Iconic images of Canada have an added poignancy in this, the year of Canada 150. Where arts are concerned, it doesn’t get much more Canadiana than the Group of Seven. Add those depictions of the rural north to a Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, and you’ve got an artistic experience ideal for the holidays.
Ballet Jörgen’s The Nutcracker: a Canadian Tradition checks all of those boxes. The production makes its way to Kitchener’s Centre In The Square December 28.
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.
The Canadian-centric version of the classic ballet has proven especially popular as the country celebrates its 150th birthday, Jörgen notes on the line from a series of performances in Ottawa.
The show also benefits from an increasing awareness of the Group of Seven, their popularity reflected in the ever-climbing prices for their works.
“It’s becoming an iconic thing for Canada, a real sense of identity,” he said of the group’s art. “Our production is sitting in a nice place.”
Along with the country’s birthday, 2017 also marks the 30th anniversary of Ballet Jörgen, which has built a national reputation for its dance programming, focusing on its original works. The Nutcracker was the group’s first full-length ballet, in fact, debuting in 1995. The Canadiana version that is now the mainstay was first performed in 2008.
Ballet Jörgen’s holiday association with the Centre In The Square dates back to the original Nutcracker show 22 years ago, Jörgen notes.
“That started the whole tradition of doing The Nutcracker with live music, with the symphony,” he said of the relationship with the venue.
It’s a tradition that continues today, one that he says really enhances the experience, especially with the great acoustics at the venue. The combination of ballet on the stage and the live music touches all the bases for those getting out to enjoy the arts.
“It’s very enriching and makes you feel very human. It’s a shared cultural experience.”
Many people agree, apparently, as The Nutcracker prompts people to return year after year, the show a yuletide tradition. There’s even a multi-generational component, with three and even four generations of family members coming out, says Jörgen.
“There are always people that do come back – they make that known to us – coming out year after year.”
Knowing that’s the case, he always makes a few changes to the production each year, sometimes large, other times small ones.
“Every year we change it a little bit to keep it fresh. We have people that come out every year and they try to pick out the changes,” he said.
The Nutcracker is often the first ballet someone sees, particularly kids, as it’s very much a family favourite.
“It’s easy on the eyes. It’s easy on the ears. And it’s got a story you can follow. It’s a good first ballet.”
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 $28-$80, available from the box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online at www.centreinthesquare.com.