Shumka’s Nutcracker: An Edmonton Christmas Tradition

by Dustin Jussila

Shumka’s Nutcracker is one Edmonton’s most cherished Christmas traditions. It just isn’t holiday season in this city if you don’t see their advertisements adorned on billboards or newspapers, welcoming you to witness their magical performance. This timeless ballet of a young girl’s Christmas dream is brought together each year with the excitement of the most talented Ukrainian Dancers in the world, creating a heartfelt Yuletide spectacle for the viewer.

Les Sereda, Senior Creative Director with Shumka, says they found a way to tell the traditional Nutcracker story that “feels just right” with a Ukrainian twist that you haven’t seen before. Sereda himself is a Shumka alumni. He believes the rendition of the Nutcracker is unique because it is bringing in talent from all over the world, including dancers from the National Ballet of Ukraine, singers from local Ukrainian choirs, and even dancers from the Edmonton based Mattierin School of Irish Dance. This is the second year that Shumka’s Nutcracker, according to Sereda, “broke with tradition just a little” and “snuck” Irish dancing into the ballet. The Mattierin dancers, sisters Londyn and Olivia Nachtigal, are a pair of amazing Irish dancers whom you can see in Riverdance during its North American Tour in January 2020.

Ukrainian dancers Ryan Beztilny and Nicole Schimpf, who have been with the company for 4 years, say Shumka’s Nutcracker is important to Edmonton’s Ukrainian community. Schimpf, who has been dancing since she was 5 years old, says we are privileged to live in a city rich with Ukrainian dancing. Shumka, the oldest Ukrainian dance company in Edmonton, is celebrating its 60th anniversary in April and is planning a tour of 8 cities across the country.

The Nutcracker holds a special place in many people’s hearts; whether it be the brilliant orchestral score composed by Tchaikovsky, the marvelous costumes on every skilled performer, or because it is simply a time-honored Christmas tradition. All audiences should find something wonderful about this performance. 

The design of the stage was a sophisticated set up; most amazing was the sequence transforming the stage from a lively Christmas parlor room to the fever-dream battlefield of an army of mice battling toy soldiers. I must commend the acting of the mice army- I have never seen anyone “scurry” quite like these actors do and their costumes are quite adorable. 

Leads Tetyana Lozova and Yaroslav Tkachuk, both from the National Ballet of Ukraine, mark their 5th year together in this performance, and they have mastered every step, jump, and pirouette of this ballet. Both are no stranger to Ukrainian folk dances, and are able to flawlessly unify these with traditional ballet techniques. The standout performances in this ballet were the dancers from the “faraway lands” in Act II – romantic French dancers, graceful Spanish dancers, a spirited Chinese trio, and Ukrainian Hopaks all perform merrily in their own distinctive styles. You can’t turn away from Shumka dancer Annikka Dobko, who is captivating as the mysterious dancer from Arabia.

No matter what your reason, Shumka’s Nutcracker Ukrainian twist on the Christmas masterpiece will challenge (and exceed!) your expectations and leave you wanting much, much more. Make this a part of your family’s Christmas tradition every year. 

Shumka’s Nutcracker only runs for two short days, and is now finished for the season. Take heed, and be ready for next year, as the experience is well worth it!

 

Photography provided by Dustin Jussila

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