With the holiday season approaching, the city is stringing up Christmas lights, stores are stocking up on Christmas goodies and the Northern Lights School of Dance is getting ready to once again stage its rendition of Tchaikovsky’s iconic ballet, The Nutcracker.
It’s a Whitehorse tradition. The show has been performed every Christmas since 2002.
After so many years it can be a challenge to keep the show fresh, said Julio Hong, the artistic director of the school.
“Especially for these girls,” he said gesturing to the dancers arrayed behind him, all members of Young Ballet of Yukon, an emerging artist program the school offers to its graduates.
“This will be 11 years for some of them, dancing The Nutcracker,” said Hong.
But with so much practice, the dancers’ techniques and interpretations have come a long way, he said.
“Her sugar plum 11 years ago is not the same as today,” said Hong, singling out one of the dancers. “It’s just being able to push it and push it.
“Today her sugar plum is probably one of the best sugar plumbs I’ve ever seen. It’s the same thing for every single solo.”
To help keep it fresh, Hong invited three different choreographers to collaborate on this performance.
“You can see the difference and create a balance in the show, which is very good for the artists,” he said.
Hong also asked Cesar Corrales, a professional ballet dancer, to come up as a guest performer.
Corrales, 16, has an impressive resume for someone who’s only been dancing for four years.
He’s performed with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, the National Ballet of Canada and recently starred in Billy Elliot the Musical in both Chicago and Toronto.
Corrales has danced The Nutcracker before, but with this performance there’s a chance to be a little more creative with the technique, he said.
“You can add some of your own stuff,” said Corrales. “There’s three people doing the choreography, so it’s nice to play around sometimes.”
Born in Mexico City to Cuban parents, both ballet dancers, Corrales now lives in Montreal.
This is the first time he’s ever been to Whitehorse.
“It’s different from Montreal,” he said. “It’s much colder, but it’s nice.
“It’s very laid back and I’m having fun.”
Corrales didn’t come up on his own. His mother, Taina Morales, came with him.
An accomplished ballet dancer in her own right, Morales will be teaching a masters class at the school while her son performs this week.
“For the school it’s a real pleasure to have (Morales) here with us,” said Hong. “She’s probably one of the main ballet teachers in Canada.”
It was Hong who convinced them to come up to Whitehorse.
Hong and Morales have been friends for years. They both performed together in their home country, Cuba, and they both ended up making their homes in Quebec.
Hong splits his time between Whitehorse and Montreal. He’s been working as an instructor with the Northern Light School of Dance for a decade but only took over as artistic director this year.
While Hong said he saw bringing Morales and her son up as a fantastic opportunity for Whitehorse, Morales saw it as a great opportunity for her son.
“It’s very good for Cesar because he was in New York, in Chicago, performing in big theatres and in big cities, but I think, as part of the education of a dancer, it’s important to go everywhere and see how schools and young companies behave,” she said. “I think this is going to be part of his growing as an artist.”
Morales never pressured her son to become a ballet dancer. In fact, she kind of discouraged it, enrolling him in gymnastics, soccer, acting classes – everything but ballet.
“Usually ballet dancers want to bring their kids to it very young; I tried to do the opposite,” she said. “Because he grew in a family of dancers, he grew in ballet, in studios, in theatres, on tour with companies, so that was part of his life – I wanted him to try other things.”
And he did.
“I played soccer, I loved soccer, I was going to stay in soccer until I needed to make a choice,” said Corrales.
But, in the end, he chose ballet.
“I kind of had it in my blood,” he said.
The Nutcracker opens at the Yukon Arts Centre with a matinee on Thursday, followed by evening performances Friday and Saturday.
Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth seeing again, said Hong.
“The Nutcracker I’m presenting this year is at the same level as what could be presented in New York, in Montreal, in Paris.”
And while it might be a decade-old tradition, it will still be fresh.
“For sure we have something new to offer and for sure we have something to share with the community,” he said. “It’s not only about dance, it’s about a philosophy, it’s about creating a magic Christmas.”
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