Nutcracker a North Island tradition

Karina Cann mirrors the movements of Portside Academy dance instructor Alana Collins (foreground) during tech rehearsal for this week’s performances of Nutcracker in Port McNeill.  - Photo by J.R. Rardon
Karina Cann mirrors the movements of Portside Academy dance instructor Alana Collins (foreground) during tech rehearsal for this week’s performances of Nutcracker in Port McNeill.
— image credit: Photo by J.R. Rardon

Karina Cann has been performing the Nutcracker Ballet since 2008. But she had never actually seen the ballet in its entirety until last year.

Cann, a Grade 12 student at North Island Secondary School, has performed with Portside Academy of Performing Arts since the studio was opened in 2007 by instructor and choreographer Alana Collins.

But it took a Rotary Foreign Exchange trip to Spain last year for Cann to finally get a chance to see the Nutcracker, when a touring company from Kiev performed the traditional holiday classic in Barcelona.

“That was the first ballet I’ve ever seen,” said Cann, who would later see a performance of Swan Lake, also in Barcelona.

Portside Academy dancers were back on the Sunset Elementary School stage last week preparing for their fifth annual production of Nutcracker, which will take place at the school Dec. 7 and 8 beginning at 7 p.m. each evening.

The iconic ballet, based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and backed by the familar score of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is a holiday staple in towns and cities large enough to support a theatre or bring in a touring company.

But it was a new experience for the north end of Vancouver Island when Collins elected to put on the show in 2008 with a cast of local youths ranging from three to 18 years of age. The production has proved popular enough that Portside Academy has brought it back each holiday season since.

“I just realized this year that this is a really popular ballet, and I get to do it every year,” said Bethany Waines of Port McNeill, 10. Waines, who has performed the ballet each year, said she could not recall seeing the ballet performed prior to dancing in it.

“I think I might have heard something about the story, but I didn’t really know it.”

Giselle Alfred of Alert Bay, 8, is one of a growing number of young dancers who ferry from Cormorant Island to attend dance classes in Portside Academy’s Port McNeill studio. This will be her second year in Nutcracker, and she said she knew nothing of the story about young Clara and her dream trip to the Land of Sweets until shortly before taking the stage in her debut.

“Our teacher played it for us on TV at school,” said Alfred. “It was kind of different, though. Clara’s name was Marie.”

Cann also admitted little familiarity with the Nutcracker before she began dancing in it.

“I probably watched it when I was younger,” she said. “I vaguely knew the story, I think.”

Performing in the Portside Academy production was little help. Except for the youngest performers, dancers appear in multiple parts in the two-act show, and are off to dressing rooms for costume changes between numbers. Therefore, none of them gets to see the full ballet. Cann found herself entranced when she got to see the performance in Spain where, ironically, she was not able to dance for the first time since she was a young child.

“It doesn’t feel like I ever left, really,” Cann said last week while going through technical rehearsal. “But going away made me realize how much dance is my passion. So much so that I’m planning to continue with it in post-secondary school.”

Tickets for this weekend’s performances are $10. They are available in advance at The Flower Shoppe in Port McNeill or at the door.

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