BY AISLINN CORNETT

The Northern Lights School of Dance studio is packed, but the hush in the room doesn’t seem to match the 60-plus young dancers filling the space.

All are focused ahead on artistic director Deborah Lemaire who, with clipboard in hand, goes over individual and group comments for the upcoming The Nutcracker production.

Her partner, co-artistic director and choreographer Rebecca Reynolds, sits perched atop the ballet bars behind her, also giving constructive criticism to the mass troupe of performers.

“I’m going to shoot you every time you do that,” Lemaire says and a chorus of laughter follows. “You’re too early. It’s eight counts; you start on the ‘and’.”

As Lemaire delegates, there’s a poignant sense of excitement. The dancers, ranging from five to 18, have been rehearsing The Nutcracker since auditions in mid-September and will soon see the production take stage.

Fourteen-year-old Jake Ruddy, who plays a harlequin doll and Russian dancer, says the gruelling rehearsal schedule is nothing compared to the excitement of the approaching performance.

Greer Vanderbyl, 13, who plays Clara, agrees. “I really like performing, I’m glad to be here for the 4.5 hours.”

Lemaire says the young and relatively inexperienced group that’s putting on this year’s annual production is the real excitement.

“The seniors are gone, so although the structure is the same, everybody has new roles,” Reynolds says of the major shift as the groups have all advanced a level.

While Lemaire and Reynolds may be Nutcracker connoisseurs, they agree you don’t have to be a dancer to appreciate the ballet story. Both have been involved with the Whitehorse production since its beginning in 2002 at NLSD. Lemaire first performed in The Nutcracker with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Reynolds with the Alberta Ballet.

“It’s not just for ballet aficionados,” says Lemaire. “It’s a story for kids and a time to enjoy.”

“Most people recognize the songs through the Christmas barrage of ads, only they don’t make the link to The Nutcracker,” says Reynolds. There’s something for everybody in this traditional production with great variety, emotional moments and, of course, a battle scene for the guys.

“It’s a great way of getting your feet wet in the ballet world,” Reynolds says.

As performers jete’ and plie’ through commands of “Smile! Point those toes!” and “Control those knees!” the transformation from hardwood studio floor to centre stage is easy to imagine. Tree angels float across the floor, rats swipe their gnarled claws through the air and Arabian dancers gracefully weave their arms overhead while a huddle of younger dancers imitate their movements in sync from the back studio corner.

Tchaikovsky’s music carries these dancers through the piece; the mood changing from light and bubbly to dark and sonorous during the span of the two-act piece which runs for two hours.

Lemaire and Reynolds say there are small changes with this year’s show like the two Clara roles and the cancan and modern incorporations, but the structure and formula are by large the same from year to year in order to run a crisp show.

Audience members can look forward to tap dancer James McCullough’s contributions as Uncle Drosselmeyer, as well as other “Yukon Celebrities,” like Larry Bagnell, Ron McFadyen and Arthur Mitchell who will play small roles.

The prince’s throne may simply be a yoga mat for now, but the props, the costumes and the dancers will come to life for public school matinées on Dec. 4, followed by Yukon Arts Centre performances on Dec. 5 and 6.

PHOTOS: RICK MASSIE massierick@hotmail.com