The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the Port Theatre tonight (Dec. 9) and again on Wednesday.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs The Nutcracker at the Port Theatre tonight (Dec. 9) and again on Wednesday.

Ballet dances into the Harbour City

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs the Nutcracker at the Port Theatre on Tuesday (Dec. 9) and Wednesday (Dec. 10).

A Christmas classic with a Canadian twist is coming to the Harbour City.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet will perform The Nutcracker at the Port Theatre tonight and tomorrow night (Dec. 9-10).

According to Royal Winnipeg Ballet artistic director, André Lewis, the Nutcracker will feature plenty of Canadian elements including a hockey game and polar bears.

“We’ve added Canadian elements to it,” Lewis said. “It’s set in a prosperous town at the turn of the last century, so around 1912.”

The Nutcracker will feature the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s principal dancer, Liang Xing, who is a former principal dancer for the National Ballet of China and a finalist at the Moscow International Ballet Competition.

Xing will be joined by soloists Yayoi Ban, Sophia Lee, Dmitri Dovgoselet, Yosuke Mino and the ballet’s other members including Anna O’Callaghan and Katie Bonnell.

The Nutcracker will also include performances from roughly 40 student dancers from across Vancouver Island, with approximately 18 dancers from Nanaimo.

Since September, the students, who are between the ages of seven and 12, have been working in Nanaimo with rehearsal coordinator and instructor Jennifer Quibell.

When it comes to scouting for young ballet talent, Lewis said those who can follow directions are what he looks for.

“It’s mostly the ability to master the material,” he said. “It’s not like they have to be [the most] talented dancers, although it is nice.”

Lewis has been with the ballet company since 1979. In 1995, the Quebec native was named the ballet’s artistic director and has since become one of the most regarded directors in the country.

“To be given the artistic directorship of such an illustrious and unique organization is a great honour. I feel humbled by having been given that honour,” Lewis said.

As artistic director, Lewis has commissioned numerous  productions such as Dracula, Carmina Burana and The Sleeping Beauty and has been instrumental in rejuvenating Canada’s first professional dance company.

Although Lewis, who spent decades as a professional dancer, knew he wanted to remain in the industry after his career, he never envisioned becoming an artistic director.

“I wasn’t thinking of moving on or becoming a doctor or anything,” Lewis said. “But as far as would I become an artistic director or something of that nature, that wasn’t my life’s aim, but when the opportunity came about I jumped at it.”

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, which was founded in 1939, has a diverse roster of dancers from all over the world including Brazil, China, Germany, Moldova, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine and the United States.

Lewis said that finding talented male dancers is tougher due to the fact that there are generally fewer males than females in ballet.

“There are more ladies that tend to gravitate towards it [ballet] and why that is, is strange to me but that is just reality,” he said.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Port Theatre. Tickets are sold out. For more information, please visit www.rwb.org.

arts@nanaimobulletin.comTwitter: @npescod

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