By Darren Lum
After two years away due to the pandemic, the annual staging of the Nutcracker ballet is returning with a virtual show, featuring several key dances set to the music that was written by Russian composer, Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
Staged by the Heritage Ballet school and supported by the Highlands since it started in 2004, this ballet has represented what is possible when the community comes together, imbued with the spirit of the Christmas and festive season.
There’s been well over 100 people helping in any given year, whether it was the dancers who ranged in age from toddlers to teenagers up to the adult volunteers, which included parents/guardians and local celebrities that took on memorable roles such as Mother Ginger with her outrageously large dress.
This year the owner of the Haliburton ballet studio and long-time choreographer Julie Barban said offering the show on Dec. 24 that features five dances performed by several of her dancers is about keeping the seasonal tradition of the annual performance alive and to ensure the magic continues.
“It’s not just a kid’s dance performance. We have, you know, the adults in there as well. And it’s not like a dance recital. It’s not just family and friends who are coming to watch their grandchildren or whatever. It’s the whole community that comes to watch this because the whole community has kind of been involved. So, it’s just kind of a neat way to bring everybody together before Christmas,” she said.
This performance will feature her long-time and regular students such as Alyssa Morissette, 17, sister Chloe, 12, Alexis Dacey, 12, Sophie Longo, 16, Avery Bullock, 14, Lily Manning, 16. The five shortened dances are: the Snow Queen, the Chinese Tea Dance, the Arabian Dance, the Sugar Plum Dance and the Pas du casse Noisette.
It will be set at the home of Anthony and Juliane vanLieshout, who have appeared in the ballet along with their children, former students of Barban’s and Nutcracker performers.
There’s a certain symbolism in holding the performance in a home setting, Barban added.
It’s just like the setting of her students, who took dance classes in their bedrooms with the online conference app Zoom.
“They have a beautiful fireplace. It’s all decorated, so that’s going to be lovely, but it’s bringing it home to me to a whole new level because it just kind of represents what the past two years have been like with what we’ve had to do in our homes,” she said.
The Sticks and Stones Productions media company, which is part of the Haliburton County Community Cooperative, has offered the use of a video camera for this project.
Another element for this will include Heritage Ballet alumni, who will read verses from the Nutcracker poem between the dances. Thus far she has Tim Nicholson, Jordyn Archer Brown, Loretta Kerr and Jessica Bishop committed to reading.
Barban is asking for donations so she can give to the Haliburton Highlands Arts Centre Foundation, which has been working towards building a new community theatre and performing arts space. Although she is thankful for the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion, the planned theatre is expected to be larger than the current venue, offering rehearsal spaces, room for storage and is another option to avoid conflicts with how the school uses it for classes.
The idea for this virtual showcase is from last year, but Barban said there were too many details that she didn’t know how to handle then. She put it off until this year when she saw her former student Justin, who offered his creative filmmaking skills for the effort after a chance meeting at his sister’s baby shower a few months ago. The Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduate and son of Anthony and Juliane is an aspiring filmmaker and was in Glasgow, Scotland a few weeks ago for the premiere of his documentary, A Cure for the Common Classroom during the COP26 UN Climate Change conference. It was a three-year effort with 519 Films that challenges conventional school model of learning.
The Heritage Ballet alumnus said he was compelled to be part of continuing the legacy of inspiration set forth by his former teacher and the Nutcracker ballet.
“I have many fond memories in Julie’s studio, and loved being part of the community that put together the Nutcracker. I’m thrilled to be helping the show continue – even virtually – and hope to one day see it on stage in Haliburton again. While the core school subjects were able to adapt to virtual landscapes, I can’t imagine being a student and missing the in-person connections that develop through theatre and arts classes. With a little luck, small things like this virtual show will keep kids engaged, and dreaming big!” he wrote in an email.
Check the dance studio’s Facebook page for updates, but expect to see the finished show on Facebook and Youtube on Dec. 24.