THE NUTCRACKER and SWAN LAKE are two of the most well-known and well-loved ballets in the world. This season, Boston Ballet will perform Mikko Nissinen’s highly-acclaimed productions, with his personal touch on choreography, sets, and costumes.
Please share your early experiences with both Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
My personal history with Swan Lake goes back pretty early. I was in my second year at Finnish National Ballet School when acclaimed Russian ballerina Alla Shelest came from St. Petersburg to stage her version for the Company. I was cast as the Page who runs in and announces the Queen is coming. I performed that role until I grew too big for the costume. I became a professional dancer at 15, so I began performing the pas de trois early on. I was very lucky because Shelest’s version of Swan Lake was excellent, and I was seeing it every night. I then danced Swan Lake in Switzerland and San Francisco, where I performed Prince Siegfried and the pas de trois in the first act.
My experience with The Nutcracker was the opposite from Swan Lake. Finnish National Ballet did not have The Nutcracker when I was growing up. I knew the music, but I had never seen it. When I went to Russia, I performed the lead role in the pas de deux on the Mariinsky stage. While I was a dancer at San Francisco Ballet, I danced the snow scene pas de deux and the grand pas de deux in Lew Christensen’s production.
When you conceived your new production of The Nutcracker, which elements did you want to highlight?
The Nutcracker is the first ballet most people in North America see, so it needs to be a welcoming gateway into our artform. Boston Ballet had a very successful Nutcracker before I became artistic director, but I wanted it to be more technically difficult for our dancers and more exciting for our audience. At the end of December, I know I have a tired company, but I also want to have a better company that can take on the challenges of the rest of the season. Above all, The Nutcracker is a fantastic story set to an incredible piece of music that brings families together. When you start tinkering with The Nutcracker, you need to keep that top of mind.