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By Joanne Shuttleworth
Guelph Mercury
December 19, 2013

William Steers, 15, is the Nutcracker Prince in Ballet Jorgen's Nutcracker (photo by Joanne Shuttleworth) 2013[Guelph, Ontario, Canada] – Ballet Jorgen’s The Nutcracker — A Canadian Tradition is quickly becoming a Guelph tradition as the Toronto dance company has performed in Guelph just before Christmas for several years running.

This year a Guelph youth, William Steers, won the coveted role of the Nutcracker Prince.  William, 15, said he didn’t really enjoy ballet when he started taking lessons as a youngster. So he studied other forms of dance — hip hop, tap and Irish dancing — before returning to ballet.

It didn’t hurt seeing Billy Elliott performed on stage in Toronto a few years back, he said. “I fell in love with the dancing,” said William in an interview at his Guelph home. “I saw a clip of Riverdance and I fell in love with that, too. I started to think about dance as a possible career and realized I would have to have ballet again. So I’ve been doing that for two years and I love it now, too.

“It’s challenging. My posture can be off. But eventually I will be good at it, I think.”

William attends Eastwood Collegiate Institute in Kitchener and takes the specialized arts program where he studies dance, singing and acting.

He went to a local cast audition for The Nutcracker where it was suggested he audition for a part in the touring cast. “Getting this role is great,” he said. “And it’s such good experience to work with a professional company. I watch the professional dancers and it’s mesmerizing.”

Most people are familiar with Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s original version of The Nutcracker that was first performed in 1892.  It’s the story of a family and friends who gather on Christmas Eve to trim the tree. Gifts are exchanged and Clara, the daughter, receives a nutcracker. Her brother Fritz is jealous and breaks the nutcracker. Clara is crushed.

At midnight, after the adults have left the scene, Clara goes back to check on her nutcracker and a wonderfully bizarre scene ensues. The nutcracker grows to life-size, the Christmas tree becomes enormous, mice start scurrying around and eventually there’s a battle between the mice, led by the Mouse King, and the gingerbread men, led by the Nutcracker.

After the battle, the Nutcracker turns into a prince and he and Clara roam through the forest where they witness dancing snowflakes and a celebration of dancing sweets from around the world. They return home before daybreak and Clara settles in to sleep, only to realize in the morning that the whole thing was a dream.

Ballet Jorgen kept the music, but moved the story to a Canadian setting. Instead of dancing candies and teas and sugar plums, there are beavers, frogs and dragonflies. Paintings by three of the Group of Seven artists are used as backdrops and set the stage for the raging battle and the wilderness adventure.

Ballet Jorgen is a professional adult company and they audition local dancers for the children’s roles. The major children’s roles, which include Klara and the Nutcracker Prince, join the touring cast. William will perform in Guelph Dec. 22 and 23, but also in Brockville, Ottawa and Kingston.

He won a role in Ballet Jorgen’s Swan Lake when it came to Guelph last year, but was only on stage for two minutes. The Nutcracker Prince is considerably larger and William will be on stage for the entire ballet.

“The quality of training is superb,” said his mother Judy Steers. “It’s busy and it’s hard, but the experience is so worth it.”

“It gets me thinking about my future and what it will be like to be a dancer,” William said.

Clea Iveson, education manager for Ballet Jorgen, said most of the dancers in the company would have performed in The Nutcracker when they were children, so they understand and appreciate the excitement of the young dancers. “The sparkles in the eyes of the kids, making it through auditions, stepping into the costumes, working with the professional company — there’s nothing like it,” Iveson said.

She said working with Royal City School of Ballet, the local dance company that runs rehearsals for the local cast, is easy since they’ve done it so many times. “It’s a well-oiled machine in Guelph,” she said.

“We bring it to Guelph because it’s a lovely theatre and the community is culturally engaged,” said Carolynn Clark, spokesperson for the presenter Live at the Hippo Pool Events Inc. “We have a strong response every year.

“And it’s such a hopeful, joy-filled work that’s visually and musically beautiful. I think adults delight in the curiosity we had as kids. For many families, seeing the Nutcracker is part of a seasonal tradition.”

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