Dec 20 2018 | Posted in Spotlight

My Big Fat Greek Wedding Star Among List of Nutcracker Walk-on Roles

This December, over 15 individuals can add “Nutcracker cast member” to their accolades, including Winnipeg-born Nia Vardalos. Every year the RWB invites musicians, professional athletes, and young entrepreneurs tied to the local community to join the RWB Company and School dancers on stage as Nutcracker walk-on roles. This year, the RWB is pleased to welcome 15—and counting, special guests to Nutcracker’s cast from December 19-29 at the Centennial Concert Hall. ​

“As a Winnipegger, I truly appreciate and admire our Royal Winnipeg Ballet,” said Vardalos. “Being a part of the Nutcracker is a special milestone for me because years ago my theater school teacher told me I was the worst student in her ballet class. I was and it’s my fault because I mostly spent my time doing comedy bits at the barre. I plan to make up for my lack of skill now by bending my size ten feet into ballet slippers and being en pointe by December 26th.”​

​Aside from Vardalos, this year’s roles also include the familiar faces of Winnipeg Blue Bomber Thomas Miles, Muhammad Ashan, Pride Winnipeg President, and Bailey Bram, Team Canada hockey player. Winnipeg Jets fans will be thrilled to learn which two Jets will follow in the footsteps of Mark Scheifele, Jacob Trouba, Adam Lowry, and Dmitry Kulikov for their break-through Nutcracker performance on December 28. The RWB will reveal the Jets’ names on their social media closer to performance date.

Others who are participating include Hon. Cathy Cox, Minister of Sport Culture and Heritage, Hannah Taylor, founder of the Ladybug Foundation, Blair Yakimoski, Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba, Johanna Seier, founder of Fit Girl Gang and Aurea Fitness, and Catherine Wreford Ledlow, Broadway performer and RWB alumnus who will also share the stage with RWB Company dancers.​

​This year, the RWB ran a “What’s your Favourite Nutcracker Memory?” social media contest for an elusive walk-on role in the RWB’s largest production.

Margaret McCulloch, social media contest winner, shared “When I first attended the performance in Winnipeg, it struck me just how much the depicted celebration reminded me of the holidays in my native Poland… it was a very warm and heartfelt moment. I was then reminded that ETA Hoffmann wrote the story of the Nutckraker while living in Warsaw, married to his Polish wife, and celebrating the season in the local manner; this was my little Polish connection to the Nutcracker in snowy Warsaw and Winnipeg.”


December 19 - 7:00 p.m.
Thomas Miles: Winnipeg Blue Bombers Football Player

December 20 - 7:00 p.m.
Hannah Taylor: Founder, Ladybug Foundation
Blair Yakimoski: Member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba

December 21 - 7:00 p.m
Muhammad Ashan: President, Pride Winnipeg
Margaret McCulloch: Social Media Contest Winner

December 22 - 1:00 p.m.
Colleen McGurry: Great West Life Colouring Contest Winner
Kate McGurry: Great West Life Colouring Contest Winner

December 22 - 7:00 p.m.
Debra Warnick: RWB Gala Contest Winner
William Warnick: RWB Gala Contest Winner

December 23- 1:00 p.m.
Johanna Seier: Founder, Fit Girl Gang and Aurea Fitness
Catherine Wreford Ledlow: Singer, Actress, RWB Alumnus

December 26 - 4:00 p.m.
Nia Vardalos: Actress, Screen Writer, Producer

December 28 - 7:00 p.m.
Winnipeg Jets Hockey Players

December 29 - 1:00 p.m.
Hon. Cathy Cox: Minister of Sport, Culture and Heritage
Bailey Bram: Team Canada Hockey Player

Tickets for Nutcracker start as low as $30 for adults and $25 for children plus taxes and fees and can be purchased online at, in person through the RWB Customer Service Office at 380 Graham Avenue or by calling 204-956-2792 or toll free 1-800-667-4792. Groups of ten or more should contact the RWB Customer Service Office for more information on group discounts. Please note that the RWB does not sell tickets through any third-party websites.

Fun Facts about the RWB’s Largest Production, Nutcracker!

Impress the person sitting next to you at Nutcracker by learning these tidbits! Even longtime Nutcracker attendees will be surprised to learn that;

  • We have almost 250 costumes for 39 dancers- each dancer has three to eight costumes.
  • RWB’s Wardrobe Department make each costume in-house, sewing precious details by hand.
  • Nutcracker has about 35 tutus in the show alone, and it can take up to 50 hours to create just one snowflake tutu.
  • A production as large as Nutcracker requires an equally large troupe of dancers. Two casts perform Nutcracker during its run, with guest walk-on roles and RWB School students joining the dancers on stage each night.
  • Over 80 RWB School Recreational Division students dance in Nutcracker! Roles danced by these students are: mice, Mounties, angles, reindeer, polar bear cubs, and more!
  • To transform the Nutcracker stage into a winter wonderland is no small feat. To make Nutcracker happen, 34 stagehands are needed for setup while 26 stagehands are staffed for the duration of the production.
  • To give an idea of the organized clamor behind the curtain, there are 18 fly cues that move 32 pieces of scenery. With the final minutes of Nutcrackerrequiring three major scene changes, it is no wonder Nutcracker planning begins in March!

Spotlight on RWB School Alumnus: Nina Menon, Choreographer for Nutcracker

The world is buzzing with different holiday traditions this time of year and one of the most popular is Nutcracker! The Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s version of Nutcracker celebrated its world premiere on December 2, 1999 and co-choreographer Nina Menon is still involved with the RWB today!

Nina graduated from the RWB School Ballet Academic Program in 1989 and began her career with the Company as an apprentice; she danced in the Corps de Ballet until 1995 when she debut her career as a choreographer in the RWB Company choreography competition called Fast Forward.

This past summer, Nina attended the Teachers’ Summer Workshop here at 380 Graham Avenue where dance educators from across North America spent one week in Winnipeg honing their skills.

While in Winnipeg, the RWB had a chance to chat with Nina about her role in choreographing the festival holiday favourite, Nutcracker!

Tell us about the process of choreographing Nutcracker.
I was a resident choreographer at the RWB at the time when Artistic Director André Lewis asked me to choreograph Nutcracker. A lot of the ballet was already proposed so it was a bit of a role reversal; usually when I choreograph, I get the idea, then choose the music. Once I began choregraphing Nutcracker I was able to add little personal touches, such as my experience with Nutcracker as a child, wanting to dance, and my grandmother giving me a book of Nutcracker. I tried to picture myself as Clara; I added extra, strong women that I wanted Clara to be surrounded by, like her grandmother, her mother, and her aunts, specifically Tante Josephine, who is based off of my own great grandmother. My great grandmother came from France and was an extremely practical women-very down to earth, not frivolous at all, but she always wanted to be called Josephine and asked people to call her Josephine. Tante Josephine is a creation of what I think my great grandmother would have been.

What was one of the main challenges in choreographing Nutcracker?
One of the main challenges was putting everything together because there were many little kids, some of whom had never danced. I was juggling the schedules of RWB School Professional Division students, younger children and their parents, and Company members. Thankfully I had the help of Janice Gibson, former RWB dancer.

What was it like assembling your first cast of Nutcracker dancers?
I was so blessed to have that ideal first cast in everyone, every aspect, from the little ones- my young Clara and Julien, to the Company members. Tante Josephine was Tara Birtwhistle, Clara’s mother was Caroline Gruber, and Tante Josephine’s fiancé was Stéphane Léonard.

Tell us about the Nutcracker set design.
It was set on 1913 and the colour pink was in! Kathleen Richardson, an extremely generous supporter of Nutcracker, connected this set with her childhood. Kathleen said her house was pink and I think she was quite thrilled the set’s house was as well. It has a nice, warm feeling- a Winnipeg feeling.


Deck the Halls with RWB Dancers

For many of our Spotlight readers, attending Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Nutcracker is among their holiday traditions. The RWB dancers are grateful for being part of this occasion and would like to share their favourite holiday traditions and memories, many of which include taking the stage in Nutcracker!


What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
A Charlie Brown Christmas. Every year, my husband (First Soloist Josh Reynolds) and I have a tradition of decorating for Christmas. After decorating, we sit down together to watch this adorable, short film. We’re both extremely excited for this year, as it will be the first time we share this tradition with our daughter.


What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
The very first principal role that I danced was as Clara in our version of Nutcracker. It was both an incredible and terrifying experience… from that I have learned a lot and I continue to have such admiration and love for this ballet- even after many years of performing it.


What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
A Christmas Story— I absolutely loved that as a child and still do.

Also, every year no matter what I always watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. I watched that every year with my family on Christmas Eve and still watch it even when I’m not with them. My wife and I plan to continue the tradition with our baby girl for her first Christmas this year!


What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
I have two favourite memories, my first was dancing as an angel in Alberta Ballet’s Nutcracker as a child and my second was when we were on tour in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of my first tours with the Company. There was an injury during class and we had to make casting adjustments for the show. Vanessa Lawson jumped in for the Russian dance, which is quite technically demanding, and made it look so easy. I remember thinking, “I hope I can be like that someday!”


What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
Love Actually.


What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
My favorite memory of dancing Nutcracker is when I danced Clara for the first time on stage.

Second Soloist

What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
My dad would always read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve when we were kids- funnily enough as soon as I moved to Winnipeg, he would still call my brother and I to read it over the phone.

Second Soloist

What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
Frederick Forsyth’s The Shepherd as read by Al Maitland.

Second Soloist

What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
A Charlie Brown Christmas - it’s so moody and beautiful, and that’s Christmastime to me.

Corps de Ballet

What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
The first time I danced Nutcracker was when I was a first-year Aspirant and the Company travelled to Cleveland to perform before we started our Winnipeg shows. Since this was my first dance dancing with a company, my parents drove 6 hours to come see me dance. I cried after opening night because my dream had essentially just come true.

Corps de Ballet

What is your favourite holiday movie and/or story?
A Christmas Carol inspired by the Charles Dickens’ novel.

Corps de Ballet

What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
When I danced the role of The Sugar Plum Fairy for the first time! I grew up watching The Nutcracker and loving that role, so getting to perform it was, and still is, an amazing feeling!


What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
My favourite thing about dancing in Nutcracker is when things don’t go quite as planned. The Party Scene has lots of opportunities to have a little bit of fun. While I was working in Victoria there is a section of the Party Scene where Clara’s mother faints and the father catches her. The dancer playing the father would always joke about not catching her, and in the last show he missed catching her, so she ended up falling flat on the ground. It was the most alarming thud I have ever heard in stage.


What is your favourite memory of dancing in Nutcracker?
When I was young Clara while in level 4 of the RWB School’s Professional Division. Ever since then I dreamed of being a part of Nutcracker again!