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WS Meets:

Meaghan Grace Hinkis

For most of us, Christmas offers up a chance to spend time with family, wind down and enjoy some cosy over-indulgence - but for Meaghan Grace Hinkis, star of the classic Royal Opera House Nutcracker ballet, it signals a packed rehearsal schedule, twice daily shows, and endless renditions of Tchaikovsky's magnificent score. A couple of months ago, we ventured through the stage door to get a glimpse of what the festive season's like on the other side of the curtain...

How long have you been a part of the
Royal Opera House Nutcracker?

I've been doing the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House for almost four years now. We didn't do Nutcracker this past Christmas - but we've done it every other since I've joined. The company's been doing it for years and years and years. It's a tradition, and I'm really excited about returning to it again.

You play the lead character, Clara - what do
you like best about the role?

I love that Clara takes everyone on stage and everyone in the audience on a journey through time through the whole of the show. It's like you've taken a breath in and you don't exhale until the curtain comes down. It's a big role and you can't let the energy drop at any point - but it's one of my favourites as I feel like I'm in a magical wonderland the whole time.

What's involved in the training and
preparation for The Nutcracker?
When does it begin?

We start rehearsals about six weeks before opening night. Because many of us have worked on it before and it's a production that comes back so often, the routine comes back to us easily. If someone said 'There's a show of Nutcracker tomorrow night', I think we all could pull together and do it because it's in our bodies - it's muscle memory.

And once show season kicks off, what does a
typical working day look like for you?

During show time we typically have class at 9.30 or 10.30am, for six days a week. Rehearsals begin 15 minutes after that and we'll work until either 5.30 or 6.30pm, depending on whether or not there's a show. If there's a show we'll finish at 5.30pm and we'll have two hours to eat, rest, do our make-up and hair and then it's curtain up at 7.30pm. Clara has a really intricate hairstyle, which takes around 45 minutes to do - so it doesn't leave you with much time to prepare and get yourself ready! It's hectic but it's what we all love.

Are you close to the other cast and crew?

We're like a family. One of our Christmassy traditions is a bay decorating competition. There are four bays in our dressing room - our home away from home. We'll decorate the four different bays and make it really Christmassy, then one of our ballet masters will come and judge!

What do you get up to when you
do have some free time?

We get Sundays off, so that's our day of rest. Every once in a while we'll get Saturday off as well, but that's a prized thing! If we have a free weekend, everyone's tempted to get out and travel - go to Paris or something. I moved here from America four years ago, so find it wonderful that it's so easy to travel to different countries. But at the same time, I also just want to rest on the couch with a cup of tea and watch a movie because I'm so exhausted. It's about finding the balance between seeing the world and resting your body because you need to recover.

You must find it hard to factor in time
for Christmas shopping...

It's really hard to find time for Christmas shopping. The internet is my friend during Christmas time! Occasionally we'll get an afternoon or a few hours where we'll run out and try and grab a few things.

Do you ever miss having a 'traditional' Christmas?

I've been doing Nutcrackers for so long that that's become my tradition - I almost can't remember a time without it. I'm really fortunate because my family has flown over from America every year since I've moved here. I'm really close to my family - they're my support system. On Christmas Eve we have a show so we spend the rest of Christmas Eve together, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. They come and watch the show of course!

And how do you spend Christmas day?

We spend Christmas day like we're kids. Presents in the morning, family time, Christmas movies. Lots of food. Everyone comes back the next day trying to squeeze into their costumes as they've had too much Christmas pudding!

Finally, what is it that makes the Nutcracker so beloved?

There's only one word to describe the Nutcracker and that's magical. It's really special - and that music! The orchestra start to play and immediately you're in the Christmas spirit. So many people get caught up in the stress of Christmas shopping - but as soon as you sit down in that seat you're taken on an incredible journey, you forget everything else and you just remember what Christmas is about.

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