The Nutcracker has been a beloved holiday tradition in the Okanagan for 25 years now.
Filled with fantasy and magic, E.T.A Hoffman’s story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, set to music by composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, has resulted in the ballet that has captivated generations of families around the world at this time of year.
It has also been a holiday staple in both Kelowna and Vernon, as a presentation of the Canadian School of Ballet.
“In the early days, local dancers performed to the live accompaniment of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra,” recalls Vernon musician Carole Ruth, who then played first violin with the OSO. “The percussionist set up side stage with a television monitor to see the conductor because there wasn’t room in the orchestra pit.”
The show lives on to this day with new choreography and staging by the Canadian School of Ballet’s Regeanna Stubel and Carley Bailey and the participation of professional dancers from Ballet Kelowna, who have been part of the production for the past decade.
However some changes have occurred, including the show not coming to Vernon this year.
The timing of the international search for the new head of Ballet Kelowna meant the Vernon Performing Arts Centre’s 2014-15 season was already scheduled.
Ballet Kelowna’s new AD and CEO Simone Orlando started her position with the company in September and has some exciting plans in store.
“I see this community and this company as a great place to focus on promoting and fostering Canadian talent; not only dance artists but dance creators as well,” she said. “It’s my goal to have Ballet Kelowna be recognized both nationally and internationally as a thriving, innovative company.”
Ballet Kelowna, however, is offering plenty of reasons for North Okanagan residents to catch The Nutcracker in Kelowna this weekend, including the chance to see a Vernon dancer in a major role.
This year the company is breaking with tradition with the role of the Nutcracker, which is usually performed by a professional dancer from Ballet Kelowna.
Cameron Fraser-Monroe, a Grade 10 student at W.L. Seaton Secondary School, who trains at Accentz Dance Studio in Vernon, is performing as the toy soldier who comes to life as a prince, and is also dancing as the Russian soloist.
An accomplished dancer, who also performs with the Zirka Ukrainian Dancers, Fraser-Monroe has competed at the B.C. Festival of Performing Arts (in stage and modern dance) and attended the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s summer professional division this year.
Locals may remember him as Aladdin in Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastics/Cirque Theatre Company’s Aladdin’s Lamp last year and as Charlie in their performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 2010.
Performance runs in the family as Fraser-Monroe’s brother, Jonathan, is also performing in The Nutcracker, and will appear in the opening scene as Fritz (Clara’s brother) and in the Chinese dance scene.
Clara is traditionally played by an advanced student at the Canadian School of Ballet, and this year accomplished ballerina Clare Fleming of Kelowna is taking on the role.
Fleming has attended summer sessions at The National Ballet of Canada and competed a number of times at the B.C. Festival of Performing Arts and was a ballet finalist in 2014.
Both Fraser-Monroe and Fleming have been invited to the Royal Winnipeg summer professional division in 2015.
Major roles such as the Rat King, Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier are being played by the Ballet Kelowna professionals. Orlando has also brought in a guest artist from Montreal to ensure all professional roles are double cast.
Audiences are invited to share the joy and wonder of The Nutcracker with their families when it stages at the Kelowna Community Theatre Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Call the Actors Studio box office at 250-862-2867 for single tickets or visit www.balletkelowna.ca for tickets and/or information.