Sunday, December 14, 2014

Interview: Dancer Emma Hawes, on The Nutcracker, National Ballet

(photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic)

Plumming in The Best Nutcracker
by Ramya Jegatheesan, Senior Contributor
Emma Hawes was born in Delaware, Ohio and trained at the BalletMet's Dance Academy in Columbus, Ohio and Canada’s National Ballet School. She joined The National Ballet of Canada as a member of the Corps de Ballet in 2011. Ms Hawes’ repertoire includes Swan Lake, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, The Sleeping Beauty, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, La Fille mal gardée, Cinderella, Nijinsky, The Seagull, The Four Seasons, Theme and Variations and Carmen. In 2012, Ms Hawes represented the National Ballet in The Tenth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize with Second Soloist Brendan Saye and won the Audience Choice Award. The Charlebois Post - Canada Senior Contributor Ramya Jegatheesan spoke with Emma Hawes.
CHARPO: When was the first time you ever saw The Nutcracker? 

HAWES: I was probably around seven-years-old. The first one I’d ever seen was actually one I was involved in. So it’s been a lifetime of Nutcrackers. 

CHARPO: What was that experience like, and what role were you playing?

HAWES: At that point, in my very young career, it was the most exciting thing I had ever been involved in. I was a party girl. I got to wear a really frilly and glam big dress. I was the Mother Ginger’s child. That was the highlight. It was really really exhilarating. To this day, when I hear the music I still think of the first time I ever danced The Nutcracker and it still brings that excitement back. I’ve been involved in a couple of different productions of The Nutcracker. That one was in Ohio, and I was in a couple of other ones. From then until now I was actually never involved in The Nutcracker until after I was in the National Ballet Company so this is kind of exciting.

(photo by Sian Richards)
CHARPO: This is your debut performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy. How are you feeling about that? 

HAWES:  At this point, I’ve just got my blinders on, and I’m just really focusing on being ready enough. It’s such a short amount of time that we have to prepare The Nutcracker because you know it comes back every year. We also have lots of injuries and lots of people learning new parts so it's just overall mayhem here. 

CHARPO: What is involved in the training and preparation for The Nutcracker? 

HAWES:  At this point, we’ve had about a total of a week and a half of actual just Nutcracker rehearsals. It’s really fast. The poor apprentices have to learn all their parts at lightning speed. I was lucky because I got to start working with Magdalena Popa, she’s our Principal Coach here, and I probably started rehearsing about a month ago I would say. Very slowly learning the choreography, working with Guillame Coté who is going to be my partner for the pas de deux. And it’s been really nice to have that time. They usually do that when someone is new to a role, and especially because I’m quite young so I have a lot to learn in terms of principal roles. It’s been tough, but I’m learning so so much. 

CHARPO:  What do you think makes The Nutcracker so timeless? So beloved? 

HAWES: I have never seen a Nutcracker like this one honestly. Really, I feel this is the best Nutcracker in the world. It’s so warm and fuzzy feeling. The music is so timeless. I know ballet dancers always act all over it when they hear The Nutcracker music. But I have to be honest, I love it, and it doesn’t really get old to me. It carries the production, and it carries the story, and makes it so fulfilling to dance.  The kids really connect to the music and seeing so many people in costumes dancing together. I just think of whenever I’ve seen The Nutcracker, it’s the combination of all the aspects of the production coming together: the dancing and the costumes and the music. Just to see that all in one big show, it really touches people.

CHARPO: What makes you say this is the best version of The Nutcracker? 

HAWES: The set and costumes are unparalleled. I have never seen anything like them. The choreography, the way the story works, everything is unique and it doesn’t follow the exact story that you see in most Nutcrackers. It feels more like a folktale. It feels more earthy and raw. It gives you a bit more to connect to when you’re trying to dance a character like the Sugar Plum Fairy, who is very ethereal and not real in a real world sort of sense. The way the ballet is put together and the way the story is told, I think you can bring a lot of life to it and a lot of meaning. It’s not just going to be a fluff piece. 

CHARPO: What challenges come with performing a beloved classic that has been performed all over the world?

HAWES: For us, I’ve been in the corps de ballet for four years now. It gets pretty trying close to the end of the run when you’re doing 23 shows of the same flowers in the snow. So there’s always that aspect to it. It’s just hard to keep up the energy when a production is so well-known and often-performed, but at the same time you know that the people you are performing for are just eating it up. You have so many kids in the audience, and it’s so exciting to invite family and friends to come see it because they just love it, and they love to come backstage and see the big Fabergé egg and the sets and costumes and things. It’s really beloved, which I think makes it less of a challenge to come back to every year. 

I think in a role like that, I just want to bring in as much generosity in spirit as I can.

CHARPO: Who is your favourite Nutcracker character? 

HAWES: I would say the Sugar Plum Fairy. I have to go with that one. I have loved watching this pas de deux, watching people dance this role, for as long as I can remember. The music for the pas de deux and the variation and all of that is just so exciting and timeless that you can’t help but want to put your own stamp on it, kind of live that role for a little part of your life. It’s totally the little girl in me. I cannot deny that at all. 

CHARPO: What kind of approach are you bringing to the Sugar Plum Fairy role?

HAWES: It’s kind of a work in progress at this point just because I haven’t had a whole lot of time and we’re still really really focusing on technique and actually being able to do all the steps without falling over. I think in a role like that, I just want to bring in as much generosity in spirit as I can. I think she’s a very generous sort of character. 

CHARPO: What are the challenges you find in performing and learning this role? 

HAWES: It’s very tricky. It’s taking quite a bit of time to really stamp it into my body so that it feels more natural, and it’s also my first principal role, and I’m finding that takes an entirely different kind of focus than rehearsing a corps de ballet role. It’s really tough just maintaining a level of focus on every step because every single step matters. You don’t really have any off time, you have to be on on on constantly. I think that’s sort of been the learning process, but it’s been incredible to work with Magdalena and Guillame because they’ve just been a wealth  of information and tips so I feel like I’m going to be really ready when the time comes.

CHARPO: Is this the most challenging role that you’ve learned so far? 

HAWES: Yeah. To date, definitely. Stamina-wise especially. 

We’ve got a lot of exciting debuts in the company with this season. Every year, it always feels different.

CHARPO: What do you find the most appealing about The Nutcracker?

HAWES: I love that it’s a holiday tradition. I love that whole aspect of it. It goes hand in hand with the smell of clementines and cloves and all things Christmas-y to me. It makes me really look forward to it even if it is a lot of work. 

CHARPO: For those who have seen The Nutcracker year in and year out, is there a reason they should come again this year? 

HAWES:  Absolutely. There’s always surprises. That’s the beauty of live performance. We’ve got a lot of exciting debuts in the company with this season. Every year, it always feels different. It doesn’t ever feel the same year after year for me so I hope that’s reflected in the performance. It must be because audiences seem to keep coming back. 

CHARPO: What would you say to the uninitiated? Those who have never been to a single performance of The Nutcracker. Why should they attend? 

HAWES: This is a top-notch Nutcracker. If you’re going to see a version of The Nutcracker, this is the one to see. There’s no way you’re going to walk in there feeling worse than when you came in. You’re going to walk out feeling really happy. 

CHARPO: You mentioned there might be surprises in the performance, and most of those would be spontaneous, but are there any planned surprises in this year’s Nutcracker? 

HAWES: Oh no, no planned surprises, but we always have exciting new guests coming to do the walk-on roles.We have this walk-on role with the Cannon Dolls so they recruit people. Last year we had Chris Hadfield. That just blew my mind. We had Rob Ford one year. And we’ve had the Toronto Argonauts, and there’s also the lovely surprises of the very slippery floor, which can cause some falls so look out for that. 

CHARPO: What are you most looking forward to with this performance? 

HAWES: I’m really looking forward to getting on stage with it. I just feel so so fortunate to have the chance to dance this. I’m also really looking forward to performing for my family and friends. I have a whole bus load of people coming to see me. 

December 13 - January 3

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