We chat to the stars of Birmingham Hippodrome's The Nutcracker
It's been delighting audiences with Christmas magic for almost two decades - festive favourite The Nutcracker has returned to Birmingham Hippodrome.
The much-loved ballet is being brought to life thanks to more than 60 dancers, over 200 lavish costumes and a full orchestra.
When young Clara sneaks downstairs on Christmas Eve to play with her new nutcracker doll she is swept up in a fantastic journey filled with toy soldiers, wicked rats, a sugar plum fairy and, of course, her handsome prince, all set against Tchaikovsky’s famous score.
Helping to entertaining audiences will be Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancer Céline Gittens and first soloist Brandon Lawrence will be performing the iconic roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince.
Trinidad-born Céline, who began dancing at the age of three and joined the company in 2006, says she looks forward to The Nutcracker returning every year.
"The thing I love most is the tradition.Hearing that music, especially the Sugar Plum Fairy music which everyone knows, gives me such a warm, cosy feeling and it means Christmas is here,"she says.
For Brandon, who trained at the Nydza School of Dance and the Royal Ballet School, it's the music that makes this ballet so special
"The Tchaikovsky score is just perfection, especially the pas de deux music. It helps that we have an incredible production.
"I don’t think I’d want to dance in another production of The Nutcracker. It really is fantastic, from the designs, to the staging and the choreography. I love it all," he says.
They both have their favourite moments during the festive ballet.
Céline says: "My favourite part is the shoulder sits in the final pas de deux, when the Sugar Plum Fairy runs and jumps to sit on the Prince’s shoulder, like magic. The music for that part has such a grand feeling to it and it’s just really exciting. It’s a really nice moment that comes out of nowhere if you’ve never seen the ballet before."
Brandon, who was born in Bradford and joined the company in 2011, says he has three favourite moments.
"The first is the Sugar Plum and Prince pas de deux itself. I adore that music; it’s just so special from beginning to end.
"I enjoy the pas de deux with Clara as well because that music is huge. My final one, which might be surprising, is the children’s dance in the party scene.
"I love that music; it’s such great moment with the strings going up and down, I always listen out for it," adds Brandon.
Céline says she believes there are many reasons why the ballet has remained so popular over the years and also continues to attract new fans.
"I think people want to experience something to initiate their Christmas. It’s getting into the Christmas spirit.
"It’s not a long show and it’s very to the point. You really understand everything that’s going on, so it’s the perfect first ballet.
"There are very exciting moments from a technical point of view; the transformation from Clara’s home to the giant Christmas tree really looks like she starts shrinking to the size of a toy," she says.
It’s rare to have a ballet where the sets change in front of your eyes - it’s usually hidden.
"Like Céline said, it’s the start of Christmas for so many people. It’s like the first time you see the Coca -Cola advert.
"Everyone knows it; holidays are coming. I like to think that some people have the same feeling about our Nutcracker," adds Brandon.
The Nutcracker was created by Sir Peter Wright as a gift for the city of Birmingham in 1990, for the first Christmas after Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet moved to the city and became Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Since its first performance it has been performed over 600 times in front of an audience totalling over 900,000 people.
The Nutcracker runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until December 13. Tickets are available at birminghamhippodrome.com/0844 3385000