PREPARATIONS for the Northern Ballet Company’s production of The Nutcracker is a sure sign that Christmas is approaching and for Rachael Gillespie, it means that she has the opportunity to dance the iconic role of Clara for the fourth time.

Her relationship with this traditional Christmas story goes back further than her time with Northern Ballet: “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,” she recalls. “Little did I know back then it’s not as effortless as it looks!”

Clara, of course, is central to the story of The Nutcracker. In the midst of a festive party, as the fire crackles and the pile of presents grows ever higher, she is caught up in the warmth and excitement of Christmas and becomes enthralled by her new Nutcracker doll.

But, as the clock strikes midnight, he proves to be no ordinary toy. After saving her Nutcracker from the wily Mouse King, Clara is whisked away on the magical journey of a lifetime through a winter wonderland of dancing snowflakes and the famous Sugar Plum Fairy.

“It’s a role I feel very grateful to perform and revisit and have become quite attached to her over the years,” says Rachael. “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.

“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.”

As for Rachael’s favourite scene, there can be only one answer.

“The Snow Scene!” she exclaims. “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 teamwork 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, it’s simply breath taking! It’s very magical.”

Rachael Gillespie will play Clara in Northern Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, this week, from Thursday 10 November until Saturday 12 November.