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Touches of Canadiana spice holiday ballet

Dancing mice join the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker.

Bruce Monk

It's a ballet traditionally set in the opulence of imperial Russia – far from Canada's rough and tumble early days – but Vancouverites will feel a little more at home with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker.

A hockey game, a Bay blanket, snowy fir trees, mounted police and guards in the same busby hats as those on Parliament Hill are among the touches that place the favourite holiday ballet in early 20th-century Canada – alongside the Arabian Dance, the Waltz of the Flowers and the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

"It makes people connect more closely with the work. People say it makes them hark back to the old days," says artistic director André Lewis, who incorporated kids of all ages in the production. "People would all gather in the well-to-do people's homes. There was a variety of people that came and connected that way, and I thought that was a beautiful thing to capture."

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For years, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet toured with German choreographer John Neumeier's non-denominational take on the work, which is set at Clara's birthday party, and lacks the Christmas theme and many of its trimmings, including the growing tree and the dancing mice; so when it came time for a change, Mr. Lewis opted for a sparklingly traditional holiday take.

"It happened that I was in Ottawa when the decision was made, and I said, 'Yes this totally makes sense,'" says Mr. Lewis, who got his first taste of The Nutcracker at 10 years old when his sister's ballet teacher put out a call for boys for a holiday production. "There is so much tradition in Canada – and it's something we should celebrate."

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker is at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Friday through Sunday ( Nutcracker is also being performed by Goh Ballet at the Centre, Dec. 19-23; and by the Royal City Youth Ballet at Lower Mainland locations, Dec. 14-23.

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