September 26, 2018

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Nutcracker, a Christmas tradition for RWB, tries to be a little different every year

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2015 (1012 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As a snowy deluge turned the city into a winter wonderland, groupings of snow-white tutus lined the interior of the Graham Avenue studio space where the dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet were busy rehearsing for their annual production of Nutcracker.

Two sets of performers prepared to give short teasers of a couple of scenes from the iconic ballet, and as they leaped, lifted and twirled, showing off muscles in places it doesn’t seem possible to have muscles, it was shocking how easy they made the choreography look.

The show opens tonight at the Centennial Concert Hall, so there isn’t much preparation time left, but artistic director André Lewis isn’t concerned — he knows his dancers are as professional as they come and will be ready when the curtain rises.

“They’re from the RWB — what else should I say?” Lewis says. “They’re fantastic artists and they do so well. Every year, they grow and get stronger as artists.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2015 (1012 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As a snowy deluge turned the city into a winter wonderland, groupings of snow-white tutus lined the interior of the Graham Avenue studio space where the dancers of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet were busy rehearsing for their annual production of Nutcracker.

Two sets of performers prepared to give short teasers of a couple of scenes from the iconic ballet, and as they leaped, lifted and twirled, showing off muscles in places it doesn’t seem possible to have muscles, it was shocking how easy they made the choreography look.

Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Katie Bonnell and Thiago Dos Santos rehearse the Arabian dance scene from the Nutcracker in the RWB studio.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancers Katie Bonnell and Thiago Dos Santos rehearse the Arabian dance scene from the Nutcracker in the RWB studio.

The show opens tonight at the Centennial Concert Hall, so there isn’t much preparation time left, but artistic director André Lewis isn’t concerned — he knows his dancers are as professional as they come and will be ready when the curtain rises.

"They’re from the RWB — what else should I say?" Lewis says. "They’re fantastic artists and they do so well. Every year, they grow and get stronger as artists."

Though the performance is an annual event, Lewis says the company tries to add new things to the ballet every year to keep the production feeling fresh.

"Last year we added polar bears; this year we changed a few things. There’s always little additions every year," he says.

Katie Bonnell, a member of the corps de ballet, is thrilled to be part of Nutcracker for the fifth time with RWB.

"Nutcracker is one honestly one of my favourite ballets to do... I could never get bored of it," the dancer says. "The music is stunning, it’s such a family-friendly ballet to come and see, and the characters are wonderful."

Bonnell also notes performing Nutcracker every year has its benefits. She says it’s a good way to track her own personal progress as she tackles roles she has danced in the past, such as the Arabian pas de deux in Act 2.

"I had the opportunity to do it last year, both in Winnipeg and on tour, and I think performing it so many times last year has given me a bit more confidence in the role, so I’m more comfortable and sort of know what to do if something goes wrong onstage," she says with a chuckle.

The 24-year-old dancer will be covering several different roles in this year’s production, including Filbert the Bear, a snowflake, a sugar plum fairy, a parent and a Spanish dancer, in addition to her place in the Arabian pas de deux.

Another annual tradition sees the RWB inviting a host of guest stars to take turns joining the dancers onstage during Nutcracker’s party scene. This year, guests include CTV’s Eleanor Coopsammy and Terri Apostle; MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson; Lloyd the Intern from 103.1 Virgin Radio; Travel Manitoba president Colin Ferguson; Chris D. of ChrisD.ca; Wab Kinew of the University of Winnipeg; the Winnipeg Free Press’s own Miss Lonelyhearts, Maureen Scurfield; chocolatier Constance Popp; and twins Ashley Nicole and Jenna Rae Illchuk of Jenna Rae Cakes.

The sisters say they have no dance experience (other than a few ballet lessons as children) and are thankful no actual choreography is involved in their walk-on role.

"We’re not dancing, thank goodness," Ashley says with a laugh. "We had one walk-through Sunday to see all the dancers perform the scene and to see where we’re going to be... not getting in their way, hopefully."

Despite their lack of stage experience, Ashley says they couldn’t turn down the chance to be part of such a long-standing Winnipeg tradition.

"It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," she says. "I think it’ll be a really good opportunity to see it from a different vantage point, behind the scenes — they were saying when you’re in the wings about to go on, it’s cool to see everything that actually goes into a production like that. We’re just really excited to be a part of it."

That feeling is not limited to the guest stars. Bonnell and Lewis say the ballet has become a mandatory holiday event for many people, perhaps because it’s the perfect show for families to attend together.

"I think it’s just such a Christmas tradition," Bonnell says. "There’s something so magical about taking your kids to see their first ballet and it being the Nutcracker. Once you’ve seen it once, you can’t help but want to see it again."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @Nirerabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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