Canada’s Ballet Jörgen presents a rare holiday treat in The Nutcracker: A Canadian Tradition. Here, the familiar Nutcracker story and Tchaikovsky’s beloved score are combined with distinctively Canadian elements and Bengt Jörgen’s creative choreography to generate a magical night at the ballet.
Canada’s Ballet Jörgen was founded in 1987 and remains one of the country’s largest dance companies today. The group is unique in that it performs only original choreography, and the works created here often enter the repertoires of other companies from all over the world. Another distinctive aspect of this company is its community involvement; since there are no children in the company, young dancers from local companies are selected to perform in the show. At the performance I attended in Brockville, these additions included talented youngsters from the Broadway Dance Academy, the Bread of Life Dance Theatre, and the Thrill Dancers company.
Bengt Jörgen, co-founder of Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, claims that in creating his choreography he aimed to tell the basic nutcracker story whilst incorporating a Canadian context. Instead of in old Europe, the tale is set in a rural Ontario community that would be familiar to many in the audience. The iconic forest scenes take place in nearby Algonquin Park, and feature animals such as bears, squirrels, raccoons, and loons. Canada’s mosaic of diverse heritages is also highlighted by the traditional dances from around the world that are performed in the second act. Many elements point to the distinct Canadian nature of this work, such as the animals, Mounties, and lumberjacks that replace the traditional fairies and flowers. Also, paintings by the famous artists from the Group of Seven form the backdrop of the set, combining the two art forms of dance and visual art to great effect.
As in all narrative dance performances, the individuals on stage were presented with the challenge of conveying a story and their emotions without the use of dialogue. These talented individuals did so with ease, and the Canadian version of the well-known tale was easy to follow, as elements from the original and their alterations were always recognizable. Here, the grand spectacle of the traditional ballet is replaced with the new Canadian tradition of the work’s title, and the result is sometimes kitschy but unfailingly charming. Homages to the Old World heritage of our country and the piece itself do creep in, such as the heirloom nutcracker doll Clara produces, reminding an audience that this is the same story, only altered. Since Tchaikovsky’s familiar music remains the same, the audience is afforded the pleasure of hearing recognisable musical sequences paired with a host of new dancing characters, and surprise and delight often result.
As expected, the extraordinary members of the professional company performed with grace and beauty. Coming as more of a surprise, however, was the effect of the integration of local children in with the professional adults. While the mature dancers left the audience breathless, the youngsters brought us to laughter, and a wonderful balance between the learning and the experienced was achieved. The Group of Seven artwork formed a natural background to the piece, never feeling contrived or out of place, and the costumes retained their detail and beauty even as foxes replaced fairy princesses. Repeating motifs through the two acts, such the reappearance of schoolchildren as their animal nutcracker counterpart, or the Mounties depicted as bowling pins, kept an attentive audience on their toes along with the performers.
Old traditions can be difficult to give up. With The Nutcracker: A Canadian Tradition, however, Canada’s Ballet Jörgen proves that new traditions may be equally delightful. Telling the familiar Nutcracker story in a new way, choreographer Bengt Jörgen has created a work that celebrates our magnificent country and highlights a few of its talented residents. Catch this fun and charming performance for a festive and uniquely Canadian evening at the ballet.
Photo Credits: Ballet Jorgen Canada