Every Sugar Plum Fairy has years of dreaming danced into her feet. The same goes for a Clara, a Prince, or a Rat Queen. These familiar characters will appear in the Tchaikovsky favourite, The Nutcracker Suite, in Dawson City and Whitehorse this weekend and next, as the Northern Lights School of Dance brings the Christmas season into play.
The NLSD always casts two dancers for each major role. This provides a backup if a dancer is injured or ill. Equally important is the fact that this gives two dancers in the school a solid experience in the more complex roles.
Each child in a leading role in the production has worked their way up to being a Clara, a Prince or a Sugar Plum Fairy.
This year’s Sugar Plum Fairies are Grayson Vanderbyl and Odessa Beatty.
“Clara and the Sugar Plum are really big roles, and the kids really covet those roles,” says Reynolds. “These girls have been with Northern Lights for their whole dancing career. They were snowflakes and reed flutes, and they’ve been party guests in the first act. You pretty much work your way up.”
The two Princes are Jake Ruddy, in his third year with NLSD, and up-and-comer Thomas Mostyn.
“In the beginning these boys were taking hip hop and they decided to take anything they could get their hands on – jazz, ballet, modern, you name it,” says Reynolds. As their skills matured, they were able to take on the male role for the pas de deux.
The performance changes each year because it depends on the ages of the children enrolled in the school.
“Two years ago we had mostly senior students, 15 years and older, so they did a lot of those group roles and we could use the more advanced choreography,” says Reynolds. “Then we had a big influx of young kids join us. So this year we have junior and senior snowflakes, from age seven all the way to 17.”
The school has been training students for more than 20 years, and some of the advanced students have grown into the ability to perform professional-level passages, says Reynolds.
“The pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Prince has the most interesting lifts. We weren’t able to do the pas de deux until we had more advanced dancers. There’s a move called the ‘fish flop’ where you see a ballerina and a gentleman pose – that’s the pose most people think of when they think of ballet. It doesn’t look anything like it sounds, though!” she laughs.
The NLSD began with partial presentations of The Nutcracker Suite, taking it to places like Haines Junction. Reynolds joined the school in 2002, so she has seen the production grow.
“It started really small, with someone reading the first act and a handful of dancers acting out parts of the ballet,” Reynolds recalls.
“As the school expanded, we became more competent and students were able to take on more difficult roles. Gradually, we came into doing it all, and the full complement of dancers just can’t fit into the Haines Junction Convention Centre’s space.”
These days, the entire ballet is performed. “The full Nutcracker Suite cast has roles for 65 dancers, but we only have stage space for about 42 parts. So when we audition, we know some students will share the role or they’ll only do one part of a character’s role instead of all of it.”
Last year Linda Leon worked her extensive set design magic for NLSD and built a new set for the Candy Land suite, which is most of Act Two.
Leon constructed the fanciful set on rollers in four separate pieces, making them lightweight and easy to move.
It also makes the set versatile. In Dawson, two of the pieces will sit on the floor in front of the stage, adding depth to the smaller performance area.
The Dawson City production is now in its second year. It’s smaller because of the number of local dancers, but also because of the venue: the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse seats 428. The Diamond Tooth Gerties venue in Dawson is about half that size.
In Dawson, local casting will be for 8-10 Harlequins, a dozen mice, and 8-10 adult party guests. The NLSD bus will bring about 40 dancers, and the two groups will have two days to work together before the Sunday afternoon performance.
“The movements for the dolls and mice is not that intense,” says Reynolds.
“If you have a good sense of musicality and you can pick up on movement easily, that’s what we’re looking for. Last year the kids we got were great, they were perfect.”
Several Dawson kids loved being involved last year so much that they signed up for the December 5 performance weeks ago.
Arianna Rachel, now eight, was “over the moon” with the costumes, the make up, and the chance to be part of such a big production, says her mom Jackie Olson.
“Se told her sister, ‘you get picked up in the dance’ and it was an awesome experience for the whole community to have the production happen here,” says Olson. “We don’t have access to this kind of arts, so to even have a taste of it is exciting.”
Back in Whitehorse for the three-performance run at the Yukon Arts Centre, the Claras, Sugar Plum Fairies and Princes will perform with the snowflakes and reed flutes they’ve been working with all fall.
In both towns, the familiar strains of the Nutcracker Suite will leave kids and parents with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.
Enjoy The Nutcracker Suite in Dawson City at Diamond Tooth Gerties at 3:00pm on Sunday, December 5 (Adults $10, kids $5); and in Whitehorse on December 10 and 11 at 7:00pm, with an additional matinee on December 11 at 2:00pm ($18 adults & youth; $12 seniors and children under 10).
Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.