The pitter-patter of little feet will be mostly missing from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s (RWB) Nutcracker when it returns to Ottawa on Friday after a two-year absence.
The Sugar Plum Fairy and Mouse King will take the stage at the National Arts Centre (NAC), but dozens of dancing polar bear cubs, prancing reindeer and angels — parts traditionally played by local kids — have been sidelined by COVID-19 safety precautions.
“I feel saddened that so many children, approximately 40 of them per show, are not able to be with us, but there are precautions we had to take,” said RWB artistic director André Lewis.
That leaves only three main roles to be played by children: Clara, her friend Dieter and pesky little brother Julian.
Precautions difficult but necessary
When rehearsals began, children under 12 had not yet been approved for vaccination, so the ballet company and the NAC called off auditions for kids.
Lewis said the safety precautions were necessary to bring the treasured Christmas tradition back after a two-year hiatus brought on by the pandemic.
Lewis said even without the young performers, precautions had to be taken
“In our rehearsal process we’re all masked. We are all vaccinated. On stage, we will be able to perform without masks, but only once you’re on stage.”
Local ballerina Victoria Noisette, 12, will dance in the prized role of Clara, the little girl who loves her enchanted nutcracker doll.
The young dancer, whose surname happens to be resemble the ballet’s French title, believes she was destined to play the role.
“Dreams do come true because since I was a little girl, I always wanted to be Clara,” said Noisette.
Adding to the pressure
During the pandemic, Noisette rehearsed her part at home before a screen, but this week she’s had the opportunity to perfect her moves with Lewis at The School of Dance in Ottawa.
As one of only a few children on stage, she admits to feeling added pressure.
“I’m nervous because you don’t get to really watch anybody else at your age to do the dance, you’re just the only one,” said Noisette.
“It feels like I’m almost being put in the spotlight,” agreed Findlay Davies,12, who plays Dieter.
Davies said he feels sorry for the kids who are missing out this year, “but next year I bet a lot of great dancers will be on stage.”
Both Noisette and Davies are vaccinated, while 10-year-old Emily Davis, who plays the role of Julian, will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test before and after each performance.
The lavish costumes, sets and familiar choreography of Nutcracker remain this year, but some scenes have been trimmed.
“It’s still going to be a wonderful production, is still going to touch your heart,” said Lewis. “But we’ll have we have do it differently. It’s a better step than last year where we could not do Nutcracker.”