This December, Alberta Ballet celebrates the 10th anniversary of its production of The Nutcracker. The show is bigger than it has ever been, with 24 performances in three cities (last year, the company was forced to add more shows because of increased demand).
It’s safe to say that Albertans are falling in love with Edmund Stripe’s imagining of the E.T.A. Hoffman classic.
“There’s a growing community of people who mark The Nutcracker on their calendars as part of their Christmas tradition,” says Stripe, Alberta Ballet’s choreographic associate and artist-in-residence.
It’s a welcome development for a company looking to build its longevity.
“The Nutcracker is the show that funds the rest of the season and encourages audiences to see more ballet,” says Stripe.
Companies typically build their lineup on the backs of long-serving Nutcracker productions. Alberta Ballet’s reimagining of the iconic story is on track to becoming similarly influential.
For the past three seasons, The Nutcracker audience accounted for 35 per cent of the company’s annual attendance.
“Apart from Swan Lake, The Nutcracker is the most well-known ballet,” Stripe says.
The prolific choreographer is responsible for much of The Nutcracker’s magic. He strikes a beautiful balance between modern finishings and more traditional elements that pay homage to the ballet’s illustrious history.
To bring this production to life, Stripe started with the setting and worked outwards.
“I was thinking of staging the ballet in Paris but I spoke to my designer Zach Brown and we decided to set the ballet in pre-revolutionary Russia — a very opulent time when French fashions and… Faberge styles were in vogue,” says Stripe.
Brown, an Emmy Award-winning costume designer, created over 300 gowns, tutus and animal costumes.
In this production, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy’s original score guides audiences through all the magic, drama, heartache and action of the holiday classic.
The score, performed by a live orchestra, is accompanied by stunning choreography that stays true to the traditional. Stripe typically relies on Italian Cecchetti ballet method, but this time around adds a dash of Russian flair to respect the show’s original staging.
These nods to the past are offset with more modern touches. Glittering snow falls softly over the stage during The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. It’s a moment that makes audiences gasp every time.
When all roles are cast, The Nutcracker swells to an impressive 120 dancers, making it the largest production in Alberta Ballet’s repertoire.
The fact that all these elements come together to create such an enchanting ballet is nothing short of a triumph.
“The Nutcracker” opens December 6 in Edmonton, December 14 in Calgary, and will stop in Ottawa for a limited run starting November 28. Learn more here.