Christopher Harrison, from Kippen, has had a career much like the fairy tales he performs on stage, and he credits a local dance teacher who visited his primary school for making it happen. When he started dancing with Scottish Ballet Associates aged 10, he appeared as one of the children in The Nutcracker and dreamed of being a professional ballet dancer himself one day. Fast forward to 2005, he joined Scottish Ballet and has since performed the lead role of The Nutcracker Prince several times. This week he retires from dancing after a hugely successful career, including performing leading roles in Scottish Ballet productions such as Swan Lake, Romeo & Juliet, Highland Fling and the famous Glasgow Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony pas de deux to ‘500 Miles’.

Christopher Harrison was first introduced to dance when a local dance teacher, Kay Morrison came to visit his primary school in Kippen. She told him that she saw something in him, so he decided to join her regular dance classes. She soon advised that he start ballet, so Christopher joined the local Stenhousemuir School of Dance. He says in the interview “Kay Morrison started it all for me with that workshop at my local primary school. She was a huge influence and means a lot to me.” 

Within just a few months of attending ballet classes he found himself joining Scottish Ballet’s Junior Associates. “This was exciting for me, I was used to being the only boy in the class at my dance school and so, having other boys in the room was encouraging” said Christopher. He spent two years at SB Associates, during which he had his first experience of being on the big stage, as one of the children in The Nutcracker:

‘Being on stage gave me such an insight into professional dancing and what company life would be like. It instantly clicked for me that it was my dream to be a ballet dancer. I was in awe of the company dancers, how they performed, their athleticism, the big personalities – it was so exciting to watch them. It was weird coming back to The Nutcracker all those years later, as part of the professional company and not a young boy on stage with a dream.’

In his teens he spent four years at the Dance School of Scotland, before moving to London to join the Royal Ballet Upper School. “Being a boy from a small Scottish village now finding himself in the city of London with so much freedom, it was a lot - but I just had to get on with it. I felt so far away from home and the security of having my parents only an hour away. That said, it was really cool to meet and make friends with dancers from all over the world who had all come to train in London. I also got to perform on stage with Royal Ballet in some supporting roles, which was amazing and a huge learning curve for me.” 

His dancing career began as an Artist with Dresden State Opera in Germany, aged 19, where, during his very first professional performance, his shoe came off! Undeterred he had over four successful years there, before an opportunity at Scottish Ballet came up in 2005:

‘I was waiting for the right opportunity to bring me back to Scotland. Ashley Page was a Resident Choreographer for the Royal Ballet when I was at school there. I remember watching him work with dancers in the studio on a piece called Fearful Symmetries – I loved it. When I heard he was coming to Scottish Ballet, I felt like it was the right time for me to make the move, I had a good feeling. I auditioned and thankfully I got it! I moved to Glasgow and started back at the same studios where I had previously attended Junior Associates – I felt like I was home. There was a real buzz about Scottish Ballet at the time, people were saying the company was going places, and so I was very excited to be a part of that. In time, I got the opportunity to work on Fearful Symmetries with Ashley, which was a full circle moment for me.’

In his first year with Scottish Ballet, Harrison performed the pas de deux in Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun at Edinburgh International Festival. “It was a bit of a big deal for me and only my second ever performance with the company! I remember my mum coming to see me and it meant as much to her as it did to me.”

In 2007, Christopher was promoted to First Artist with the company, and in 2013 was promoted to Principal. A year later he found himself performing to a worldwide audience at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. With just two dancers – himself and fellow Principal Dancer Sophie Martin – performing in the vast stadium to a moving cover version of The Proclaimers song ‘500 Miles’. Looking back Christopher reminisced:

‘We had to really work on our stamina to be able to make the movement big enough to fill the space. And the day before we were due to perform, the pitch was completely water-logged, so we were slipping all over the place during the rehearsal! Thankfully on the day of the performance we were blessed with blue skies. It was a nerve-wracking and surreal experience, being in a stadium in front of thousands of people. Sophie is usually so calm, but I think that was the first time I’d ever seen her nervous, and I was too! Christopher Hampson’s choreography was beautiful and really worked with the music. It was certainly humbling to be part of that huge event.’

Christopher Harrison and Sophie Martin performing at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony.

When asked about other career highlights, Christopher said:

‘I loved getting to dance both Romeo and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. Two very different characters, one lovable and the other a ‘baddie’. I never thought I would like playing a villain, but it was great switching between the two. I have also really enjoyed doing long Christmas seasons which mean you get to be on stage a lot, with big ballets like Cinderella and The Snow Queen. Another highlight was performing Matthew Bourne’s Highland Fling, which I really had to come out of my shell for. I’m not really much of an extrovert so I had to switch things up. It was challenging to get into the role of James - although he is a Scottish character, he is not a likeable character! It was hard to relate to him and I had to really get into his backstory to understand him, and be able to perform that role. Performing in David Dawson’s Swan Lake was unforgettable – the expectation was massive and it was really tough and very demanding. I have found a lesson within every ballet I have performed in. There is the good and bad, but you learn from every experience and that is what takes you forward.’

Next for Christopher is some much earned time out with family. “My partner who I met whilst living in Germany is also a former dancer and so I’ve seen her go through the process of ending a career in dance. I now recognise how important it is to take a break and spend time with family – I have a sister and nephews in Australia who I’d really like to visit. I’d also like to do some voluntary work and perhaps some travelling. I’m not really looking much further ahead than the next year, I’m going to take some down-time to collect my thoughts.” 

And when asked how it feels to have been the first Scottish male Principal with the company, he replied: 

‘It’s pretty crazy! I’d like to reflect more on that once I’ve hung up my shoes. It is such a huge honour to have been part of the company, let alone as Principal. If you had told 10 year old me that I’d make Principal, I wouldn’t have believed it, and to be honest, it still hasn’t truly sunk in!’

Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director/CEO of Scottish Ballet said:

‘During 17 incredibly inspiring years, Chris has made a hugely significant impact on Scottish Ballet, through his artistry, his professionalism and his unwavering commitment to the art form. He has led the Company in some of our most iconic titles including: A Streetcar Named Desire, Song of the Earth, Highland Fling, Romeo and Juliet, The Rite of Spring, Elsa Canasta, Swan Lake – and so many, many more ballets. Chris has been, and will remain, an inspiration to many dancers and colleagues and while we will miss him terribly, we can proudly say “we were there” to witness some of his outstanding performances both in the UK and across the world. Working alongside Chris and seeing his development into a brave and assured Principal dancer has been my very great privilege, and I believe, without a doubt, that he is the ultimate ‘class act’!’

Bethany Kingsley-Garner, fellow Scottish Ballet Principal Dancer, said:

‘It’s hard to put into words what it’s been like working alongside Chris for 15 years. My first memory with him was dancing the premiere of Cinderella - he just guided me through. He is the most generous and trusting partner, you feel in the safest hands and he just lifts your spirits. Chris has wowed us season by season, not only on stage, but how he is as a colleague; fair, trusting and fun. He has 100% respect from everyone in the company – the impact he has had will never be forgotten.’

Sophie Martin, fellow Scottish Ballet Principal Dancer, said:

‘When Chris joined Scottish Ballet in 2005 he was the quiet Scottish boy with the immaculate technique, but I eventually got to know him better through dancing with him. Saying that, at a flat party I once heard he was the last one standing... in the early hours of the morning! Chris has given some beautiful performances throughout his time with the company. I remember vividly how gorgeous he and his partner were in Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun during his first year. Since then, I have shared the stage with Chris many times. We've had wonderful partnerships in ballets such as Pennies from Heaven, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Élite Syncopations, Highland Fling, The Crucible and The Rite of Spring. But, a special memory would have to be the one-off duet Christopher Hampson created for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in 2014. The stadium was full of people cheering, I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by the space and also by all the people watching (including Rod Stewart!!). He has always been a very attentive partner and a lovely colleague, we all are sad to see him leave. He has been a huge part of Scottish Ballet’s history and we are all so proud to have been part of his journey!’

Joyce Pringle at Artemis, who have sponsored Christopher Harrison since 2013 said:

‘Artemis are very proud to have been Christopher’s sponsor. To get to know him and follow his many achievements with Scottish Ballet has helped us to appreciate and enjoy this art form and we wish him the very best in the next stage of his career.’

Kerry Livingstone, Head of Associate Programme at Scottish Ballet, said:

‘As a Principal dancer in Scotland’s national dance company, Christopher Harrison provides huge inspiration to the young dancers we work with on the Associate Programme. Chris started his journey as a Scottish Ballet Junior Associate and encourages our current Associates to aim high, and they are thrilled to watch him on stage - for those performing in The Nutcracker, they feel very lucky to share the stage with a Scottish prince!’

Christopher Harrison's Gallery