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Holiday tradition helps groom new generations of dancers
For Dolores Kirkwood, the most wonderful part of ballet is connecting folks from all over the world.
In particular, the artistic director for the Royal City Youth Ballet’s Nutcracker performance swooping onto the Cowichan Theatre stage Dec. 20 and 21 is working with three male dancers from Brazil.
“There are three fellows from Brazil and they’re such lovely people,” the long-time dancer, teacher and director said last week as her company was readying for its Surrey performances.
“Two of them can’t speak English yet, but they’re learning. We train people to speak English as well as dance. They’re very high standard. They know they’re going back, one in six months, and one has been here for five years, and the other one has to go back in three months.”
Based out of New Westminster, the RCYB is a unique society of young people who attend daily classes at their individual dance schools and meet every weekend to attend company classes and rehearse full-length ballets such as the Nutcracker.
Performing the classic Christmas ballet for 24 years, RCYB has worked its way into many folk’s hearts.
And that works for both audience members who attend the show on a yearly-basis, as well as dancers who bloom life-time careers under Kirkwood’s direction.
“When I grew up, and had my stage experience, it was invaluable,” said Kirkwood. “This goes back to when I was 13, 14 years old. I was never afraid to go on stage.
“I always thought this is just what you do, you address your audience and give to each and every one of them.”
After many years working with dancers and directing the Nutcracker, Kirkwood’s still extremely enthusiastic about the company’s new blood and changes to the annual holiday production.
“They can see that and if I love it, they love it too,” she said.
The RCYB’s cast of 100-plus dedicated dancers, with beautiful set designs by Jean Claude Olivier and extravagant, colourful costumes by Chris Sinosich make their version a wonderful visual feast as well.
Tchaikovsky’s lyrical and memorable score is widely known, while the tale of young Clara’s magical evening appeals to the believers in all of us.
“This year, there are a lot of new costumes, because it had been some time since they had been replaced,” Kirkwood said. “This year there’s a new mouse king and he’s added some new things that he does. There’s also a new snowflake, with new costumes as well as choreography.
“We often bring in different teachers and choreographers. The Spanish part is one that needs redoing often.”
Kirkwood noted they’ve recently seen a noticeable shortage in local male dancers.
“Most boys have gone to Europe, because as one dancer said to me, ‘They treat us like real people here, with medical, dental, regular pay scale, holidays,’” she explained. “But we have trained quite a few boys from Brazil.”
Kirkwood contacted the National Ballet School this season because they didn’t have enough male dancers.
“There are a good number of modern dancers, but that’s a different discipline,” she said.
“The idea with the training, is it’s interchanging. Now some of our students would like to go for a three-month stint in Brazil.
“I think creating the international contacts are so important.”
With soldiers, the Snow King and Queen, Waltz of the Flowers, Arabian, Spanish and other favourite dances, the Nutcracker is a magical must-see on many Cowichan folk’s holiday to-do lists.
It’s also a great chance to witness budding dance careers take off.
“It’s not just training for dance. It’s training for life,” said Kirkwood.
What: The Nutcracker
Where: Cowichan Theatre
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 20 and, 1 p.m. Dec. 21
Tickets: $24 or $74 for a family of two adults and two children. Call 250-748-7529.