Bengt Jörgen, the artistic director of Ballet Jörgen Canada, is passionate about the need for ballet to remain connected to contemporary life. Through the company’s extensive touring schedule and educational outreach, Ballet Jörgen “is searching for a way to ensure that the art form is relevant to people’s lives on a daily basis.”
As a comparison, Jörgen points to how Shakespeare remains important for drama and says, “Ballet is an extraordinarily great language and you can say almost anything with it.” The expressive possibility offered through ballet choreography has the flexibility, nuance, and tradition to engage audiences in a powerful and meaningful experience of art, dance, and life.
The Nutcracker is an institution of ballet performance.
The ballet debuted in St. Petersberg, Russia on December 18th, 1892 to an original score by Tchaikovsky. Although the musical accompaniment and storyline have remained the same, the classical ballet and choreography of The Nutcracker most commonly known today emerged in London, England in the 1930s.
The version of The Nutcracker that Ballet Jörgen will present is “one of the most traditional Nutcracker productions available in North America” in terms of ballet technique and choreography.
However, with respect to setting and context, the familiar narrative has been transported to Canadian soil. Its colourful costumes and backdrops speak to our Canadian experience.
When Jörgen came to Canada from Sweden to study at the National Ballet School of Canada, he was “struck by this feeling of community” in Toronto where high rise buildings were juxtaposed with family dwellings. Although he initially encountered our cities, eventually it was the “unspoiled nature of the North” that spoke to him most directly.
After seeing an art exhibit in the early 1980s that showed art and landscapes from across the north of Canada, Russia, and Scandinavian countries, he recognized the “connectivity between nature and the people across all of these northern countries.” The purity of snow and ice, ruggedness of terrain, and a sense of isolation called deeply to Jörgen’s artistic sensibility.
Bengt Jörgen told a story about touring with the National Ballet of Canada while choreographing a dance set to Scandinavian music.
The company was in Florida while he was trying to continue this piece, but he was surrounded by “palm trees, sun, and warmth.” Although a tropical climate can be a wonderful balm, Jörgen “needed to get to a northern climate to complete this work.” He needed to return to a creative space that was in harmony with what he was trying to express.
He needed Canada’s northern climate. As we will see, our climate became the perfect backdrop for The Nutcracker.
The ballet begins in a community in northern Ontario and uses Algonquin Park as a major component of its setting. The backdrops for the narrative are drawn from Group of Seven paintings that are part of the McMichael Canadian Collection in Kleinburg, Ont.
In the second act, instead of Russian, Spanish, Arabian and Chinese sweets dancing, the audience sees bears, raccoons, loons and dragonflies. Even the flowers become Ontario trilliums.
In changing the setting of this Christmas classic, Ballet Jörgen’s The Nutcracker “remains true to classical ballet, but it’s not stuck having to look like a ballet created in the 1930s.”
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