Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in "Nutcracker." Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Spun Sugar: Birmingham Royal Ballet's Céline Gittens on Dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy

Our company's Nutcracker was choreographed by Sir Peter Wright, and it's very traditional. We usually only have two weeks to prepare after the end of the autumn season, so my partner and I start going over the grand pas de deux on our own time before rehearsals start. I like to do my own research through social media or by watching how other company dancers interpret the role, drawing from what I like best and trying to apply that to myself. I also video my rehearsals and later critique them, to try to get my performance up to another level.


In some versions, Clara dances the pas de deux in Act II, but in ours she is a different character. After "Waltz of the Flowers," Drosselmeyer shows her a doll in a pink tutu. Then Clara slips behind Drosselmeyer's cloak and disappears, so it looks like she's transformed into the Sugar Plum Fairy.

At the beginning of the pas de deux, everything is so quiet. The prince and I walk around the stage before it starts, and I use that as an opportunity to connect with the audience. They may not know the technical steps, so the most important thing is to express the character you're playing. In my interpretation, I like to think that I'm still Clara—I try to keep her sense of wonder and amazement, as well as her gratitude to Drosselmeyer for transforming her into this beautiful ballerina doll.


Gittens' pro tip: "In the studio, technique comes first. But once you have your first stage rehearsal, you need to transition your focus to the performance aspect and be very free." Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy Birmingham Royal Ballet.

The music can get quite powerful during the pas de deux, so I try to find a fine line between being delicate, classical and upright, yet also strong and in charge. I've been coached by Sir Peter Wright, and he always talks about moments of stillness, which are really important for the dynamics of a performance, especially in my solo—where you're playing with the music, but still on the music. It helps draw in the eye of the audience; otherwise, it's monotone. And he encourages me to really attack the steps.

After the performance, when I'm walking home, I'll see little girls dressed up in beautiful dresses and long tutus twirling outside the auditorium. It's really nice to see that we've inspired them, that we've taken them away to a world of magic and mystery and excitement. They leave with their hearts lifted.


Latest Posts


Getty Images

The History of Pointe Shoes: The Landmark Moments That Made Ballet's Signature Shoe What It Is Today

Pointe shoes, with their ability to elevate a dancer both literally and metaphorically to a superhuman realm, are the ultimate symbol of a ballerina's ethereality and hard work. For students, receiving a first pair of pointe shoes is a rite of passage. The shoes carry an almost mystical allure: They're an endless source of lore and ritual, with tips, tricks and stories passed down over generations.

The history of pointe shoes reveals how a delicately darned slipper introduced in the 1820s has transformed into a technical tool that offers dancers the utmost freedom onstage today.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

How Coming Back to Ballet After Years Away Has Saved Me During the Pandemic Shutdown

I was 4 years old when I took my first ballet lesson. My mom had dressed me in a pink leotard with matching tights, skirt and slippers. She drove me on a Saturday morning to a ballet academy in downtown Caguas, the town in Puerto Rico where I grew up. I don't remember much from the first lesson, but I do recall the reverence. My teacher Mónica asked the class if someone wanted to volunteer to lead. She was surprised I—the new girl—was the one to raise my hand.

I made up most of the steps, mimicking the ballerinas I had seen on TV and videos. At one point, Mónica stepped in and asked me to lead the class in a bow. I followed her directions and curtseyed in front of the mirror with one leg behind me and a gentle nod. I looked up to find myself in awe of what I had just done.

This was the same feeling I had when, after years away from dance, I finished my first YouTube ballet class at home in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
La'Toya Princess Jackson, Courtesy MoBBallet

Join Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet for Its 2020 Virtual Symposium

Memoirs of Blacks in Ballet, founded in 2015 by writer and activist Theresa Ruth Howard to preserve and promote the stories of Black ballet dancers, is offering three weekends of interactive education and conversation this month through its 2020 Virtual Symposium. The conference, titled "Education, Communication, Restoration," encourages participants to engage in candid discussions concerning racial inequality and social justice in ballet. While it is a space that centers on Blackness, all are welcome. Held August 14, 15, 21, 22 and 28, MoBBallet's second annual symposium will allow dancers to receive mentorship and openly speak about their personal experiences in a safe and empowering environment.

The first event, For Us By Us (FUBU) Town Hall, is a free community discussion on August 14 from 3:30–4:30 pm EDT via Zoom, followed by a forum for ballet leadership. The town hall format encourages active engagement (participants can raise their hands and respond in real time), but the registration invoice also contains a form for submitting questions in advance. The following discussions, forums and presentations include topics like company life as a Black dancer, developing personal activism, issues of equity and colorism in ballet companies, and more. Tickets range from free to $12 for each 60- to 80-minute event.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks