Get the inside track on Principal dancer and Nutcracker Prince Christopher Harrison, who performed as a child in the original Peter Darrell production.
It’s every male ballet dancers’ dream to dance the role of the Nutcracker Prince and for Principal dancer Christopher Harrison, this has now become a reality.
Born in the village of Kippen, near Stirling, Christopher’s interest in dance was sparked when he was ten years old. “A lady called Kay Morrison came to my primary school in Kippen to run a dance workshop, and I was hooked!”, says Christopher. “She encouraged me in those early days and I moved on to attend the Stenhousemuir School of Dance before getting my first experience of Scottish Ballet when I was 12 years old and joined its Junior Associates programme.”
Being part of it all gave me such a buzz. I knew then that this was what I wanted to do professionally.Christopher Harrison
Christopher was one of a select group of young dancers chosen to perform as one of the children in Peter Darrell’s The Nutcracker. “This was my first experience being on stage with an orchestra, the costumes and such a big audience. It was incredible. My strongest memory would have to be of Campbell MacKenzie, who was a Principal dancer at the time. The way he danced the lead role of the Prince, especially his first entrance when he appeared, was so charismatic. I still remember his turns and how he finished them, his leaps and just his love of being on stage.”
Christopher reveals that the thrill of being onstage stayed with him even after he’d left the theatre. “The Russian Dance was my favourite – three guys jumping and turning constantly to upbeat and uplifting music. I even started showing off the choreography to my friends at school… looking back, they must have thought I was a nightmare!” he laughs.
“I watched the dancers rehearse the Russian Dance from the wings, probably getting in everyone’s way. My chaperone at the time actually got a couple of the dancers from the Company to rehearse it with me which was really special, I’ll never forget how great the dancers were with us – very encouraging. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that with the young dancers who’ll be joining us this year. “
Unsurprisingly, this unique experience as a child shaped Christopher's career plans. “I saw how much enjoyment the dancers took from learning choreography and the live performance; being part of it all gave me such a buzz. I knew then that this was what I wanted to do professionally.”
“Training and rehearsing is part of the job, but when you get on stage and hear the applause – that’s what you do it for. The anticipation of getting on stage is such a rush. Off stage, I now get to work with such a fantastic variety of people from all over the world who I can learn from.
Christopher was promoted to Principal in 2013 but admits that he still gets nervous before stepping out onstage. “Sometimes it still feels like that first day – the nerves as you wait to go out. But I try to enjoy it! It’s strange to come back to The Nutcracker and think that I’ll be dancing in the roles I saw other people performing when I was starting out. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else, and if I can inspire another kid to get into dance in the way it happened for me, that would be incredible."
When talking about the Prince’s choreography it’s clear that the significance and history surrounding these steps is at the top of Christopher’s mind. “Peter Darrell was the Founding Director of Scottish Ballet so we have to do it justice. We are taught the choreography by the Artistic Team who use original film footage and dance notation, similar to a music score. We are working with Julie Haydn, who worked with Darrell in staging the show at the time. It’s such a privilege to be following in the footsteps of those who have gone before you.”
From Artist to Coryphée to Soloist, Christopher journeyed up through the ranks at Scottish Ballet before being promoted to Principal. “I did my first Prince role when I was an Artist actually, though hopefully I’ve improved since then!” tells Christopher. “When I was a little boy I thought just being able to dance with the company at all would be amazing, so to be a Principal, and the Prince, is beyond my dreams.”
“It’s gone full circle. When I was watching it as a child I never thought I’d have the opportunity to dance The Prince. To dance the lead now is remarkable – I’m honoured.”
Written by Christina Riley, former Content & Digital Officer at Scottish Ballet.