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What's On, Culture, Theatre

The Nutcracker

It doesn't feel like Christmas without it

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Birmingham Royal Ballet presents the ballet that’s become a staple of many a Christmas.

The now annual revival of Sir Peter Wright’s acclaimed production of The Nutcracker returns to Birmingham Hippodrome for the festive season, transporting the audience beyond the theatre to a realm of giant Christmas trees and dancing snowflakes. The magic then continues at the Royal Albert Hall for a third year with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s spectacular reimagined version, complete with projections from 59 Productions and Simon Callow as the voice of Drosselmeyer. Here, principal dancer Delia Mathews tells us more about this “very happy ballet for the whole family”.

We just saw you in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Giselle – one of your favourites.

Yeah, it’s a beautiful ballet, and I’ve been lucky to do quite a few of the different parts in it now. This year was my debut in the role of Giselle, which was pretty awesome, I really loved it.

Do you like sad stories then?

Not necessarily, I just like great stories with good character growth to them. In the first act of Giselle she’s this shy young girl, and she becomes this woman in love who has her heart broken and goes mad. In the second she becomes a Willi, a spirit, so that’s completely different again. I think that’s what draws me to it, being able to play different characters within the same ballet.

Now you’re doing The Nutcracker which is part of so many people’s Christmas – it’s embedded in the festive season like It’s a Wonderful Life and charades.

Yeah, for us dancers it doesn’t feel like Christmas without The Nutcracker. It’s the only ballet that BRB perform every year – there have only been a couple of years when we haven’t. It’s a good show for all ages; you can bring the whole family which you can’t for all of our ballets. It’s also a lot of people’s first ballet, it’s quite a good introduction, and they may feel like they want to come again every year which is great for us.

When you’re not dancing, what will you be doing this Christmas?

Now that we’re doing the Albert Hall run as well, we only actually get a couple of days off. I’ll be working Christmas Eve and then I get Christmas Day off. I think I’ll be with my husband and his family in Cornwall this year. He’s a very good cook so we’ll probably have some nice food and just chill out for that one day before getting back into it.

Did you do other forms of dance besides ballet?

When I was younger I did a bit of everything; modern, contemporary, a bit of tap which I was terrible at. So lots of different forms but it was quite clear that ballet was my main focus from a young age. But I still love contemporary and love it when we do more contemporary pieces alongside the classical work. There are some really great modern ballet pieces out there at the moment. I like that you’re able to combine the two so you can still be on point, doing quite balletic steps, but with a contemporary twist.

What was your training like?

For the most part it was quite conventional – I was just really lucky to have such great teachers, even when I was younger. I guess the not-so-conventional thing was that I moved to the other side of the world when I was 15. Leaving New Zealand to go to the Royal Ballet School at such a young age had its difficulties.

What’s the kindest thing a ballet dancer can do for another ballet dancer?

Just be supportive, create that supportive environment people can thrive in and become their best.

And in your experience, does that happen?

Definitely for me. Birmingham Royal Ballet is this family environment, and everyone is really supportive of each other which helps so much. Say you’re debuting a main part, you know everyone around you is gunning for you and not hoping you fall. They all want you to do well.

Mime is key to ballet, is that something you learnt early on in your career?

We didn’t actually learn that much at school. I mainly learnt when I joined BRB, mostly from the great Marion Tait – a master of mime and acting. I hope they’re doing it more in schools now because it’s such an important part of ballet.

Since becoming a professional dancer, have you seen the world of ballet become more diverse and accessible?

Throughout the world it has got so much better. I have to say, in my experience, BRB has always been pretty good in that area. We’ve always had a big range of nationalities and people from all different walks of life. And we’ve got quite a few programmes within our learning and outreach department, where we go to schools and parts of the country that might not have easy access to it. It’s really great to see these kids or adults loving getting to know dance, what it can do for you and what it can help you with.

What are you reading, watching and listening to at the moment?

I love reading but it’s been quite a busy time at work, so I haven’t been doing that much recently. I get home, have dinner and put Friends on or something easy like that. My friends Joseph and Maia have just brought out a new song called ‘Amsterdam’ that I’m loving – that’s on repeat at the moment.

The Nutcracker is at Birmingham Hippodrome until 14 December and Royal Albert Hall 28-31 December.

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