Why Alberta Ballet’s The Nutcracker means so much to aspiring dancers
The Nutcracker, an Alberta Ballet holiday classic, introduces many audience members to ballet. But it also welcomes many young, aspiring dancers to the professional stage and sold-out performance halls for the first time. Every year The Nutcracker spells opportunity for around 100 young dancers. This year, nearly 300 children will round out Alberta Ballet’s cast for performances in Ottawa (Nov. 30 – Dec 4), in Edmonton (Dec. 8 – 11) and in Calgary (Dec. 16 – 24).
The popular ballet, featuring the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, served as an entry point into professional dance for several Alberta Ballet dancers. Sisters Alexandra and Jennifer Gibson, are in their eighth season with Alberta Ballet. They trained for their professional dance careers at the School of Alberta Ballet. They remember the chance to dance with a professional ballet company as a highlight from their school years.
The smallest and youngest students start out in the production playing Mice, as well as Party Girls and Boys (which Alex and Jennifer agree were the best roles because of the interaction with the professional dancers in those scenes).
As these students grow, dancers move into the roles of Rats and Soldiers, parts better suited to a taller student. Jennifer is sympathetic to the wide swings of emotion this year’s students will feel the first time they set foot onstage with Alberta Ballet.
Both she and Alexandra debuted in a production of The Nutcracker when they were nine.
“It was terrifying to be (dancing) with the professionals, but also inspiring,” Jennifer says.
“Being able to dance with the professional company solidifies your desire to be a dancer,” she says. “Opportunities like The Nutcracker are when you get to see the vision as reality. I remember it was intimidating. I knew who these dancers were, and like any ballet student, I followed their careers and had my favourites.”
The opportunity to be part of a professional production is a huge step for ballet students, and places them next to their dance heroes. This is especially true for the students enrolled in the academic program at Calgary’s School of Alberta Ballet, where children as young as 12 make a commitment to begin serious training for a dance career by attending the private school.
Melissa Eguchi, graduated from the School of Alberta Ballet in 2015. She spent one year with Alberta Ballet’s emerging artist program, Alberta Ballet II and is now in her first season as professional dancer with the company. When she was just 14 years old, she was weighing the kind of career decisions that most students don’t consider until the end of high school.
She decided to pursue the School of Alberta Ballet’s rigorous dance training to set her on the path for a professional dance career. The decision meant moving from her home in California to enrol in the Calgary private school. And once she settled in the new environment, she remembers feeling privileged to be a “full-time student doing ballet, all day, every day.”
Located in downtown Calgary, the school offers a unique curriculum that blends full-time dance instruction with academic instruction between grades 7 and 12. The school’s faculty includes both renowned ballet instructors and first-class academic professionals, which means a program flexible enough to accommodate exceptional dance training alongside a curriculum that prepares graduating students to enrol in any post-secondary institution.
All the same, Alexandra Gibson makes clear that students at the school are training hard and with a concrete goal in mind. “The whole drive at the school,” she says, “is to become a professional dancer.”
In 2017, Alberta Ballet will perform The Nutcracker in Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. The School of Alberta Ballet has locations in both Edmonton and Calgary. To learn about the academic stream or to learn more about its open division, visit www.schoolofalbertaballet.com.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of the Alberta Ballet.