Behind the scenes of ‘The Nutcracker’

T&C talks to Melissa Hamilton, the First Soloist in the Royal Ballet’s festive favourite

Artists of The Royal Ballet as the Snowflakes, ROH, 2015. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

This Christmas, the Royal Ballet will present a new version of Sir Peter Wright and Lev Ivanov’s landmark 1984 production of The Nutcracker in Covent Garden.

Prepare to be enthralled by Tchaikovsky’s familiar score – every bit the soundtrack to Christmas – which will welcome you into the enchanting world of the Sugar Plum Fairy (but only after spirited toys have sprung to life to do battle with evil-minded mice…)

Set on Christmas Eve at the turn of the 19th century, the story begins with the clock- and toy-making magician, Drosselmeyer, who gives our young heroine, Clara, the gift of a nutcracker doll – actually his nephew Hans-Peter, cast under a wicked spell by the evil Queen of the Mice. The only way for our hero to break the enchantmen is to slay the Mouse King and secure Clara’s affections.

Here, Town & Country goes behind the scenes of the production with its First Soloist, Melissa Hamilton.

Melissa Hamilton photographed by Andrej Uspenski

What does it mean to you to be performing in The Nutcracker?

It’s every little girl’s dream to dance in The Nutcracker. The music, magic and sparkle, plus the fact it is performed around Christmas, really makes it the most fantastical show. I am lucky to be part of the stage festivities season upon season.

There have been setbacks along the way – did you ever doubt that you would make it here?

I can feel only incredibly lucky for all that my career continues to give me. I think that doubt is the quickest cause of failure in reaching your optimum; therefore, it is always important to believe in yourself when setbacks happen. Everyone experiences criticisms and things cannot always go the way you want them to, but it is important to keep believing and learn from these experiences to progress and grow.

Artists of The Royal Ballet, ROH 2018. Photograph: Alastair Muir

Christmas and The Nutcracker go together like mulled wine and mince pies; just how special is this production?

Sir Peter Wright’s production for the Royal Ballet Company had its first performance in 1984 and has been delighting audiences nearly every Christmas since then. The story and the set, along with Tchaikovsky’s well-known score, make for a magical combination. I’ve had the pleasure of performing a full spectrum of roles, from a snowflake in my early years as a corps de ballet member all the way up to the Sugar Plum Fairy, so it is really embedded in my vision of Christmas. 

You dance a number of roles in The Nutcracker, including being held aloft in the Arabian dance. Which is the most fun?

I have to say the Arabian princess in Act II, the Kingdom of the Sweets, is definitely the most fun role to perform. To enter and exit the stage being held high above my partner’s head always brings a warm applause from the audience. I enjoy the sultry contrast that this role offers, compared with the other frivolities.

You’ve spent a good deal of your recent career in Germany. Did you enjoy your time in Dresden and how did it advance your dance repertoire?

Dresden was an incredibly valuable experience. I had the opportunity to work with a  new and different set of creatives, which is always helpful in growth and development. It also  gave me the opportunity to assess my work. During that 18-month period, I debuted in the leading classical roles of Nikiya (La Bayadere), Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) and my career dream role Odette/Odile (Swan Lake).  I also got to explore and perform contemporary works by William Forsythe, Matz Ek and Stijn Celis. 

Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Clara, ROH 2013. Photograph: Tristram Kenton

What advice would you offer to young people looking to forge a career in dance?

It is essential to watch as much ballet online as possible - if it doesn't come to you, then go find it. YouTube is such a valuable means of seeing what is out there in the world of dance.

If you could go back in time, which ballet performance would you like to see and why?

I think it would be fascinating to watch any of our company’s heritage ballets, such as those by Kenneth MacMillan or Frederick Ashton, on the opening night of their first run. To see the original version danced for the first time by the debut casts would be witnessing true pieces of dance history.

What are your plans for 2019?

The year will kick off with the New Year’s Day television broadcast of Danza Con Me, in which I perform with Roberto Bolle on Italy’s Rai1. Along with my Royal Ballet performances at the Royal Opera House, I am scheduled to dance in Italy, Mexico and Russia.

The Nutcracker is on at The Royal Opera House until 15 January 2019.  

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