The stories behind Nutcracker

As audience members at the Yukon Arts Centre allow the Christmas tradition of Nutcracker to wash over them – joined, for the first time, by an audience in Dawson City – it would be interesting to note that this is a production of the Northern Lights School of Dance.

As a school, it has many behind-the-scenes stories to tell of young people discovering dance and the role it will play in their lives.

There is Calvin Laveck, who plays the Nutcracker Prince in one of two casts and who is in his final year with the school.

“Calvin has been a great role model for the younger boys,” says Deborah Lemaire, the artistic director/principal of NLSD. “Male dancers are some of the best athletes as they are strong, agile and have lots of stamina.”

Playing the Sugar Plum Fairy, with Laveck’s Prince, is Grayson Vanderbyl.

“I’ve known Calvin and Grayson for five years,” says Lemaire. It is really exciting when you first see them come into the studio.”

This is the first time they will perform the grand pas de deux, which, in classical ballet, is the plum role for dancers and is very difficult and very technical.

“The guy needs to be strong because he needs to lift the girl above his head,” says Lemaire.

“And the girl needs to be strong on pointe.

“I had to teach Calvin how to partner a girl and I had to teach Grayson how to be partnered.”

In the other cast — “I had 70 kids audition and only had parts for 40,” says Lemaire – Jake Ruddy plays the Nutcracker Prince. And, at the age of 15 and having danced for only two years, he and his partner will perform the grand pas de deux, as well.

“It’s because he is very talented and he and Odessa have worked very hard.”

She refers to Odessa Beatty, the Sugar Plum Fairy, who has five years of experience … but she is only 11.

“That’s amazing,” says Lemaire, “to be so young and to be doing such a difficult role.

“I’m really excited to see where they go over the next few years.

“I spent a lot of time with both couples. Both girls are strong and talented and beautiful dancers.”

Another interesting story is that of Breanne Leschert, who plays the Rat Queen.

Having been with the school for 10 years, she was in the first Nutcracker, in 2002, in the days when it was a condensed version and travelled to schools. Leschert has played the role of Clara and, this year, is a teacher’s assistant.

This, too, is her last year.

Playing Clara will be Alina Lemaire, Deborah Lemaire’s daughter.

“It’s been terrific,” says Lemaire, of working with her daughter. “We have a great relationship, but it can be a bit difficult on her. I think I am a bit harder on her than anybody else.

“But she’s a great kid. She knows when we are at the dance studio, I’m the director. But at break, I’m Mom again.”

Alina asked her Mom to play Clara’s mother, and she agreed, for the Friday night performance.

Joining her onstage will be six other local celebrities as the “adult party guests”. It is a tradition that the production took to Dawson City, with the help of a grant from ArtsFund, when a cast of 47 performed at Diamond Tooth Gerties.

And, just as other dance companies have done with Nutcracker, NLSD found nine Dawson City children, between the ages of 4½ and 8, to perform.

“It is just fabulous for the community,” says Lemaire. “It is like one big party onstage.

“They aren’t just watching; they are connected.

“It is a good community feeling.”

Besides matinées for the schools, Nutcracker will be presented Friday and Saturday, Dec. 11 and 12, at 7 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. On Saturday, there will also be a 2 p.m. matinée.

Tickets are available at Arts Underground, the YAC Box Office and

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