But is it really what people want from a Nutcracker?” Molnar says. “If we were going to do it, it would mean we couldn’t do what we are doing next.”
Molnar is referring to the fact that Ballet BC hits Madrid December 13 and 14, Luxembourg December 17, and Darmstadt, Germany, on December 19. After a brief break the company heads to Israel and then Alberta in January. Molnar has set an ambitious touring schedule for the troupe straight into early summer—and she says Ballet BC would have to cut about a third of that if it were to try to mount a holiday show.
Presenting the RWB Nutcracker has other big benefits as well. The production invites more than 80 young dance students from schools across the Lower Mainland to appear on-stage for the show.
On a deeper level, The Nutcracker offers dance fans a vivid lesson in the same kind of virtuosity that Ballet BC offers up in its programming. “There’s a reference point; when people can see more traditional classical ballet, they can connect that to the classical in our work,” says Molnar, whose dancers often build movement using the same rigorous technique and training that classical artists do.
That’s right: despite appearances, maybe the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Mouse King aren’t so very far removed from the bold, abstract work of Ballet BC after all.
Ballet BC presents the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker from Friday to Sunday (December 7 to 9).