Hannah Mae Cruddas remembers the symphony, and the puppets, and the dancing.
She was five or six when she first saw The Nutcracker at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax. “I dreamed of dancing the role of Clara,” she says. “It was a large part of the impetus for becoming a ballet dancer, seeing all the girls dancing in pink, being en pointe. I was the quintessential ballet girl.”
The 23-year-old Dartmouth native is calling from the road on the way to Ottawa where she will dance Swan Lake with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen.
This is her sixth year with the Toronto company. She graduated from the National Ballet School in June 2011 and by the end of the summer, just after turning 18, she joined Ballet Jörgen as apprentice.
She became a company dancer in 2012 and has danced in the company’s gorgeous productions of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Anastasia, and Romeo & Juliet.
Cruddas was a corps swan four years ago when Ballet Jörgen presented Swan Lake in Halifax with Symphony Nova Scotia. When Ballet Jörgen returns to the Rebecca Cohn with the Tchaikovsky classic April 7, 8, and 9, she’ll be dancing in a “youthful, light, fun” pas de trois and a Spanish dance.
But in December, she’ll bring her childhood dreams to life as Clara in The Nutcracker, Dec. 9 to 18 at the Cohn. It’s her third year as the heroine of the annual Halifax Dance, Symphony Nova Scotia, and Mermaid Theatre co-production.
“Hannah Mae brings a lightness of spirit and audiences see that in her and warm to it,” says Leica Hardy, who directs the annual show which is celebrating its 26th year. “What you see is your best friend onstage. You see generosity, all the things you want Clara to embody, in her.”
Hardy co-created The Nutcracker with Graham Whitehead and Mermaid’s Jim Morrow and choreographed the ballet set to Tchaikovsky’s famed score. Bernhard Gueller conducts as Symphony Nova Scotia performs the music.
Rehearsals for the 23 dancers aged 13 to 17 and 12 children aged 10 to 12 began in September. Most of them study at Halifax Dance, with others from the Leica Hardy School of Dance in Dartmouth, Maritime Dance, and Dartmouth Dance Academy.
For the last two years, Cruddas’s Nutcracker Prince was now-retired Henry Jackson. This year she’s dancing with Ballet Jörgen’s Junior Gaspar Caballero in the show’s second week, Dec. 15 to 18. Ballet Jörgen’s Ayva Rossouw- Holland and Adrián Ramírez Juarez will dance Clara and the Nutcracker Prince for Dec. 9 to 11 performances, while Cruddas and Caballero dance in Ballet Jörgen’s Group of Seven-themed Nutcracker as it tours Ontario.
Caballero, a native of Paraguay who also studied at the National Ballet School, is a firecracker, says Cruddas, explaining that because they are in the same place they are able to rehearse a bit more. “He’s got so much power and passion it rubs off on you,” she says. “It’s good to dance with him.”
Hardy went to Toronto in August to work with the adult guest dancers and the two couples came to Halifax in mid-October to rehearse with the young cast.
“The faces at the rehearsal were beaming,” recalls Hardy. “It is exciting for them to see different people’s interpretations. And the [adult dancers] gave insight about work and life and what it means to be a professional dancer.”
Cruddas, who began dancing at the age of three and trained at the Maritime Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Halifax and the Leica Hardy School of Dance before heading to the National Ballet School for two years, says she couldn’t have imagined her life as a professional dancer would be so fulfilling.
“I’m able to maintain the passion I’ve always had for performing and explore so many different avenues,” Cruddas says. “Performing brings me so much joy. And I do some teaching and work with younger dancers and I know now that is another passion of mine. Hopefully I can spark passion in some younger dancers. Having the professional dancers in the show gave me a chance to see what that life could be like.”
Over the years Cruddas, who made her Nutcracker debut at 10, has been a mouse, a shepherdess, a snow maiden, and a dancer in the “Waltz of the Flowers,” the messy girl with pigtails, and the rag doll.
“It is such a beautiful story, so joyful,” she says. “So much imagination and magic goes in it. It carries so much magic that it becomes a tradition. Parents want to share it because it has a special place in their hearts.”