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The Nutcracker is a true holiday tradition

Searching around for a last-minute gift for the family? Or maybe for something to do during the break that is Christmas week? There’s one option that’s loaded with tradition: The Nutcracker ballet, which pirouettes into the area Dec. 28. The Nutcracker is, of course, synonymous with Christmas. It’s often the first – and only – ballet we’re exposed to. The dancing, music and vibrant costumes and sets have made it a captivating performance for ages. Bengt Jörgen, choreographer of the Ballet Jörgen Canada production coming to the Centre In The Square next week, sees that reaction from a wide-eyed audience at each performance. The kids, in particular, are spellbound.

Realizing the place The Nutcracker holds in the pantheon of classic ballets and its enduring appeal to families, Ballet Jörgen pays extra attention to the details.

“We want something kid-friendly, something where they can get mesmerized by the story … that speaks to them. We spend a lot of time on this production so that it really holds their attention,” said Jörgen from his Toronto office Wednesday during an interlude between performances in Ottawa and Guelph.

LET IT SNOW The Snow Queen and the Cavalier (above) and Klara in the woods with the Nutcracker perform in front of Tom Thomson’s Snow in the Woods during The Nutcracker, a Canadian Tradition.

As has been the case for that past few years, the show is the traditional story with a Canadian twist, drawing on the images of the Group of Seven and the Algonquin Park scenery that inspired them.

“I wanted to create a production connected to Canada and relevant to the communities we work in, beyond its traditional holiday format.

Transcribing the traditional dances of the second act into dances from creatures of Algonquin Park has been particularly enjoyable and will bring a fresh look to an old favourite,” said Jörgen of The Nutcracker, a Canadian Tradition.

Choreographed by Jörgen to Tchaikovsky’s familiar score, this distinctly Canuck adaptation evolved from a collaboration with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, which has allowed three of the great 20th century Canadian landscape artists to be featured: Franklin Carmichael (Church and Houses at Bisset, 1931), Tom Thomson (Snow in the Woods, 1916) and L.L. FitzGerald (Trees and Wildflowers, 1922).

In addition to the traditional Nutcracker characters, this version has added loons, birches, dragonflies, beavers and squirrels, among others.

The ballet’s second act is noted for its celebration of dances (various nationalities in the original). This Nutcracker follows that tradition, but places the second act in a Canadian summer setting with trillium flowers, raccoons, loons, dragonflies, bears, Mother Spruce, and a grand pas de deux danced by the King and Queen Birch.

“Every year we add a few little things to keep it fresh,” he explained. This time around, a new character has been added to the battle scene, there’s some new choreography and vibrant costumes.

Ballet, he said, is always evolving – “it’s a living work of art.”

The Nutcracker, a Canadian Tradition takes to the stage for two performances Dec. 28 (2 and 7 p.m.) at the Centre in the Square. Tickets are $32-$75, available from the box office by calling 578-1570 or online at www.centre-square.com.

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