You could say Tania Strader knows The Nutcracker from inside out.
Strader is directing and choreographing this year’s production of the beloved Christmas-time ballet. But 25 years ago, when she was a 10-year-old dancer, Strader performed in the Alberta Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker in Red Deer.
“I was a (toy) soldier and a reindeer, and it was quite an experience!” Strader recalled.
“Obviously I learned how much work goes into it,” added the RDC Conservatory of Dance instructor on leave, who’s overseeing the show that runs Dec. 19 and 20 at the RDC Arts Centre.
The Nutcracker story captivated Strader when she was a child and she believes it holds as much appeal for adults. “The magical scenes (correspond) with the magic in people’s lives over the holidays,” she said. “It’s a tradition and we like coming back to what’s familiar.”
Over the years, The Nutcracker ballet has become as entrenched a part of Christmas as Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or Franz Gruber’s carol Silent Night.
The fantasy ballet was adapted by Tchaikovsky from a children’s story by E.T. Hoffman. While the composer was initially unenthusiastic about taking on the project commissioned by the Imperial Theatre, he later warmed to the fantastical tale of toys seemingly springing to life on Christmas Eve.
The two-act ballet begins with young Clara (played this year by 12-year-old Emily Fonda), getting a Nutcracker toy for Christmas. The gallant Nutcracker later battles the evil rat king. And once the despotic rodent is vanquished, the colourful inhabitants of the Land of Sweets, including the Sugar Plum Fairy, celebrate their freedom.
This year’s elaborate RDC Conservatory of Ballet production involves 45 children, 10 adults and lots of sparkling costumes.
Strader promises quite a few new outfits this year, including ones for French Bon-Bons and Russian Dancers. (The latter’s roles were formerly filled by Candy Canes.)
As few males are involved in the production, instead of having an Uncle Drosselmier character, there will be an Aunt Drosselmier who has travelled the world — thereby providing a plausible spark for Clara’s fantasies about Chinese Teas and Russian Dancers, said Strader.
Most of the cast this year are between seven and 12 years of age, so she had to rearrange some choreography to fit the skills of the younger dancers.
But there will still be some dancing en pointe from Kelsey Chantel, 18, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and from Fonda’s Clara.
Strader said she is very proud of her cast. “They really surprised me with their hard work — they’ve really made it come to life.”
The Nutcracker is on at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19, and Sunday, Dec. 20 (also 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 20). Tickets are $17 ($15 students/seniors) from Ticketmaster.