Once upon a time there was a young boy who dreamed of one day being star on the ballet stage. He was only 10 years old, and was already steady enough to have a small role in The Nutcracker, but he wished so very badly that one day he could be the Prince.
Well all hail Prince Andrew. That was exactly 10 years ago, exactly half his life ago, and before he left Prince George to attend the Goh Ballet in Vancouver. He already had a lifetime of ballet training with his mom, famed director/choreographer Judy Russell. He was the oldest of the third generation in a show-biz family. When Judy went looking for an import dancer to play the prince, as she always does in her biannual productions of The Nutcracker, she was surprised to find her own son on the short-list of candidates.
“The truth is, I always thought my mom would want to fly in someone more exotic than home-grown. But I guess not,” says Andrew.
Another truth was Andrew’s self-imposed absence from the dance world. After a year taking intense classes at Goh, he decided to take some time off. He had only been dancing for, oh, his whole life, with hardly a break, so it was time to reflect. He took a hiatus and moved to Victoria.
“Me doing this took a bit of convincing,” he admits. “I liked the thought of coming back to do this, I just didn’t think it was feasible for me at this time. But I had an epiphany and decided to drop everything to do it.”
It must have been the work of a fairy godmother or the good witch of the north or something, because in coming back a lot of nearly miraculous truths kicked in. It is the 10th anniversary of the Prince George production of The Nutcracker, and Andy has been in every one of them. The first Nutcracker prince was performed by Chris Larsen, now a dancer with the Royal Birmingham Ballet Company in England and the only Prince Georgian to hold the role (until now). It seems a little early for Andrew to take on the lead role, but he is not the youngest to do it. He has all the training a dancer would be expected to have, and yes it is a big part, but Andrew, in case you haven’t noticed, has grown into a very big man. Probably the biggest to ever handle the part here. And don’t think it’s pudge. This hiatus he’s taken was from dance, not from fitness. He spent months just working out in Victoria before he got the call to come home.
“I feel very good about where I am at physically,” he says. “It has helped me focus again. At school (Goh) I learned a lot of tricks of the trade and a lot of qualities that have made me a much better dancer than I ever was before. I hope that shines through.
“I’ll be doing a couple of different things the other princes haven’t done. The main variation I’m taking directly from the Barishnikov version. Not the coda, but the variation. I want to show people that I was the right choice.”
Andrew will be playing opposite Nadine Van Caeseele and Ashley Perham, alternating the role of Clara. It is the first time either of them have held the lead, but, like Andrew, they have been in it before in smaller roles.
“It’s strange coming back. You remember the way things were, but time keeps going and a lot of little things around here have changed,” Andrew says. “Dancers have come and gone. It seems weird to not have Kristy (Brookes) playing Clara, she did it so long. And some have progressed so much, like Ashley. Two years ago she was a trumpeter and nothing else, and now she’s Clara. Her progress has been amazing in such a short period of time. We’ve never had a Clara who comes from that group of dancer. Nadine always had it in her, and she’s worked her way up. She’s really been consistent.”
Judy Russell’s dancers will have a few more familiar faces this year. The Prince George Symphony Orchestra will again be the live orchestra (the first time in four years). These two large performance entities join forces for the 2001 edition of The Nutcracker on December 14 to 16 at Vanier Hall.