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

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

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.


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Photo by Rob Becker, courtesy DePrince.

In January, a commercial for Chase's QuickPay Mobile App starring Michaela DePrince aired on national television. In March, it was announced that Madonna would be directing the movie version of DePrince's autobiography. And in April, she graced the cover of Harper's Bazarre Netherlands. With all the buzz, it's easy to forget that the Dutch National Ballet soloist has been sidelined since August 2017 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Pointe checked in with DePrince to see how her recovery is going.

Last fall, you ruptured your Achilles tendon. How did that happen?

It was the first of August. I was in Sicily doing an event with Google. We had dinner at a temple and it was just absolutely incredible. I'm kind of clumsy outside of ballet, so I thought it would be safer if I took my shoes off. Then Lenny Kravitz starts to sing a song and he dedicates it to me. I got up and went to go sit next to him on the stage. When I got up from sitting, I stepped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew right away that I ruptured my Achilles. They brought me to an ambulance and took me to the hospital. I flew back to the Netherlands the next day and had an appointment with the doctors here in Amsterdam. They said, "Yeah, you ruptured three quarters of your Achilles." And then on August 14, I had surgery.

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I was offered a company contract (my first!) starting this fall. What should I do in the meantime to make sure I'm as prepared as possible? —Melissa

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Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

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YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."

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Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh getting early practice as a leading man. Photo courtesy Connor Walsh

It's that time of year again—recital season! And not so long ago, some of your favorite ballet dancers were having their own recital experiences: dancing, discovering, bowing, laughing, receiving after-show flowers, making memories, and, of course, having their pictures taken! For this week's #TBT, we gathered recital photos—and the stories behind them—from five of our favorite dancers.

Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

"This photo was taken by my mom when I was 11, waiting in the dressing room (the band room of West Florence High School in South Carolina) before I went onstage as 'Mary' for a recital piece featuring 3-year-olds as little lambs.I had so much fun being the teacher's assistant in the baby ballet class each week, particularly because my little sister Tessa [pictured below] was one of the 3-year-olds. I remember feeling quite grown up at the time because I was dancing in the older kids' recital piece later in the program, but in this moment I was just looking forward to leading my little lambs onstage in their number."

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From the latest launches to forever favorites, these stretch-canvas flats will (comfortably) keep you on your toes:


Bloch Inc. Infinity


Bloch combined the top features from two of their best-selling shoes to create this arch-enhancing slipper. An elastic top line (instead of draw- string) allows the shoe to mold to your foot, and a ridge-less outsole helps with balances and turns by giving the toes more room to spread out.


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Photo by Jacob Bryant, Courtesy Random Acts

"When you turn up at someone's door saying, 'I would like to make the first dance in Antarctica,' they often call you crazy."

So says Kiwi choreographer and former ballet dancer Corey Baker. Luckily, his persistence paid off. On Sunday, April 22 (that's Earth Day, everybody), Baker, who now directs the U.K.–based Corey Baker Dance, is releasing his short film "Antarctica: The First Dance." Commissioned by Random Acts for Channel 4 and The Space (UK), the four-minute film stars Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham—who performed in unimaginably frigid conditions to promote Baker's very important message. "I wanted to highlight Antarctica's epic landscape and vast beauty, but at the same time show that it is under threat," he says. "Climate change impact is real and immediate. By showing up-close the beauty of this incredible place, people can feel closer to something that may otherwise seem abstract and unconnected."

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