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Continuing a Holiday Tradition with the Virtual Nutcracker Youth Participant Program

January 13, 2021

“I love performing with Ballet Jörgen. It doesn’t feel like Christmas without the Nutcracker. I was so excited to be part of the Ballet Jörgen cast again!” 
– Virtual Nutcracker Local Participant 

Left to right: Rory Gunn-Pereira, Zach Morriss, and Quinn Morriss excited about their roles as Schoolhouse Kids and the Nutcracker Prince. 

The Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for countless dancers and families. It is a marker for the start of the holiday season and, for many, the beginning of a lifelong love for dance. It holds a special place in our hearts. Each year, from mid-November until early January, Canada’s Ballet Jörgen tours The Nutcracker: A Canadian Tradition, bringing the joy of ballet to theatres across Ontario. The familiar music of Tchaikovsky’s score enchants audiences, and for a couple of hours we are transported to a whole new world. Children and adults alike are swept up in the magic of Klara’s adventure.  

2020 was a year of incredible change. Arts organizations across the country pivoted and CBJ was no different. In the fall, a time typically marked by auditions for the Nutcracker Youth Participant Program, many theatres were closed and restrictions tightened once again. To ensure aspiring young dancers did not miss an opportunity to participate in this holiday tradition, CBJ’s Nutcracker went virtual.  

“Any chance to dance, especially this year, is an amazing opportunity to learn and grow.” 
– Virtual Nutcracker Local Participant 

Mother Spruce video still from 12 Days of Nutcracker – Day 7 – Mother Spruce (Acorn Cast).

CBJ’s innovative artists, administrators, and educators launched The Twelve Days of Nutcracker. A true community project that involved both Company dancers and youth dancers from across Canada and the United States., The Twelve Days of Nutcracker involved a selection of twelve different sections of Bengt Jörgen’s Nutcracker that were presented as short videos released on YouTube and CBJ’s social media platforms. The project featured CBJ Company dancers in sections such as Snowflakes and Lady Birch, and youth dancers participated as Schoolhouse Kids and various woodland creatures in CBJ’s first ever Virtual Nutcracker Youth Participant Program. 

The idea was born from efforts to continue offering high-quality education programs in a virtual setting. In a normal year, about 200 young dancers participate in CBJ’s Nutcracker Youth Participant Program via local participant casts in each tour city and the youth touring cast. This exciting performance opportunity is as much a tradition for many young dancers as seeing the ballet itself. CBJ’s education team worked to move the program online, hosting auditions in early November and then working with dancers for five weeks to adapt and teach the choreography, all via Zoom. Families helped find costumes and locations, and film their dancers’ video to be submitted from across the country. 

Kara Cespedes rehearses for her role as a Chipmunk in the 12 Days of Nutcracker.

Bringing dance coast to coast really rang true with this project. CBJ works to make ballet and the arts accessible. Moving the program online opened up new opportunities for so many young dancers outside of Ontario, from BC to Newfoundland. One dancer shared that, “Being from Newfoundland the online option was a huge opportunity as travel to participate in in-person rehearsals wouldn’t be an option and The Nutcracker doesn’t tour to Newfoundland”. The Nutcracker Youth Program included 49 dancers between the ages of 8 and 18 from across 7 provinces and one US state. 

The Twelve Days of Nutcracker brought ballet right into the homes of CBJ’s community, continuing to build on CBJ’s mission to make arts accessible to all Canadians, and ensuring that families and young dancers would not miss out on this spectacular holiday tradition. 

Snowflakes video still from 12 Days of Nutcracker – Days 5 – Snowflakes part one.

Did you miss a day or just want to watch it all over again? Head to YouTube to view the full video playlist! 

Continue training at CBJ!
Sign up for our Virtual Dance Academy. CBJ offers virtual dance training programs for students of various ages and levels. The Virtual Dance Academy offers unparalleled dance training to students all over the world, via Zoom. Students have access to CBJ’s diverse faculty and training opportunities from their own homes and local dance studios. Take a look below at our virtual training programs and find the one that works best for you!

Written by Communications Contributor, Elise Tigges.