Interview: Laura Day, Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer

Laura Day as Clara with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet (c) Bill Cooper

Laura Day as Clara with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet (c) Bill Cooper - Credit: Archant

Laura Day, from Cheltenham, is a dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, who will be performing the lead role of Clara in The Nutcracker at Birmingham Hippodrome for the fourth time this year. Here, she talks about The Nutcracker, Christmas traditions and daily life as a ballerina in one of the top companies in the world

Laura Day in rehearsal for The Nutcracker (c) Ty Singleton

Laura Day in rehearsal for The Nutcracker (c) Ty Singleton - Credit: Archant

To start, tell us a little about yourself...

I started dancing at the age of four, doing ballet, tap and modern, because I had a lot of energy and my mum needed to channel it into something productive! I was very lucky that at the age of 12 I had a teacher that guided me more towards the classical route, and I joined the Royal Ballet School when I was 14.

I worked with Birmingham Royal Ballet in my last year at school, actually for Nutcracker funnily enough, and we performed at the O2 that year, which was an amazing experience. I went back to school that January and on the first day back my head teacher, Gailene Stock, told me I had a job at Birmingham Royal Ballet and that I started work the next day – I literally re-packed all my things and hopped on the train straightaway!

You’ve been playing Clara in The Nutcracker for four years. What’s it like coming back to the role every year? Does it feel the same?

It’s really interesting because I feel it’s always a good point in the year to evaluate how I’m doing that season – for example, maybe I’ll be slightly stronger technically compared to the previous year. I really enjoyed my debut as Clara but I was a little bit overwhelmed. Each year, I come back with more experience and try to add something new with each performance.

Also, having the opportunity to work with different partners is really interesting. It makes you a versatile dancer because you have to adapt to different heights and different styles. The guys at Birmingham Royal Ballet are absolutely amazing and I love the chance to dance with all of them.

Mathias Dingman as The Prince and Laura Day as Clara in The Nutcracker (c) Bill Cooper

Mathias Dingman as The Prince and Laura Day as Clara in The Nutcracker (c) Bill Cooper - Credit: Archant

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Can you describe a typical day at the office during the Nutcracker?

During The Nutcracker season in Birmingham, we usually have Mondays off and work from Tuesday to Sunday. It’s great if you need to do Christmas shopping because the city centre is so much quieter on a Monday!

If it’s a double show day, I’ll arrive at work at 10:15am to get ready and warm-up properly for our morning ballet class, which lasts for 1 hour 15 minutes. After that, I’ll have a quick practice with one of my partners if we’re coming towards a big show. I’ll have a lunch – a coffee, a sandwich or jacket potato (whatever I need to get through the day) – and get ready one hour before the show. Once the first show finishes, I’ll have a quick dinner and definitely take a nap. I’m known for my quick naps; I find it really beneficial to switch off and recover. I’ll have a tea, some sugar and then get ready for the second show. After that, it’s time to go home, have some more food and sleep!

The Nutcracker is an annual Christmas tradition for so many Brummie families and it doesn’t seem to grown old. Why do you think it captures everyone’s imagination so much?

I think it’s one of those things that just means Christmas. It’s like putting your Christmas tree up, or the Christmas market opening; that excitement building because you know the season is coming, you’re going to be with family and friends and it’s just a really magical time. Tchaikovsky’s music, the giant Christmas tree, the snow scene – for me it just represents Christmas in a nutshell and it definitely gets you in the spirit.

Although it’s a tradition for lots of people, in 2016 50% of the audience were seeing Nutcracker for the first time. Why do you think Nutcracker appeals to people who’ve never seen ballet before?

The Nutcracker is one of the classics, like Swan Like or Romeo and Juliet, so even if you don’t necessarily know ballet you may have heard of The Nutcracker. The Nutcracker is very family friendly as it’s not too long, so it’s a really great first ballet for children. There’s a lot to look at, the story develops quickly, there aren’t any really long scenes and it’s all very visual and exciting.

Ballet is a pretty demanding profession – you’ve already spoken about working six day weeks – there’s long hours, it’s very physical, you have a travel a lot. What motivates you?

It’s just those times on stage where you’re either doing a role you love, or you’re in an incredible theatre, and sometimes you just realise how lucky you are to be doing a job where you absolutely love it, and you’re doing your hobby as a career. Those moments push you through. You’ve done all that hard work in the studio, you’ve come in everyday and slogged away, you’ve tried to get your technique to the highest standard it can be, and then you just need to enjoy that moment on stage.

It’s just been announced that you’re playing Clara at the Royal Albert Hall. How are you feeling?

So excited! I wanted to dance Clara at the Royal Albert Hall so much and I feel so thankful to have the opportunity. Definitely one to tick off the bucket list! Our Nutcracker is such a beautiful production, so to take a new version of it to the Royal Albert Hall and show it to the audiences in London will be amazing.

What can London audiences expect from the new production?

I think we’re as intrigued as the audience at this point in time. From what we’ve seen, from the set designs and details our director David Bintley has revealed, it’s going to be interactive, exciting and very family friendly. It’s going to be amazing to hear Simon Callow as the voice of Drosselmeyer as well. It will be a very different version from what we perform in in Birmingham but that’s what’s exciting about it.

Finally, how will you be spending Christmas day?

I think I may have a few dancers from the company staying with me at my parent’s house in Cheltenham. My mum did say the more the merrier and I don’t really know if she’s thought about that properly! I will probably end up cooking, because it’s my mum’s birthday on Christmas day, but hopefully I’ll some help in the kitchen from my little elves.

See our review of The Nutcracker here.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet’s portrayal of The Nutcracker will run daily from Tuesday November 26 - Wednesday December 13 (excluding Mondays) at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Click here for exact timings.

Book your tickets online here or call the box office on 0844 338 5000.