The Nutcracker hits 15th year
By Darren Lum
Published Nov. 20, 2018
See the splendour and hear the iconic music of the annual showcase of ballet talent the Highlands has to offer in Heritage Ballet's presentation of The Nutcracker at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion the first weekend of December.
The show’s public relations manager Tanya McCready, who is a mother of one past dancer and one current dancer, loves the show choreographed in large part by Heritage Ballet’s Julie Barban for its spectacle and how it unites a community.
When McCready first saw the performance with her husband, Hank, she remembers being in awe of the sheer scale of how many people it took to stage the show.
“We were both blown away by the scope of the production. It’s the largest production in Haliburton County. The costumes. There are over 200 costumes in it. The fact there are so many children. I think of 80 or 90 cast members there are over 70 children,” she said. “The fact that this is all brought together in basically over weekends of two months. The professionalism of the production is quite shocking if you’ve never seen it for small town. It’s amazing what Julie [Barban]
has put together.”
From the young dancers, starting close to two years old, to the support of adults behind the scenes and in the darkened wings of the stage, this event celebrating its 15th year is a true community event.
McCready, who has 13-year-old Michaela McCready-DeBruin performing this show, said for repeat viewers it helps kick off the holiday season to get into the spirit. She adds it is rewarding to see the previous year’s dancers in new roles and being able to see how their skills and composure have developed.
Claire Karaguesian is one dancer that has grown up with the show, appearing in them all. She started as a mouse in the performance and as her skills developed so did her roles. This year she takes the stage as the snow queen.
The captivating costumes that glitter and shine under the stage lights have been the work of local resident Dani Smolen, who has been there since the beginning.
McCready said Barban believes Smolen’s work “is fit to be on the National Ballet stage.”
After 15 years working on costumes for the show, she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this annual holiday show, which has provided her a venue and outlet for creativity.
Smolen, a resident here for close to 22 years, would rather the attention be paid to Barban or the young dancers.
“I don’t like taking any spotlight from Julie or the kids ... I love doing it. I love how the girls feel in the costumes. They feel very special and I like making them feel that way,” she said. “It’s an outlet for me. I love the costuming. I love the ballet. I love being able to express myself that way. It’s an opportunity for me to do what I love doing.”
Smolen started sewing as a child taught by her grandmother and learned how to make tutus in a course down in North Carolina. She started making tutus when her daughters Paiten, Bella and Ania started dancing. The greatest challenge she has is sourcing fabrics, which she
often orders from the U.S.
Her work for the show starts in earnest in October. Over two weeks last year, she spent 12 hours each day sewing and adjusting costumes. She jokes she didn’t get much sleep during that time. If a pattern for a costume has been established, it’s far easier than one without. The snow queen’s character’s costume’s tutu cost $1,800 USD. A typical bodice takes a day while a hand-pleated tutu - nine rows of net - takes four days and can total upwards of 100 hours.
Although her involvement with the show coincided with her daughters, who were there since the beginning, she cannot imagine ever stepping away from the show that she calls a “great family thing.”
"It’s such a great, wonderful thing that Julie does for the community because otherwise these girls wouldn’t have that opportunity to dance in the Nutcracker and to wear something like that.”
Smolen feels lucky to have been part of the production all these years.
“I’m just as fortunate as they are,” she said.
McCready said her favourite part of the show is the “snowflake” scene, which involves the most dancers from three-year-olds to the young adults.
“If you’ve never seen the snowflake scene it’s hard to imagine. They become dancing snowflakes,” she said. “The intensity of it. The music. The costumes and setting are beautiful. It’s a very moving piece. It’s incredible to watch how that comes together every year.”
Heritage Ballet presents The Nutcracker has three show times: Saturday, Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. andDec. 2 at 2 p.m. The show is one hour and 45 minutes and takes place at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion in Haliburton, located at the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. Purchase tickets online at https://www.onstagedirect.com. The online deadline for ticket purchases is midnight before the performance day.