English ballerina Yasmine Naghdi was promoted to First Soloist of the Royal Ballet at the end of last season following successful débuts in the leading roles of Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet and The Invitation.
This season she will perform the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in Sir Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker. Here’s what she had to say about this Christmas jewel and preparing to perform the coveted role.
What were your first thoughts when you found out you would be debuting as the Sugar Plum Fairy this season?
At first I just couldn’t believe my name was right next to that of the Sugar Plum. I was thrilled and truly delighted. This is one of the great roles one longs for and dreams of dancing one day when you train as a student and once you join the company.
Why are you looking forward to performing the role?
As I have been a professional dancer with The Royal Ballet for over 6 years now, I have seen how much it takes and how difficult it is. It really is a huge challenge. The Grand Pas de deux, the solos and the coda are a little over 10 minutes, but as the Sugar Plum Fairy, you barely stop – it’s like a very long sprint! The music is one of the most incredible elements for me, every note, every tune simply goes through my veins. I really have to control my excitement and remain cool, calm and collected… the beautiful music affects me deeply.
How do you hope to make your Sugar Plum stand out among the others? What do you hope to bring to the role?
I want to lose myself in the music and forget about the steps, I want to feel fully absorbed in the moment. I want my Sugar Plum to look regal and majestic, strong and elegant, radiate warmth and joy and transmit all those elements to the audience.
What makes The Nutcracker special for you?
The Sugar Plum Fairy is a role that I have always dreamt of dancing since I was a little girl watching the Royal Ballet’s The Nutcracker on DVD, it was just magical! So to actually being given this role is one of my dreams coming true.
How long did it take for you to learn the initial choreography and what were some challenges it posed?
It took me around 3 rehearsals to learn all the choreography. Most dancers will have watched this pas de deux for years, so you have a pretty good idea of the choreography by the time you reach a point in your career you are ready to dance the role. The challenge is to become one with the choreography and to make the role your own by adding personal touches.
Who is your partner for the role? Why is it important to develop a rapport offstage with them?
My partner is soloist Matthew Ball. We have worked together quite a bit already, and we will also début the Principal roles together in The Sleeping Beauty next spring. There is a huge element of trust required from both sides – after all, he is lifting me above his head!
Who have been your coaches for the role?
I have been very fortunate to work with Alexander Agadzhanov, he has been coaching Principal dancers since 1989 so it was a huge honour to be coached by him.
What is your favourite part of the role’s choreography and why?
It is very hard to pin point a certain step or section that I prefer. The grand pas de deux is an absolute masterpiece, everything goes hand in hand: the combination of the music with the choreography just speaks for itself.
What brand of pointe shoes do you wear and do you do anything to them to prepare them for a performance?
I wear Freed ‘Studios Professional.’ I darn the ends of my shoes to add friction, limiting the risk of slipping on stage. I use a shoe scratcher to score the soles of my shoes also to add friction to prevent slipping. I break the backs enough to give my foot a nice shape. I’ll wear the shoes I’m preparing for the performance in ballet class that day so I break them in and know what they will feel like on stage.
What should audiences look out for in particular when they come to see The Nutcracker? What is your favourite moment?
I love the very first moment The Sugar Plum and Prince touch and begin to dance together, the music is stunning, so powerful. Another lovely moment is towards the end of the pas de deux when The Sugar Plum Fairy ‘beats’ her right leg while she stands on pointe on her left leg meanwhile the prince walks around partnering her, it reflects the music perfectly.
What are your ‘words to live by’?
If you don’t believe in yourself no one ever will.
I love several colours but if I have to pick just one it has to be Sky blue.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.