Hard Work and Dedication Shown in a Traditional Ballet
The National Ballet of Canada hosts The Nutcracker
Fernanda Lara Peralta CONTRIBUTOR
Photo: Fernanda Lara Peralta / THE MIKE.
I grew up a dancer. Since I was 13 years old, I dedicated over 20 hours a week to training in ballet, jazz, contemporary, musical theatre, and tap in Vancouver, BC. I will never forget the tutus, the red lipstick at competitions, the smell of hair spray in the dressing rooms, and the moment when you go onstage and you feel as though your only mission in life is to make people smile through art. For me, dance was a space where someone always believed in my ability to succeed. My favourite type of dance was ballet. I had the most caring instructors who I still consider family. Leaving dance after a back and hip injury was one of the greatest losses that I have experienced in my lifetime. Despite no longer being a dancer myself, I love watching ballet on stage. Thus, I am always keen to attend a show by The National Ballet of Canada in Toronto.
This winter, my dad, who is always my partner in crime when it comes to attending performances, took me to see The Nutcracker. We had seen The Nutcracker last year during one of our annual father-daughter trips and loved it. This year, the show came at the perfect time in the middle of December during exam season, showcasing between December 9–30. It was a long-term run, so I was looking forward to spending a relaxing Sunday watching The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition at The National Ballet of Canada. It is set in 19th century Russia, where two children, Marie and Misha are helping their parents prepare for their annual Christmas Eve party. Once the children fall asleep, their dream begins when the Christmas tree and toys come to life, and a magical journey commences when they encounter the Snow Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy, amongst other characters. Upon seeing The Nutcracker a second time, I was just as impressed. The opening scene is reminiscent of the family reunions that take place every holiday season. The set and the costumes are amazing, with a costume worn by two dancers that looks like a life-sized horse. I marvelled as snow fell on the stage, capturing the delight of the holiday season. I would highly recommend going to see The Nutcracker next December.
Despite the beauty of The Nutcracker, I am reminded of how ballet is an institution that perpetuates the myth that only thin bodies are beautiful, and that only thin women can be elegant, delicate, and graceful. I was lucky to have gone to a dance school that did not discriminate based on body image. Unfortunately, this is not a reality for the majority of competitive ballet schools in the country. There is pressure to stay thin even after a girl’s body has begun to change during puberty. This pressure creates a negative body image in girls who do not fit the thin ballet mold, causing a tremendous amount of emotional pain. I remember training alongside girls who thought a size two was large, and other girls who told me they got kicked out of their dance school due to not being small enough. Negative body image has become a dark foil behind ballet’s beauty that must be addressed. It begins with seeing a full diversity of bodies on stage, celebrating every body type as beautiful.
The Nutcracker is symbolic of the various rites of passage that a dancer at The National Ballet of Canada experiences throughout their career. In Act II, the little lambs are children from The National Ballet School under the age of seven. The children in the opening act are grade six to eight students at The National Ballet School that participate every year. It is an honour to get chosen by the artistic director to play Marie and Misha, mere children that dedicate their lives to becoming professionals. The children and adolescents that dance at The National Ballet School are amongst the best in the world, having to undergo a very selective audition to get one of the few spots offered per academic grade. Every year, these children must re-audition to maintain their spot at the school. Many of the students who are as young as 11 years old spend months away from their families to pursue a career as a professional dancer. Thus, The Nutcracker is a celebration of the hard work and dedication of the school’s students and the company members that have spent a lifetime training.