Pair making up for lost time

Shaun James Kelly and Marie Varlet never had the experience of dancing in The Nutcracker as children, but they are making up for it now. Rebecca Fox talks to the pair about the traditional Christmas ballet.

Dancing across the stage as ''snowflakes'' float down around you is a magical experience, but requires some skill.

The snowflakes can be slippery and as the dancers are often looking skywards, they need to be careful not to ingest them.

''The snow scene can be very intense, you don't want to breathe in and inhale a snowflake,'' Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Marie Varlet says.

Fellow dancer Shaun James Kelly says the dramatic effect is worth it, even if the dancers find snowflakes in their bed and their bathrooms for the next few months.

For the dancers, the white Christmas-themed ballet is very nostalgic as they are from countries where snow often features at the holiday.

Sean James Kelly and Marie Varlet as Herr Drosselmeier and Marie Stahlbaum in The Nutcracker. Photo: RNZB
Sean James Kelly and Marie Varlet as Herr Drosselmeier and Marie Stahlbaum in The Nutcracker. Photo: RNZB

Varlet is from Saint-Quentin, France, and trained at the Paris Opera Ballet School. She has also danced in the United States and Switzerland before moving to New Zealand three years ago for ''the adventure. It's a beautiful country''.

Kelly is from Perth, Scotland, and trained at the Dance School of Scotland before joining the English National Ballet School in London and going on to dance in Copenhagen before joining the RNZB in 2014.

Both were lured to the RNZB by its exciting programme of ballets and the high-quality choreographers it attracts as well as its emphasis on extending dancers' skills.

''It draws great artists to this organisation.''

Kelly is the RNZB's choreographer in residence, an exciting opportunity for him and one that has had him work with Varlet often. She danced in his version of Little Red Riding Hood earlier this year.

''It's a great challenge and really exciting.''

Kelly also dances the lead role of Herr Drosselmeyer, and Varlet the role of Marie Stahlbaum with on rotation with other dancers.

This is the first storytelling dance they have had together. Previously, they had danced together in the more contemporary William Forsythe piece In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

''This is our first classical storytelling roles together where we get to portray young love and that kind of Christmasy feeling you get when you are out playing in the snow.''

Varlet says when she is on stage she completely goes into that world, so having total trust in Kelly made the experience very enjoyable.

''You can go out there and relax and portray yourself, '' Kelly said.

Dancing multiple roles ''could be tricky'', but they each have their own ways of zoning in on the role they are dancing at the time.

''Every night you have to focus on that role,'' Kelly said.

''You have to forget the other roles - they don't exist,'' Varlet said.

Doing two shows and performing different roles in each made for some quick thinking.

''You can be a snowflake, but be on the other side or in a different spot, it's tricky. It can all happen last minute, but that's exciting.''

Having so many children involved in the production made it a lot of fun as they were all so excited.

''You always remember your first time on stage.''

It had taken six weeks of rehearsals to achieve the ''perfection'' visible on stage.

''It's a lot of hard work. Lots of hours have been put into that one night you see on stage that is so effortless.''

The company is on the road with The Nutcracker for six weeks before the dancers go their separate ways for Christmas.

For Kelly and Varlet, that means heading home for a real white Christmas.

Varlet experienced her first ''hot'' Christmas last year and found it ''very different''.

Another advantage to working in New Zealand meant they get to go home for Christmas while most northern hemisphere dancers are in productions, such as The Nutcracker, through Christmas.

To see

Royal New Zealand Ballet's The Nutcracker
with the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra.
Regent Theatre, November 17 at 7.30pm and November 18 at 1.30pm

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