The Magic of The Nutcracker Experience for Canada’s National Ballet School Students
by Alanna Bayer, Canada’s National Ballet School
December 21, 2018

Skylar Campbell and Artists of the Ballet in The Nutcracker

It’s a most magical time of year – Nutcracker season! Hundreds of students from Canada’s National Ballet School’s (NBS) Professional Ballet Program (PBP) and Associates Program (AP) perform in a range of roles in James Kudelka’s The Nutcracker each season. Much like the original 1892 production, Kudelka’s adaptation features large numbers of young dancers onstage. The Nutcracker represents a special part of the student experience at NBS – the foremost dance training institution in Canada, with alumni working in 80 schools and companies across Canada and around the world.

“I’m excited about getting on the stage and being able to do what I love and showcase what I’ve been working so hard on to this point,” says Ariana, a grade 7 NBS student dancing in the role of Marie. “I’m also looking forward to working with all the other dancers to bring this year’s production of The Nutcracker to life.”

This year, Ariana is one of 12 PBP students who are dancing the two young lead roles of Misha and Marie. These roles require extraordinary dedication as the dancers are on the stage for much of the production’s two-hour run time. The 12 dancers have been rehearsing since the end of September for more than 60 hours each.

For all NBS students involved in the production, the rehearsal process is about more than learning the choreography. The Nutcracker Rehearsal Director at NBS Laurel Toto, explains that students must also “learn to tell the story through the movements, music and interactions with the rest of the cast.”

The Nutcracker is an engaging story with unique and exciting characters, and one of the valuable skills students learn is the ability to embody these characters. Melia, another student performing in the role of Marie, has learned this crucial skill from Toto over the past several months of rehearsal. “I’ve learned how to develop my character and how to build a connection between myself and all of the dancers on the stage,” says the grade 8 NBS student. “I’ve learned that there is more to dance then learning the steps – you have to play a role and perform it for the audience as well.”

The Nutcracker is an important learning opportunity for young dancers. Like Ariana and Melia, many young and talented NBS students are playing an integral part in the beloved annual holiday tradition of The Nutcracker. In total, there are 87 PBP students from grade 6-8, as well as grade 9 boys, performing in the production in a variety of roles including Misha and Marie, unicorns, family members and courtiers.

In addition, 110 NBS AP students are cast in the production as lambs, mice, chefs and guards. NBS also holds open auditions for roles in the elaborate battle scene, and this year 76 students from local high schools will get their magical moment onstage.

In total, 273 students will be performing in five casts during The Nutcracker’s 26-show run.

The choreography they must learn is extensive and complex, requiring months of rehearsal with NBS staff, and culminating in a showstopping production and unforgettable experience. For these young dancers, the months of work are worth it, as they take to the stage to perform for sold out audiences.

About Canada’s National Ballet School:

Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) is the foremost dance training institution in Canada with alumni working in 80 schools and companies in Canada and abroad, frequently taking leadership roles as choreographers and artistic directors. With a rich, 60-year history and an international reputation for excellence, NBS is the only professional ballet school in North America that provides elite dance training, academic instruction and residential care on the same campus. The School’s distinctive pedagogy for its Professional Ballet Program integrates elements from the best in classical ballet training methods, contemporary dance and the latest advances in science and movement. NBS also educates dance teachers through its highly-regarded Teacher Training Program.

For more information on the School and its programs, please visit

The Nutcracker is onstage December 12, 2019 – January 4, 2020.


The Nutcracker

Behind the Scenes at The Nutcracker


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