Cojocaru and ENB first soloist Junor Souza in ENB's Nutcracker. Photo courtesy of John Ross

In this clip from The Royal Ballet's 2000 production of The Nutcracker, a 19-year-old Alina Cojocaru, now a principal with the English National Ballet, does the near impossible: she makes Clara's adoration for a nutty-looking wooden doll appear genuine. Cojocaru aptly navigates the role's acting challenges: Clara must have both girlish innocence and womanly poise. She's old enough to dance with the adults, but her imagination—with its capacity to fall for dolls and later conjure gargantuan trees and exotic lands—is untamed by age. Cojocaru's winsome smiles and earnest expressions, her commitment to the emotional ups and downs (not to mention her already pristinely-polished technique) make for a convincing Clara.

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Lauren Cuthbertson as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo by Tristram Kenton courtesy of The Royal Opera House.

What goes into becoming the Sugar Plum Fairy? This Nutcracker season, The Guardian went behind the scenes at The Royal Ballet to find out, zooming in on principal dancer Lauren Cuthbertson as she prepares for the iconic role.

The video opens with Cuthbertson walking down a gray London street and through the Opera House doors for morning warm up. Although it includes the rehearsal footage you might expect, shot in luscious slow motion, the video also reveals some rituals and quirks you might not. “Toe caps" appears to be the British term for toe pads, I learned. I also had no idea what went into achieving the frosted look of the dancers' hair. (Hint: a can of spray paint, not confection—and lots of glitter!)

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Christmas came early this year for Elizabeth Murphy. Last Friday, the Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer made her debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the company premiere of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. But the excitement didn't stop there. Just before the curtain rose, she was promoted to principal. For Pointe‘s bi-weekly newsletter, we caught up with Murphy during rehearsals for the holiday classic.

Murphy in costume as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

What is it like to learn such an iconic role?

The whole first day of rehearsal I had butterflies. Growing up, I watched every single Nutcracker performance I could, and I loved seeing Julie Diana do the role at Pennsylvania Ballet. When I started to learn Sugar Plum, I even remembered how she did a certain arm, and I wanted to do that, too.

What do you hope to bring to the role?

I always think it's nice to see dancers be themselves. That was something I learned from Violette Verdy when she worked with us on Jewels. She would give us so many things to think about, but at the end of the day, she'd say, "Just be yourself." It was really freeing to hear that.

Do you have a favorite moment in this version?

For sentimental reasons, I love the part with the angels. There's something so sweet about the little girls onstage, and I was an angel when I was younger.

This production has all new costumes. What are they like?

Ian Falconer, who did "Olivia the Pig," designed them. They have this fantastical feel, very vivid colors and a lot of sparkles. I don't think I've ever seen a purple Sugar Plum costume, but it makes a lot of sense to me!

 

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