Alberta Ballet is putting on the Christmas classic the Nutcracker again. Whatever you might have heard, it definitely isn't about your creepy uncle.
"It's really the coach of the company," says Edmund Stripe of his job as ballet master. "I basically oversee taking the classes for the dancers in the morning, and taking the rehearsals for all the ballets we perform. Every year around October, we start getting Nutcracker ready for our annual performances."
This is the fifth time Stripe has been the ballet master for the Nutcracker. After five years of shattered shells, Stripe admits it is hard keeping it fresh.
"We set aside a certain number of hours to rehearse it, and so many people know the production, it doesn't usually take that long," says Stripe. "It can be a challenge keeping it fresh, making it look like it's the very first time we've done it every time we do it and keeping that magic alive, especially for the children."
Though Stripe doesn't have much leeway in how magical he makes the Nutcracker or the number of the choreographer's steps, he did have an opportunity to spread magic with an earlier performance. Stripe was previously the choreographer for Alberta Ballet's performance of Alice in Wonderland.
"As far as the actual steps of the choreography go, I can't change very much, that's pretty much set in stone," says Stripe. "My job as ballet master is to ensure that the quality of [the choreographer's] vision is upheld every time we bring it out. Having said that, I'm allowed a little bit of artistic license to add accents, comedic elements or fad elements into the choreography as I see fit. As we bring it back every year, in an effort to keep the production fresh, we change a little bit of the choreography, but not the basic steps."
Beyond watching the show and being amazed, some lucky children have the magical opportunity to actually be a part of the performance. In each of the cities Alberta Ballet is bringing the Nutcracker to, 55 children have been selected to perform, hopefully using more than the promise of candy and puppies to attract them.
"In September or October, I visit all the cities we are going to perform in: Spokane, Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and Vancouver," says Stripe. "We usually get 150 to 200 kids auditioning for 55 parts. The minimum age they have to be is 10 and a certain amount of balletic knowledge."
Perhaps the audience's balletic knowledge isn't exactly as good as the children's. In the end, it doesn't take any specific knowledge to enjoy this classic Christmas performance and appreciate the dancers wearing tights, the nutcrunching and the whimsical pattering of the feet.