You can’t get much more festive than a performance of The Nutcracker. Time Out Kids chats to prima ballerina Michelle Cox about the Vienna Festival Ballet’s fairytale production at Ductac this Christmas.
How old were you when you first started dancing?
I first started ballet at my local dancing school when I was two and a half. When I was four I started modern and tap and also did my first solo performance in a competition. From then I knew I wanted to be on the stage. At 11, I went to a professional dancing school and at 16 was told I wouldn’t be a ballerina, which by then was what I wanted. So I decided I was going to prove them wrong! I was ecstatic to being accepted into Vienna Festival Ballet as it meant I had made it. But the moment I knew I was going to be a ‘prima ballerina’ was three days before my first show when I received a phone call asking me to come in to rehearse because the principal girl was injured. I never dreamed I would dance ‘prima ballerina’ roles but I was just very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
What do you love most about ballet?
The main reason I wanted to be a ballerina and not any other type of dancer is the pointe work. Any other ballerina would probably tell you it’s their least favourite part of being a ballerina but I love the challenge of it.
What’s the most challenging aspect about dancing The Nutcracker?
The most challenging aspect about dancing this particular ballet is portraying the enthusiasm of the young child Clara in act one and then changing into the ultra-mature Sugar Plum Fairy. Out of all the principal roles I have danced, Clara is the most immature character and Sugar Plum Fairy is the most mature.
How hard do you train?
Every day before the show, we do a class, which is the only training I get while on tour. On tour days off I’m so tired I just need to relax and sleep! In between tours I will do classes in varying styles to stay toned and to keep my stamina up – when I’m dancing a principal role my stamina needs to be at its peak to keep me going on a full week of shows, which could be as many as 10 performances.
What did your parents think when you told them you were going to be a ballerina?
I remember watching Northern Ballet Theatre with my parents when I was eight and after the show I told them that’s what I wanted to do. They have been so supportive and they both enjoy going to watch the ballet so it’s just an added bonus I’m dancing. Mum even joked the other day about coming out to Dubai, she was wondering if she could get time off work!
How long did it take you to learn to dance on your toes?
I got my first pair of pointe shoes as a Christmas present when I was 10. It takes a long time to learn to be able to do all of the steps in the classical repertoire. There are still steps I’m learning to do now or trying to improve, maybe to add an extra turn to make it look more impressive for the audience. It does hurt but you get used to it very quickly. It is very hard to find that perfect pointe shoe that won’t make your feet hurt, I have worn so many different styles of pointe shoes in the 13 years I have been doing pointe work, maybe 10 to15 different types, and I’m still not 100 percent satisfied with the shoes I wear now!
How many pairs do you need in a year?
If I were to do a whole tour as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, and a whole tour as Odille from Swan Lake, then I would probably go through nearly 60 pairs of shoes in a year!
Are you allowed to eat cream cakes occasionally?
I always do ballet classes when I’m not on tour to keep in shape and I teach too. My mum always tries to get me to come and join her Pilates class at the studio but I would much rather do a proper dance class. Of course I eat cream cakes but only if they have jam in them too! On tour we have to keep our sugar levels up constantly because it’s not only the dancing that tires us out but also the travelling. I do find that sweeties are an amazing sugar fix just before I go on stage.
What does the story of The Nutcracker mean to you?
The Nutcracker will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the ballet which launched my career. It was also the first ballet that I saw when I was six. I love the fact that I get to act, be naughty and have fun on stage and then I wear a traditional tutu and perform a grand pas de deux. I love the music – especially the transformation pas de deux at the end of first act, during which I dance with the nutcracker.
Do you have any advice for little ballerinas who want to be like you when they grow up
My advice to young budding ballerinas would be to make sure you love and enjoy your dancing. Make sure you are taking classes with a reputable teacher with proper qualifications and try all sorts of dance styles. You never know, you may prefer something different when you try it. And lastly, make sure you take care of yourself, then you can eat those cream cakes if you want!
The Nutcracker is showing from December 15-17 (Thurs, 10am, 3pm and 8pm; Fri, 11am and 4pm; Sat, 11am, 2pm and 6pm) at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates. Dhs150-190 per person, www.timeouttickets.com (04 341 4777).