Whether it’s the Christmas tree, the stuffed turkey or jingle bells, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas in Birmingham without the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker. Many Brummies would argue it is one of the city’s most important traditions, along with the German market of course. I spoke to Lachlan Monaghan, a First Artist at the Birmingham Royal Ballet about the show and making his debut as the Nutcracker Prince this year.
On taking on the role for the first time this Christmas, Lachlan said: “It feels absolutely incredible and very surreal, it is just the epitome of classical roles for a male dancer. There isn’t a person in the world who wouldn’t know the role and it is something I’ve watched for so many years, so to have my name on that cast list now is really special.”
After joining Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2012, Lachlan’s love for ballet spurred off his talent for tap dancing. After tapping from a young age, he was encouraged by his tap teacher to give it a go. “I’ve always had a great love for music and I’ve always been quite creative so I think it just took me a few years to find where that was going to really lie, but when I took to ballet it was like a duck to water really,” he said.
With The Nutcracker opening this Friday, the company are deep into rehearsals for the extravagant ballet. “It is a very technically demanding pas de deux and what is difficult about it is its simplicity, it is making everything look so easy and graceful,” he explained. “I am working with Maureya Lebowitz and she is an incredible partner to work with, she has an amazing attention to detail and she is so refined in every way.”
The Nutcracker has been part of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertoire for many years and is a favourite in Birmingham as it kicks off the countdown to Christmas. “Year after year audiences love it and come back all the time. It is amazing to have such full houses all the time, and audiences that are so appreciative from young children to older adults,” Lachlan said. As a lot of the dancers return to perform the same role every year, Lachlan expressed his excitement to get his teeth into dancing the the Nutcracker Prince. “It is an interesting time of the year in the studios, you walk past and in every studio there is someone doing that pas de deux and it is quite scary but also exciting,” he said.
I asked Lachlan whether or not he watches the other dancers in the company who are performing the same role perform, he said: “Sometimes I get quite nervous watching others in the same role, if I am going to be doing that role the next day I often like to sit in the wing and listen to the music.” The music is something that Lachlan uses to prepare for a performance, even during the hours leading up to the start of the show.
“When I prepare for the show I like to get a bit of fresh air, I think that it is important and I like to remind myself that there is a world out there,” he said. “I then get some food and an hour or two before the show do a very light warm up. I take my time, I often like to just go to the stage, do a very light barre but I don’t like to try too many things that I am actually going to perform that night. I go by the rule ‘if it’s not happening a week before the show then it isn’t going to.’ I try to reserve some energy for responding in the moment, I often just put some music in and lie down on the stage, maybe in the wings somewhere dark and just close my eyes and think through the show really. I think that is quite powerful to me, to know when to come in and think each section through.”
Lachlan gushes about the role of The Nutcracker prince, but I was intrigued to find out what other roles he dreams to play. “I was so lucky to have done one of them this season in Concerto, from the day I saw that ballet, the music and dancing just grabbed me. I think it is one of the most amazing creations by Macmillan and I felt so lucky to dance that,” he said. “My other dream role would be Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. I’d just love to fall in love with someone on stage like that and tell that story.”
The Nutcracker opens this Friday at the Birmingham Hippodrome until the 13th of December before opening at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time after Christmas. For those few that may have not already experienced the spectacle that is Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker, I asked Lachlan why he thinks people will love the show, “I think it is the most brilliant show and people won’t be disappointed.” Emphasising how it is ideal for families and people of all ages, I agreed that it really is the perfect Christmas treat. “I’d tell people to come and get into the festive spirit and support the local community of Birmingham as well. It is really important to support the arts at the moment and to have such a brilliant production, score and designs I just think everything about it is amazing,” he said.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on the 24th of November and tickets can be found here.