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Leaping into the 21st century: Shumka reworks a more politically correct Nutcracker

A Ukrainian Canadian showcase of inspirational, energetic folk dance
1512 Shumka CC
Sturgeon County dancer Nic Pacholok performs a split leg jump in Shumka's Nutcracker. This year, he plays Fritz in Nutcracker running at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium on Dec. 17 and 18, 2021. MARC J CHALIFOUX/Photo

Shumka’s Nutcracker, a holiday tradition for thousands of regional dance fans, returns live to the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium with a renewed zest for performance. 

“There’s been a lot of anticipation and apprehension,” said Sturgeon County dancer Nic Pacholok, who tackles the role of Fritz, Clara’s mischievous brother. 

Along with a cast of nearly 50 dancers, Shumka performs in Camrose and in Edmonton Dec. 17 and 18. 

“Speaking for myself, I almost forgot what it feels like to be on stage and get live feedback from the audience. But just stepping onto the stage today, you get that feeling back immediately. It’s very different from a video or online. The connection with an audience clapping and cheering is an amazing feeling. To not have it for two years, and to be graced with these shows, it’s been wonderful. We’re grateful and we want to show the world we’ve come back stronger than ever,” said Pacholok, a St. Albert Catholic High graduate. 

For the 2021 edition, Nutcracker has undergone several major changes that present a more politically correct folk choreography yet continue to highlight world cultures in a way that is appropriate for a Ukrainian dance company. 

The two revised mini-dances are the Arabian Dance that previously featured a snake charmer and the Chinese Dance displaying a traditional view of the Asian culture. 

“The music is still Tchaikovsky’s, but we’ve repurposed the choreography. In the Arabian Dance, we’ve changed the costumes and changed the story, so it is just a serpent. The focus is the snake — Hadiuka in Ukrainian. One of our cast members, Audrey Boccara, is the snake, and the focus is on her acrobatics,” he explained. 

“We also put a lot of work in the Chinese Dance. We changed the focus and made it more martial-arts inspired. We had a consultant from Ballet Edmonton. Wen Wei Wang came in and he was a great person. He grew up in China and understands the ballet system in China. He had a great perspective and a good sense of what was authentic.” 

In a bid to heighten the world cultural aspect, Edmonton’s Mattierin Dance Studio also features two Irish dancers tapping into a centuries-old heritage of percussive sounds. 

The Kyiv Ballet and Virsky Ukrainian National Dance Company have also returned to step into Nutcracker's lead roles. Virsky artists will perform the newly-choreographed Verbunk, a Roma-inspired dance full of sensuous rhythms and loud clapping. 

“It’s very energetic and uses all the flavours. It’s one of the highlights and the audience will love it.” 

A national Ukrainian Canadian treasure, Shumka is unmatched in creativity, showmanship, talent, and discipline. Always working to raise the bar, Pacholok believes the company has upped its game. 

“I encourage everyone to see this live show. It’s a distinct experience. You feel the energy of the people on stage and what they give you. We really dial it up to an 11. With the amount of energy we give, the audience experience is unmatched.” 

Nutcracker is Friday, Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Visit 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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