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Royal Winnipeg Ballet returns with smaller performance series

Royal Winnipeg Ballet's artistic director and CEO André Lewis

Photo by Callie Lugosi

The annual Royal Winnipeg Ballet (RWB) production of The Nutcracker has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The Nutcracker has been part of the RWB season since 1999. In lieu of the beloved classic, the RWB will present stripped-down performance pieces in their Founder’s Studio. 

RWB was forced to cancel several shows this year, including their spring and fall lineup, which would have been at the Centennial Concert Hall with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and a full production with the spectacle of set, props and lighting design. 

“We took an incremental approach,” RWB artistic director and CEO André Lewis says. “We decided to watch what was happening.” Under normal circumstances, they would have started their season in July with Ballet in the Park. 

Associate artistic director Tara Birtwhistle says, “Although our production of The Nutcracker has been cancelled, we’re happy to have dancers back in the studio, separated in smaller groups, social distancing with masks, but they are still together doing what they love to do.” 

The dancers will be back in the studio the second week of October, preparing for the first performance in late November. These performances will be around 90 minutes long, with no intermission. 

“November will be focused more on creation but with some revivals of more neo-classical genres,” Lewis says. “We will present smaller works where we respect whatever the (public health) guidelines are in place at the time. In November, it will be movement-driven. It is not going to be about costumes, props. It is essentially a black-box performance.”

The benefit of a black-box studio, as opposed to the proscenium stage at their regular venue, the Centennial Concert Hall, is that the seating can be arranged to allow for different audience configurations. Due to social distancing guidelines, the venue will only allow for 40 to 50 people for the performances, depending on the composition of bubbles, and the guidelines set forth by the government at that time. 

The December performance will feature suites with a holiday theme, including from The Nutcracker. Lewis says “The Nutcracker will have a more classical base (than the November performance). The suites will respect the tradition of The Nutcracker.” 

RWB, along with Shakespeare in the Ruins, Martha Street Studio and other arts organizations, received stimulus funding from the Canada Council for the Arts. RWB also benefited from the federal government’s wage subsidy, but they still had to lay off some of their staff. 

Many different arts organizations are finding ways to safely present their work to the public during the pandemic, as their budgets have tightened. 

“We can’t offer the production, but we can still offer dance,” Birtwhistle says. “The arts have always brought everybody together. If it is going to be in smaller places, if it’s going to be with smaller audiences, then we’ll still do that. We’ll still bring dance, but it will be in a different space.” 

The budgets may be smaller, performances may look different, but the dancers are still dancing. 

“Creativity continues. The human spirit will continue no matter what,” Lewis says. “We have to find new, creative ways of doing this. That is what makes the art form exciting. We can do this. We have to do this.” 

The studio series performances will be in the third week of November and the third week of December in the RWB Founder’s Studio at 380 Graham Ave. The venue is wheelchair accessible. More information on how to buy tickets and live stream the studio series is on the RWB website.

Published in Volume 75, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 8, 2020)

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