Cadance Father-Daughter Duo

Father-daughter duo Ward and Aries MacDonald have been busy practising and rehearsing for Cadance Academy’s upcoming presentation of The Nutcracker. KIRK STARRATT

NEW MINAS, N.S. — A father-daughter duo appreciates that The Nutcracker is a celebration of holiday traditions, dance and perhaps most importantly, family.

Aries MacDonald, 16, who plays the Snow Queen and other roles, has been dancing in Cadance Academy’s production for several years.

She said preparing to perform alongside her father, Ward MacDonald, is this year’s epic father-daughter Pas De Deux has been a great experience. They’ve shared the stage in certain scenes in the past, which Aries said was fun, but they have never really danced together.

“Other than that, I was in other scenes and he wasn’t, so it was really nice this year to be actually dancing with him for the first time,” Aries said.

‘Truly emotional’ experience

Ward, who started playing the role of Drosselmeyer six years ago, said the cape was enough to convince him to get on stage.

However, preparing to perform in a dancing capacity with his daughter for the first time has been “magical.” He said the experience would be something they would share, keep and definitely remember forever.

“For us to dance together, to be a true partner in this, is truly emotional,” Ward said.

Ward MacDonald said dancing with his daughter Aries in Cadance Academy’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker would be a “truly emotional” experience. KIRK STARRATT

Ward has a lot of acting experience but is new to the world of dance. Working alongside the dancers over the years, he saw and appreciated how much work, skill and technical ability went into it.

Out of respect for this, he asked Cadance artistic director Gaea Jess about leaping from acting to becoming a dancing character in The Nutcracker. He began refining his skills, taking the adult ballet class and learning from many of the company’s other dancers, including his daughter.

“This is my first year truly dancing,” Ward said. “While I always respected the ability of the dancers, I just so much more appreciate it right now.”

Ward said he has always been a competitive athlete, participating in marathons, ironman triathlons and other sports. However, he has never had to work so hard physically as he has in preparation for his dancing role.

He said other parents involved with Cadance have stepped up to take adult ballet classes and become dancers, sharing The Nutcracker experience with their children.

“We’ve all been inspired by the kids, and it really is a privilege to be a part of this cast,” Ward said.

Aries started taking lessons with Cadance Academy eight or nine years ago. She said she loves the performance aspect of dance and appreciates that Cadance isn’t a competitive school.

She said it’s like being part of a large family. It can be challenging to put everything together, but once everything falls into place, they can go on stage and perform their roles seamlessly without overthinking it.

Father-daughter duo Ward and Aries MacDonald are among the various families involved in Cadance Academy’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker. KIRK STARRATT

An evolving production

Aries has been teaching and assisting other dancers for about four years. In addition to her performing roles, she will do some of the choreography in this production.

She said putting the fight scene together has been a lot of fun. Aries has been mixing some of the already established choreography with some new moves.

Jess said it would be worth attending the show just to see the MacDonalds dancing together.

Jess said it is always thinking of ways to improve the show, making it as professional as possible. It has been staging the production since 2006, keeping elements of the choreography that the company loves while adding new elements.

As the production evolves, it remains fresh and unique, even for those who may have attended the show for years.

Jess said they have had people worldwide who have seen many different versions of The Nutcracker tell them the Cadance production is their favourite. She believes this is because of the love and passion demonstrated by the performers.

“We have little, tiny kids up to grandparents. They’re all dancing together, and it’s just so heartwarming.”

Ward MacDonald said dancing with his daughter Aries in Cadance Academy’s upcoming production of The Nutcracker would be a “truly emotional” experience. KIRK STARRATT

Well worth the effort

Jess said there’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into preparing for the production. However, seeing it come alive on stage reminds her why they do it.

There are other productions of The Nutcracker that won’t be going ahead this year due to the pandemic. Jess said they’ve put the necessary COVID-19 protocols in place to ensure safe production. What makes this year’s production so special to her is that there is perhaps no better time for it.

“Yes, we are considered non-essential, but for our wellbeing and that sense of community, we need this,” Jess said.

She said Cadance’s production of The Nutcracker is special because it has so many people contributing to its success, and everyone works so well together. The assistance provided by volunteers, donors, sponsors, the technical crew and theatre staff plays a big role in making the production a success.

Over the years, Cadance has become aware of the controversy surrounding cultural dances included in The Nutcracker such as the Arabian, Spanish, Russian and Chinese.

Jess said Cadance Academy aims to eliminate any possibility of stereotyping with regard to varying cultures. This year, it decided to rename and rework some of the pieces to ensure the performers, crew and audience members continue to feel respected and included and are comfortable with all aspects of the show.

Cadance Academy is preparing for its upcoming production of The Nutcracker. From left are Ward MacDonald, Cadance Academy artistic director Gaea Jess and Aries MacDonald at the New Minas studio. KIRK STARRATT

If you go

Details about Cadance Academy’s production of The Nutcracker.

When – Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 12 at 1 p.m.

Where – Wolfville’s Festival Theatre.

Who – Jackson Young, a seasoned dancer who has spent several years training and assisting at the studio, will again play the lead role as The Nutcracker. The female lead, Clara, will be played by another longtime student and teaching assistant, Lily Matheson-Wood. This year’s cast includes Colette Nap, a former professional dancer from Newfoundland who will debut as Clara’s mom and also plays a role in the second act, Land of Sweets.

Did you know? The show didn’t take place in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting a seat – Tickets went on sale Nov. 20 and are available at Artistic director Gaea Jess said they expect to sellout.

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