A graduate of the Arts Umbrella dance program in 2010, Livona Ellis returns as one of the choreographers for this year's Mixed Nuts.
A graduate of the Arts Umbrella dance program in 2010, Livona Ellis returns as one of the choreographers for this year's Mixed Nuts.

Dancer Livona Ellis has come full circle with Arts Umbrella’s Mixed Nuts. A student member of the dance troupe in the original production in 2007, Ellis returned as one of the choreographers for this year’s show.

Mixed Nuts is a uniquely Arts Umbrella interpretation of the classic ballet The Nutcracker. Set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic music, the annual show is updated each year featuring a variety of dance styles from hip-hop to ballroom, to the classic grand pas-de-deux.

With this year’s production based on the board game Candy Land, each of the traditional Chinese, Arabian, Russian and Spanish dances have been transformed into their candy counterparts. Mixing old favourites with new pieces choreographed by Vancouver and Canadian dancers, this year, Ellis has given a contemporary spin to the traditional “Tea (Chinese Dance).”

Mixed Nuts is loosely based on The Nutcracker,” explains Ellis on the phone from Bern, Switzerland where is currently performing as a guest artist with Konzert Theater Bern.

“Instead of being a full-length classical ballet, each piece is a different style of dance created by a different choreographer. The piece I choreographed uses the original music but is performed as contemporary dance.”

Ellis is no stranger to Mixed Nuts herself. As a graduate of Arts Umbrella’s dance program in 2019, the Vancouver-born dancer performed as a student in the original production twelve years ago. It is something that makes her is uniquely qualified to help the current students as they prepare for this year-end performance.

“I remember how stressful it was with so many things going on with lots of quick costume changes and so many different tasks,” recalls Ellis. “It taught me a lot while I was in school, like learning things quickly, being efficient, and adapting to different situations.”

Arts Umbrella's Mixed Nuts returns to the Vancouver Playhouse this holiday season. Photo by David Cooper.
Arts Umbrella’s Mixed Nuts returns to the Vancouver Playhouse this holiday season. Photo by David Cooper.

Now full-circle, Ellis is not only excited to have her choreography part of the show but to also share her experience with the dancers this year. “Being on the other side now, I can give whatever insight I can to the dancers and let them know it’s going to be okay.”

Despite the stress from participating in a show like Mixed Nuts, Ellis still remembers it as being a fun show to perform. “Especially at the end,” she says. “Everyone is in the wings watching the grads dancing the big finales and the younger ones looking up to them. It’s rewarding and a very special moment.”

But while Mixed Nuts may be a rewarding experience for the students, Ellis is just excited for audiences to see what the dancers have created. “Theatrically, each dance is different, so there is something for everyone.”

Mixed Nuts plays the Vancouver Playhouse (600 Hamilton St, Vancouver) December 13-15. Visit artsumbrella.com for tickets and information.