Amongst the faces in the audience in the Goh Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Royal Theatre last year, was one delighted 12-year-old who bought herself a ticket and took in the cultural experience on her own.
This year Aleah Rodrigues will return to the theatre for the Christmas classic, but in a more demanding role. Rodrigues is one of the 60 young dancers gracing the stage with the professionals of the Alberta Ballet.
“It’s really cool to work with a professional ballet dancer,” said Rodrigues, a North Saanich resident and student of Pacific Dance Centre. “You don’t usually get to perform with professional ballet dancers everyday. When they do come, it’s a really magical experience.”
When the aspiring choreographer pulls on her palace page pink tail coat and wig this week, she’ll also be sporting more confidence in her abilities thanks to about nine hours of dance instruction weekly.
Wendy Vernon, director of the Pacific Dance Centre junior school has shaped much of that development.
Every Sunday since September, Vernon, also repetiteur for The Nutcracker, has wrangled the sheer energy of 60 young dancers from across the Southern Vancouver Island inside Dance Victoria’s Quadra Street studio. It’s not exactly a breezy task.
“There’s a broad spectrum of ages and abilities. That can present problems. Some can learn it in one rehearsal and others will learn it in 10. Keeping all of those kids excited and motivated and striving presents a certain kind of challenge, but they’re wonderful kids. They all come very keen and interested.”
For many of the eight to 14-year-old kids involved, the production is a once in a lifetime opportunity to move up to the major leagues on the Royal stage. For the parents, and first-time ballet audience members, it’s also an easy introduction to the art of ballet.
“It’s not deep, but it’s not lacking in thoughtfulness,” Vernon said. “It’s designed to be accessible for all ages and anybody who’s not necessarily coming to the performance as an aficionado, or anything. For a lot of the fathers, they’re going to come bringing their kids reluctantly, then walk away saying ‘that was really nice.’ … And let’s not forget the music. If you don’t want to watch, close your eyes. It’s a magical score with beautiful music and worth listening to all on its own.”
The young dancers join the cast from Alberta Ballet, set to the sound of the Victoria Symphony, from Dec. 6 to 8. Children are invited to play dress up with costumes from The Nutcracker at a Sugar Plum Party in the Royal Theatre lobby prior to every performance. Tickets, from $29, at rmts.bc.ca.