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Ballet BC presents the Alberta Ballet Nutcracker: a wonderland of children's dreams

Jennifer Quibelll rehearsing with the young dancers involved in the Alberta Ballet's Nutcracker. Photo credit:Taryn Langeman.

For most of us, The Nutcracker is an enjoyable holiday tradition where gorgeous pageantry and balletic daring leave us decking the halls with Christmas warmth. But for the 96 children who are an integral part of the Alberta Ballet’s Nutcracker, it's an exciting opportunity to dance on stage with professional dancers.

Running from December 28 – 31 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and featuring Tchaikovsky’s glorious musical score played live by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Nutcracker kid-wrangling falls to one intrepid dance professional. Jennifer Quibell, presently an instructor at the Harbour Dancentre in Nanaimo and formerly an instructor at Vancouver's Arts Umbrella Dance, has a long history with the Nutcracker.

Her dance school as a child, the Kirkwood Academy of Performing Arts in Nanaimo, would produce a Nutcracker every second year. “I loved the whole atmosphere of being in a production,” reminisced Quibell, a graduate of the 3 year Teacher Training Program at the National Ballet School in Toronto. “I just really like the Nutcracker.”

This year the producers, Ballet BC, have agreed to more children than usual. “Generally there are two casts but this year there are three casts of Mice (the youngest group at 8 and 9 years old)," explained Quibell. “They come from ballet schools all over the lower mainland: East and West Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam.”

Choreographed by Edmund Stripe, with sets and costumes designed by Emmy Award-winning designer Zack Brown, The Nutcracker is set in turn of the 20th century Imperial Russia, an era of opulent grandeur. Because of Quibell’s expertise, the talented children and the training that the children receive from our lower mainland ballet schools, the children always end up being a highlight of the show.

“We start off with auditions early in the year and then there is the casting.  I am responsible for rehearsing all the students, getting their contact information and communicating with the parents,” said Quibell, no mean feat when you’re dealing with close to 100 children and their parents. “During the shows, I get the dancers on and off stage.”

Because there are only seven or eight rehearsals before they meet for run-throughs with the company, the chosen dancers must have technique. “They have to be trained, talented and be able to pick up quickly.”

Her process begins in her living room. “I learn the most recent version from a dvd - this is the third time I’ve done the Alberta Ballet version and it hasn’t changed that much, and then I go into the studio with the dancers. For instance, the party scene is 20 minutes long and has different dances and acting in it.”

For the youngsters, the draw of watching the professional dancers up close is huge. Quibell suggested that it’s also about “the live orchestra, the beautiful theatre, and making new friends. The kids meet dancers from other studios and at the end everyone is swapping e-mails. It’s just a lot of fun.”

Tickets for The Nutcracker can be purchased through Ticketmaster at 1-855-985-2787 (855-985ARTS or online at ticketmaster.ca and range in price from $26.50-$85 (excluding service charges). Family packs and child prices available.

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