A male and female dancer dancing in unison in front of a snowy background

Northern Ballet's Rachael Gillespie Interview

Ahead of Northern Ballet’s performances of The Nutcracker, we spoke to one of the stars of the show, First Soloist Rachael Gillespie who plays Clara, to tell us more about this Christmas classic.

Written by Northern Ballet


What makes The Nutcracker such a classic ballet?

RG: The Nutcracker is definitely a show that has something for everyone and is perfect for celebrating the Christmas festivities. For many it even becomes a tradition! Whether you’re a ballet fanatic or it’s your first theatre experience, it’s definitely one of the best shows to see.

The live music is beautiful, the costumes and sets are a real treat for the eyes, and the infectious energy from the dancers keeps the audience enjoying the production from beginning to end. It really sets you up for Christmas.

What makes Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker different to the others?

RG: We are a touring theatre-ballet company, so not only do you get world class dancers but you also get great actors too. Everyone on stage is fully involved and committed to the story. It’s fantastic for the audience to watch something so alive!

This will be the third time you have played Clara in The Nutcracker, how has your relationship with the character developed over the years?

RG: It’s a role I feel very grateful to perform and revisit, and I have become quite attached to her over the years. She’s a special role that has been a real pleasure to dance, and holds many special memories for me. The character of Clara is a real joy, and you can bring something fresh to the role every time – whether it’s the energy, the story, or evolving within your artistry. I feel that there is always room for improvement. 

Can you tell us more about your character Clara?

RG: Clara’s a bright, bubbly and loveable character! She’s full of energy and love for Christmas – it’s a great role to perform. You also get to see her adventurous side as she meets the Nutcracker Prince.

Do you remember the first time you ever saw The Nutcracker?

RG: The Nutcracker was actually the first ballet I ever saw. It was by another company and was featured on TV over the Christmas holidays when I was about seven years old.

My Mum recorded it for me on VHS, and I just remember loving it so much that I watched it over and over again. I just remember how I loved all the costumes, music and that there were ballerinas in pointe shoes! Little did I know back then it’s not as effortless as it looks!

A ballerina in a long light pink dress with her leg in the air, holding a nutcracker

Rachael Gillespie as Clara. Photo Bill Cooper

What is your favourite scene from The Nutcracker?

RG: The Snow Scene!

It’s really beautiful – the costumes, the music, but most of all, the beautiful Snowflake ladies. The dance itself, although it may look effortless, actually entails months of hard work before it goes on stage. There are so many beautiful patterns and it requires great team work and dedication amongst your colleagues to get it right. It’s a real team effort and requires a lot of stamina too – but the end result is so rewarding – and for the audience, its simply breath-taking! It’s very magical.

Ballerinas in a row in white tutus with snow falling around them

Northern Ballet dancers in The Nutcracker snow scene. Photo Kyle Baines

What inspired you to become a ballet dancer?

RG: I was always a very energetic child and loved dancing and jumping around to music. I started ballet classes at the age of three and was hooked!

How long have you been at Northern Ballet for?

RG: I’ve been at Northern Ballet now for 14 years. When I first saw the Company perform when I was younger I remember being blown away, not only by the amazing technical and athletic dancing but by the incredible artistry and unique acting too. I knew after watching in awe, that this was the ballet company I wanted to be a part of.

How do you relax and ‘switch off’ after an intense show week?

RG: I love going for long walks when I can, as we spend a lot of time indoors in the studio or in the theatre. I also love to bake!

There are some fabulous costumes in The Nutcracker, do you have a favourite that we can all look out to spot from the audience?

RG: The Sugar Plum tutu tends to be a favourite!

What can families coming to the ballet together for the first time expect with The Nutcracker?

RG: To just have a wonderful time!

Two ballet dancers in a hold together. One wears a pink tutu

The Sugar Plum Fairy costume. Dancers Saeka Shirai and Jonathan Hanks in The Nutcracker. Photo Kyle Baines

Northern Ballet’s The Nutcracker is at Leeds Grand Theatre from Tuesday 20 December to Saturday 7 January.

Book now for the ultimate festive ballet. 

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