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Ballet captures the magic of the season

Somewhere between digesting far too much turkey dinner and starting off a new year with far too much bubbly falls another holiday tradition: The Nutcracker ballet, which makes its usual Christmas week stop at Kitchener’s Centre In The Square Dec. 28.Post_Nutcracker
Having been well received since its introduction in 2008, the Ballet Jörgen production is set against a backdrop featuring the artistry of the Group of Seven. Those world-famous images of the rural north make this a distinctly Canadian version of the traditional Christmas favourite.
“It’s the traditional Nutcracker story, but set in a Canadian context,” explains Bengt Jörgen, artistic director of the Toronto-based company, noting the tale is versatile enough to be adapted, in this case moving from its German setting to the lakefront areas that inspired the artists who became the Group of Seven. Klara and the Nutcracker Prince are still front and center, but inhabit a world that includes a wintry schoolhouse in Bisset, Ontario (a locale used by the artists) and the wetlands of Algonquin Park. It’s a Canadian landscape filled with snowflakes, Mounties, and charming woodland creatures.
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.
“We wanted to make sure that we could talk a bit about Canada,” said Jörgen of his adaptation, noting the Nutcracker story is variable, subjected to many changes over the years given that it’s not based on a specific book or established canon. “You get a frame, and you get to paint your own picture.”
Using the works of the Group of Seven as a backdrop was a way of Canadianizing the tale. The famous artists were creating at a time when Canada was developing its own identity away from Europe.
“They are tremendous images of Canada, and we try to make the ballet come alive within these pictures,” he explained.
“My goal in creating this production was to recreate the Nutcracker so it would fit in a Canadian context but still tell the basic Nutcracker story. It evolved from our old Nutcracker production which was very traditional, set in an upper middle class household in Europe. By setting our new production in a small rural community in Ontario, I was able to connect the production to a more interesting set of characters and also firmly anchor it in our own heritage.”
That aspect of the show takes on an extra importance given that The Nutcracker is a family favourite, often the first ballet young people are exposed to.
“This ballet … is a way to introduce young people to a great story,” said Jörgen.
Now an annual tradition in the area, the production regularly sees tweaks – watch for a member of Kitchener council, for instance, in the battle scene. There’s also an expanded cast of creatures.
“We always upgrade the production each year.”
Returning this year is live music courtesy of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony – “I’m really excited about it because it brings another level of enjoyment to the show.”
The symphonic sound adds to what Jörgen’s adaptation provides in the way of a more cohesive Nutcracker story that carries through the entire performance.
As with past years, Ballet Jörgen also offers young dancers a chance to take part in the presentation, recognizing how the story appeals to kids.
The Nutcracker dances on stage for two performances December 28 (2 and 7 p.m.) at the Centre In The Square. Tickets are $27-$77 for adults, $17-$77 for children, available from the box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.centreinthesquare.com.

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