The Nutcracker – a feast of festive delights

Ahead of Northern Ballet’s performances of The Nutcracker, we spoke to two of the stars of the show, Rachael Gillespie, who plays the lead of Clara, and Ashley Dixon, who plays her Nutcracker Prince (pictured below). They told us more about this Christmas classic.

What makes The Nutcracker such a classic ballet?
RG: Everyone loves to see a show at Christmas, and The Nutcracker is definitely one to go to see to celebrate and enjoy the festivities! For many it even becomes a tradition. Whether you’re a ballet fanatic or it’s your first theatre experience, it’s definitely one of the best shows to see. The live music is so well known, the costumes and sets are a real treat for the eyes, and the infectious energy from the dancers keeps the audience enjoying the production from beginning to end! It really sets you up for Christmas!
AD: I think that the music plays a big part in it too – it’s really famous music that most people will recognise even if they’ve never been to the ballet before. And of course as it’s set at Christmas, it’s a ballet that more people tend to go to see as a Christmas treat.

What makes Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker different to the others?
RG: We are a touring theatre-ballet company, so not only do you get fantastic dancers but you also get great actors too, performing all over the UK. Everyone on stage is fully involved and committed to the story 110% and it’s fantastic for the audience to watch something so alive!
AD: I also really like the fact that in our version the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier appear in the first act as Clara’s older sister Louise and James, Louise’s boyfriend, making a nice connection between them. It really adds to the magic.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw The Nutcracker?
AD: I think I must have been about 10 or 11 when I saw The Nutcracker. I just remember thinking it looked like a lot of fun and I wanted to do it too.
RG: was actually the first ballet I ever saw! It was a different production, on TV over Christmas when I was young and my Mum recorded it for me on VHS! I just remember loving it so much that I watched it over and over again. I think I must have been about seven, I just remember how I loved all the costumes, music and that there were ballerinas in pointe shoes! Little did I know back then it’s not as effortless as it looks!

Can you tell us more about Clara and the Nutcracker Prince?
AD: The Nutcracker Prince starts off as a wooden soldier magically made by Clara’s Uncle Drosselmeyer. As a soldier he fights off the Mouse King and his army. He is then turned into a real person who takes Clara on an adventure through the snow and the magical kingdom.

RG: Clara’s a bright, bubbly and loveable character! She’s full of energy and love for Christmas – it’s a great role to perform. You also get to see her adventurous side as she meets the Nutcracker Prince.

What is your favourite scene from The Nutcracker?
AD: The Snow Scene is my favourite. It’s the first time that Clara and the Nutcracker Prince dance together, with so much happening on stage.
RG: I agree, The Snow Scene, definitely! It’s a beautiful scene – it’s so Christmassy – the costumes, the music, but most of all, the beautiful Snowflake ladies. The dance itself, although it may look effortless, actually entails months of hard work before it goes on stage. There are so many beautiful patterns and it requires great team work and dedication amongst your colleagues to get it right. It’s a real team effort and requires a lot of stamina too – but the end result is so rewarding – and for the audience, its simply breath taking! It’s very magical.

How did you both become dancers?
RG: I was always a very energetic child and loved dancing and jumping around to music – it was someone at our family church that suggested I should go to ballet classes!
AD: I started dancing at the age of seven. I used to wait for my sister during her dance classes and got bored of just watching so one day I joined in.

How long have you been at Northern Ballet for?
AD: I’m in my 15th year with Northern Ballet. I wanted to join after seeing them many times as a child. I was always drawn to the strong narratives; some of the stories we create are also not what you would always expect from a ballet company.
RG: I’ve been at Northern Ballet now for 11 years. When I first saw the Company perform when I was younger I remember being blown away, not only by the amazing technical and athletic dancing but by the incredible artistry and unique acting too. I knew after watching in awe, that this was the ballet company I wanted to be a part of – Northern Ballet is a very special organisation.

How do you relax and ‘switch off’ after an intense show week?
RG: I love catching up with friends and family and spending quality time with Ashley! I also love Bikram yoga – it really switches off your mind and moves your body in a different way. I also love to bake!
AD: Going out for a nice meal, going for a walk, cinema – and, call me sad, but I really enjoy gardening.

What can families coming to the ballet together for the first time expect with The Nutcracker?
RG: To just have a wonderful time!
AD: It’s definitely a great, classic ballet with something for everyone to enjoy.