During the holiday season last month, perhaps one of the most well-known ballets was presented by the Alberta Ballet at the Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary. Pyotr Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker ran between December 16 and December 24, featuring five local ballet dancers.
London Williams, Lorelai Williams, Hailey Barker, Olivia Halverson, and Jordan Cowan who attend Dawn's School of Dance in Carstairs all had auditioned for the Alberta Ballet's production, and all made it in for the chance of a lifetime.
Shereen Williams, who is the proud mother of London, 15, and Lorelai, 13, said that her children have been in ballet since they were toddlers, and to see her children both perform in a Christmas classic, was truly heartwarming. Both girls were given the parts of soldiers. London said that the night of the premiere was quite nerve-racking, though packed with excitement.
"Once you got out there [on the stage] the first time, it was really relieving. Just being on stage that first time can calm so many nerves and it can set the path for the rest of the performances in a better sense," she said.
Lorelai agreed with her sister that there were first-night jitters, though she said that having her sister on stage with her gave her a sense of calm.
"It helped me a lot with support and just having someone that I know, beside me along the way. Whenever I needed help with something, she would help me with it and she was really supportive overall,"
While dancing is of course the focal point of the production both girls also marvelled at the backstage humdrum, including the intricate costumes and make-up that the girls would wear during their performance. Lorelai said she was grateful for the incredible team that was backstage with the dancers, especially since the costumes were quite heavy, as was the make-up. London said that seeing the inner workings of a professional production was quite incredible, especially since this kind of backstage production is not one she is used to in normal ballet competitions she has participated in.
While both sisters plan on continuing their ballet passion, one they have honed since they were children, 15-year-old Olivia Halverson who also participated in this year's Nutcracker, also as a soldier, has been dancing since she was five.
"It was really exciting because I've watched The Nutcracker before, so to know that I've gotten to a big audition with people from all over, was really amazing," she said.
Halverson's mom, Michelle, said that this kind of opportunity was one that was 10 years in the making.
"To me, it was exhilarating. Last year, we had taken her as a Christmas gift to see [The Nutcracker], so, for her to almost come full circle and be on stage performing; that was exciting for the whole family."
Although less than a month has passed since she was on the stage at the Jubilee, Olivia says she is planning on auditioning again for the Nutcracker next year. When asked if she could choose any part to star in, including the ones that are taken on by professional dancers, Olivia is adamant about the role of the sugar plum fairy.
"My favourite character has always been the sugar plum fairy, she says she has a beautiful role and a very, very beautiful costume. I just love the variation[s] that she gets to do."
Stacey Tomlinson, the mother of Jordan Cowan, yet another dancer who was a part of the Nutcracker said that it was the coach at Dawn's School of Dance, Dawn Jackson that really opened up the playing field for the girls to be able to audition for the prestigious ballet.
"Our coach had recommended a few girls after one of our other dancers had completed the affiliate program [with Alberta Ballet] last year," she said. "She is so supportive and so encouraging of her dancers. She's the one who obviously put their names forward initially for the affiliate program, and has encouraged them over the years to always pursue their dreams and wants them to do the best that they can do."
Jordan, like many of the other girls, has been dancing since she was two years old and was given the part of a rat soldier. Tomlinson noted that the part was quite challenging, considering that Jordan not only had to focus on her dance steps but also had to be able to balance a heavy rat head that was part of her costume.
"Her face was completely covered and so it definitely took some time to get into everything and make sure everything fits properly," Tomlinson said."Figuring out how to see for her was a big thing. There were sort of some like, mesh eye holes they could see through which she jokingly said you really couldn't see anything."
As any mother, she was both proud and a bit jittery during her daughter's performance, maybe more so than her daughter herself.
"That night everyone was saying oh, let's go grab a snack, and I said, no, I don't think I'll eat; I feel like I might throw up; so I was definitely feeling the nerves."
Through it all, Jordan like the other girls put on a breathtaking performance, one that her mother will not forget for years to come.
For 15-year-old Hailey Barker and her mom, Pam Barker, the experience was also an unforgettable one.
"I've been doing ballet since I was like a little girl and ever since I started doing it, I liked going to see the Nutcracker and I thought it would be really cool to be on that stage," Hailey said.
However, Pam said that the girls who participate in ballet, including her daughter, don't just dance on stage; dance is part of their everyday lives.
"You'll see them dancing as we're shopping for groceries or walking down the street," she said. "At the end of the day; all the driving, all the scheduling, the hard work, it's so worth it. What a proud parent moment to sit out in the audience and think those are our kids on stage."
The plot of the Nutcracker is an adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann's 1816 short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
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