For the first time this winter, Birmingham Royal Ballet are bringing an enchanting production of Christmas favourite The Nutcracker to the Royal Albert Hall. This new production features state-of-the-art technology, ground-breaking projections and is topped off with a dusting of artificial snow!

This month, some 320 impeccably turned out, anxious-looking 8-to-11-year-olds gathered at the Old Finsbury Town Hall in Islington, home to the Urdang Academy of Dance.

Competing for just 16 places (8 girls and 8 boys), we watched as Principal dancer Iain Mackay and Rebecca Brookes put them through their paces:

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The auditionees line up with bright eyes, barely breathing, trying to smile and desperate to please. As they troop into the panelled, stained-glass-windowed studio, they are completely focussed.

They are lined up and each one has their headshot snapped with the audition number pinned to their chest, for the reference of the panel, Patricia Tierney (Dance Notator) and Pearl Chesterman (Director of Engagement and Participation).

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They’ve come from all over the country – from Highgate, Cobham and Guildford, but also Hull, Liverpool, Devon, Hastings and Shropshire. Some are already Junior Associates of Birmingham Royal Ballet or the Royal Ballet School. Many have never been to the Royal Albert Hall.

One Mum, from Milton Keynes, has attended multiple Nitin Sawhney concerts at the Hall, but her daughter has never been. “I don’t think she has any idea how big it is”, she says cheerfully. “But I’ll never forget the time my school did a concert there – I was probably about 11 and it made a huge impression.”

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They are led through a brief warm-up, asked to demonstrate their acting skills – “it’s freezing!”, “your feet are stuck in treacle!” – and some basic galloping and skipping from the corner.

Then, the bit they have been waiting for – they learn a dance from the ballet itself, from the party scene in Act I. This is what they will be performing if they are picked. Lots of eager faces, determined smiles, pointed feet… and then it’s over, and they scatter back to their families and make their way home to wait for the news.

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All photos © Andy Paradise

THE NUTCRACKER
Thursday 28 – Sunday 31 December 2017
For the first time ever, Birmingham Royal Ballet brings an enchanting production of this Christmas favourite to the Royal Albert Hall. This magical ballet, with its ravishing Tchaikovsky score, is the quintessential Christmas treat for all the family.
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