A Miracle of Team Work: Back stage at the Royal with Alberta Ballet’s Nutcracker

Monique Salez goes backstage with this holiday season’s favourite dance production.

By Monique Salez

Holly Vivian production manager for Dance Victoria and her lovely smile meet me at the Royal’s stage door and whisks me down to catch the last moments of the Nutcracker’s battle scene. On stage is a carefully choreographed lowering of a drawbridge, soldiers spill out and horses trot on but the real action is backstage where the wings brim over with 5 ft high forks, knives & spoons sharing space with smoke machines, an elegant sled, bookshelves, & settees that tightly fill like a successful Tetris game toward the loading bay where a shoe cupboard houses a colorful army of point shoes.

The yearly production of The Nutcracker is what Tom Heemskerk (local head carpenter) calls a “miracle of team work”, his 30th miracle thus far. The team is comprised of local professionals and Alberta Ballet’s own touring team which arrives with two semi-trucks filled to the brim the contents of which get poured into every nook and cranny of the 103 year old Royal Theatre. Before they arrive, the theatre must be stripped, lights and all, for the countless wardrobe boxes lowered through the hole in the centre of stage and for the dozens of custom backdrops, props & lighting pipes that get rigged and flown in from above. In the house (where the audience sits) we find Mark Eugster, Alberta Ballet’s Technical Director who enjoys “figuring out the puzzle” of mounting the show in different theatres and presenting a final product of staging that cleverly plays with scale. He points to the stage where the battle scene is wrapping up and the candle lit boughs of the Christmas tree frame stage right beneath which gift boxes dwarf the dancers on stage.

Below the stage, the green room has become a city of black wardrobe boxes peopled with wigs, fleshy rat bodies, pale pink and green kids’ gowns, tables of rat heads and soldier hats and the wardrobe women who confess that at the Royal backstage space is the concern. “We will see how it works quick changing a performer from one costume to a horse to another” in a space that houses a long dining table laden with oddities – sling shots, cupcakes, a roast – and prop pieces including the mechanized “growing tree” that extends from a 6 foot wide roll to 20 ft high.

Tour complete I quietly exit as the company moves through its class on stage. Backstage props are reset, coffee is consumed and details are ironed out. I am reminded that the ballet is not just for dancers, it is for builders, painters, riggers, sewers, and creators of all kinds and that as intriguing as is the action on stage, there is an equally fascinating dance behind the curtain where a gathering of inanimate art meets the human puzzle masters who fly in and out, weave, move, and shape shift both the onstage and offstage spaces bringing the story and illusion to life.

Dance Days 2018 is January 19 to 28: 10 days of free classes plus free performances by some of the west coast’s hottest independent companies and choreographers. Dance teachers and studios in the community are invited to submit potential dance classes, workshops and events on Dance Victoria’s new online calendar at DanceVictoria.com before December 31, 2017.

Just Posted

Pet-A-Palooza a good reason to ‘pawse’ this weekend in Victoria

Puppies, goats, wiener dog races and more on the grounds of St. Ann’s Academy Aug. 18-19

UVic art display showcases craft of bookmaking

Art of the Book 2018 is in the Audain Gallery at UVic from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting Aug. 11

Celebrate local food with Feast of Fields in North Saanich

21st Feast of Fields on Vancouver Island is at Kildara Farms on Aug. 26 from 1 to 4 p.m.

RIFFLANDIA: Local artists thrive under festival model

Bands like Current Swell, one of the 2018 headliners, made their mark at RAP

Baseball’s HarbourCats wind up WCL season with loss to Pickles

Victoria needed a win to make the league playoffs, now looks ahead to 2019

Updated: ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin has died

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn reports Franklin passed Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit

REVIEW: Ever wanted to be young again? Theatre Skam’s Concord Floral will make you think again

Strong acting in an interesting theatre space, writes Sheila Martindale

Brad Pitt says he has given Jolie Pitt millions since split

Actor Brad Pitt denies Angelina Jolie Pitt’s claim that he has paid no meaningful child support.

WINE LOVERS UNITE: Victoria festival offers numerous tasting options

Parkside Hotel and Spa hosting Victoria International Wine Festival

Farquhar Auditorium updates image for 40th season

The Farquhar at UVic ushers in new season Sept. 22

THEATRE SKAM: Young cast brings Concord Floral to life in vacant downtown retail space

Former office supply store a unique venue for telling mysterious tale of youth with secrets

Schedule released for world junior hockey championship in B.C.

Vancouver and Victoria ready to host, as Canada conducts training camp in Kamloops

Five things to do this B.C. Day long weekend

Check out these great community events in Greater Victoria

5 things to do in Greater Victoria this weekend

Check out dragon Boats, artists, football and more

Most Read