Professional ballet program students in the nutcracker
Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) students during a rehearsal for The Nutcracker

The magic of The Nutcracker  experience for NBS Students

It’s a most magical time of year – Nutcracker season! Over the next few weeks, hundreds of students from NBS’ Professional Ballet Program (PBP) and Associates Program (AP) are performing a range of roles in James Kudelka’s The Nutcracker, presented by the National Ballet of Canada. Much like the original 1892 production, Kudelka’s adaptation features large numbers of young dancers on stage.

“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. Nutcracker Rehearsal Director, 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 represents a special part of the NBS student experience and 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. Eighty-seven PBP students from Grade 6-8, as well as Grade 9 boys, perform 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 on stage. The choreography all students must learn is extensive and complex, requiring months of rehearsal with NBS staff.

The opportunity to observe dancers from the National Ballet of Canada—from how they communicate a character through movement, to how they apply corrections during rehearsal—is an important part of the experience for NBS student performers. “I get to watch all of the professional dancers and how they absorb corrections from their instructors and everything else around them,” says Ariana. For Ariana, rehearsing with the Company’s dancers is one of her favourite parts of this magical Nutcracker experience. “I think it’s really amazing that I can draw inspiration from them to help make myself a better dancer.”
The Nutcracker by the numbers
Emerson (Grade 7), who is dancing the role of Misha, looks forward to the culmination of months of hard work and organization in the moment when the curtain rises and the orchestra begins playing. “I’m most excited to get on stage and have those magical moments.” he says.

This year, 273 students will be performing in five casts during The Nutcracker’s 26-show run. For these young dancers, the months of work are worth it, as they take to the stage to perform for an audience of about 2,000 per show.

Thank you to all the staff, parents, and support systems who have helped make this such a magical experience for the dancers and the audiences who will watch them perform over the coming weeks.

Ever wonder what goes into the production of The Nutcracker?
Take a look at this breakdown of how NBS is involved in the National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Nutcracker this year.