The Royal Winnipeg Ballet is set to perform seven shows of Nutcracker at the National Arts Centre December 4th through 8th. I spoke with André Lewis, Artistic Director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet ahead of their show.
Lewis spoke very passionately about the upcoming show and his love for Ottawa. He said “I’m from the region. I was born in Gatineau and grew up here, went to ballet school (on Rideau) and then moved to Winnipeg, joined the school and then the company (RWB).”
“We opened this show 20 years ago and it’s been such a huge success since then. We haven’t done it in Winnipeg yet. It’s a brand new Nutcracker and the NAC said they want a new premiere,” said Lewis.
Lewis has his own special connection to Nutcracker: it was his first start in ballet. “I had an uncle that was a professional dancer in Sweden and a sister who was a ballet dancer and the director wanted boys to do The Nutcracker. My mother sent the three of us (my brothers and me). My other 2 brothers didn’t stay with it. We had a great time and it was a wonderful experience. I think I was ten or eleven and that’s what opened my eyes to ballet,” he explained.
The version of Nutcracker being performed at the NAC has a bit of Canadian flair! “The show has a connection with Ottawa because of the battle scene—the castle is parliament.” I asked Lewis what an audience should look for during the show, and he said, “Well certainly, I would say, to pick out the Canadian themes. There’s a Bay blanket at one point, the Busby hat guard, a house in Winnipeg at the turn of the century. It’s a house you would find in Ottawa. We made it Canadian by having Mounted Police, and a hockey game at the very top of the show. It’s set in a big house, it can be anywhere in Canada where there is snow.”
The previous version performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was over 27 years old. “We had another version by John Neumeier that wasn’t about Christmas. We could only do it every two years. We didn’t have a battle, or a growing tree, or even a Clara, it was Maria.” So, the company created a new one, “we came up with a concept similar to what Neumeier had done. In our version, we decided to have young children, teenagers, adults. We made everyone do a lot of dancing. It’s usually prancing around more,” Lewis said. “It is a very artistic version! Gillian Yordanova did the Act II sections, and Nina Menon did the Parliament scenes, battle, and bedroom scenes.”
For those who haven’t seen the show, or don’t know much about it, Lewis offered this sweet description, “it’s about Christmas and it’s about Clara finding out about Christmas and the Nutcracker Prince. She is realizing that she is growing up. It’s a very touching story and it’s amazing how any people year after year come to see it. It brings the family together. You don’t have to be connoisseur of ballet to be an appreciator of Nutcracker.”
I have seen every performance of the Nutcracker in the last 20 years. No performance is the same. If people are just willing, it opens a beautiful world for them. Our goal is to enrich the human experience.—André Lewis, Artistic Director
His advice for new spectators of dance is “just to be open to it and accept the fact that it is there. It’s interesting because you hear from people and I hear it a lot after the show ‘I didn’t know how much I could like ballet.’ It’s like me understanding hockey…I don’t really understand it, but I enjoy the physicality of it.”
With a beautiful score by Tchaikovksy, Nutcracker is not to be missed. The ballet will be accompanied by the NAC Orchestra, who are always an absolute treat to hear!
“I have seen every performance of the Nutcracker in the last 20 years. No performance is the same. If people are just willing, it opens a beautiful world for them. Our goal is to enrich the human experience,” Lewis said. So, if you have not seen Nutcracker, or have seen it a dozen times, come and experience this beautiful Christmas classic!
The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs Nutcracker at the NAC December 4th through 8th. There are evening shows at 7pm, on the 4th-8th, and a 1:30pm matinee on the 7th and 8th. Performance runs approximately 2 hours and 4 minutes, including intermission. Tickets range from $42-$125. Very limited tickets are available here. Student Tickets are available for this performance.