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Traditional story maintains the holiday vibe

Ballet Jörgen’s performance of The Nutcracker: a Canadian Tradition has become an annual staple at Christmastime

Travelling far and wide with his ballet company, Bengt Jörgen sees a resurgence in audiences for performing arts, the result of young people wanting to get out and take in live shows.

Live performances are shared cultural experience, said the artistic director of Ballet Jörgen, noting that younger people, particularly millennials, are focused on having experiences.

“Performing arts, live shows are a shared event. And there’s real events, not just digital,” he said. “It’s a very humanizing process that leaves you warm.

“I encourage everyone to get out there and enjoy … live experiences.”

That advice would certainly apply to Ballet Jörgen’s stop in Kitchener Saturday, when The Nutcracker: a Canadian Tradition appears on stage at the Centre In The Square for two shows.

The annual post-Christmas performance is now a tradition, ongoing for almost a quarter-century. It’s the traditional Nutcracker story, but set in a Canadian context, 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) circa 1912 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 company is in the midst of its longest stretch of Nutcracker performances, having had its first show of the season November 14 and running through January 4. That comes on the heels of a busy year that saw Ballet Jörgen launch Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet.

There’s some synergy between the two shows given the early-century timeframes. The dancers have a great deal of experience of evoking a time through their movements, Jörgen notes, adding great dancers can tell the story through their movements in time with the music, he said.

“Dance is a very communicative form,” he said. “Our dancers are the best at that in Canada.”

With The Nutcracker, Jörgen updated the choreography last year, and is fine-tuning it this season as the company has welcomed new dancers, including principals who are new to the Christmas classic.

“For them, it’s the first time they’ve done this show, so it brings a new energy to the shows,” he said.

The fast-paced nature of the ballet makes it a favourite for families. The Nutcracker is often the first – and sometimes only – ballet people get out to see. That works just fine for Jörgen, who is happy to see people get out for live performances of any kind.

With that in mind, the key is to deliver the kind of experiences people are looking for, Jörgen notes. Judging from audience reactions, The Nutcracker is doing just that, he added.

“We have a lot of laughs and the beautiful dancing, and a lot of happy people,” he said of the audiences.

The Nutcracker: a Canadian Tradition dances on stage for two performances December 28 (2 and 7 p.m.) at the Centre In The Square. Tickets are $30-$82, available from the box office by calling 519-578-1570 or online.

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