first person

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 December, 2006, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Ballet is celebrating the 10th anniversary of The Nutcracker which has been performed to more than 140,000 people since 1997. Principal dancer Crystal Costa, 23, who plays young Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy, reflects on the magic and sadness behind the much-loved Christmas production.

The Nutcracker does rather wipe out Christmas for me. It is a bit sad in that respect. People ask me 'Isn't The Nutcracker Christmas for you?' But in a way it isn't. We have to dance on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so all the traditions I enjoyed as a girl growing up - going out with family, going to church and opening presents - I can't do any more. It is just a memory.

It is also hard on my family in Canada. I have an older brother and a younger sister and I miss them and my parents. They miss me too and they wish we could have our Christmas traditions back again, but I guess that is one of the sacrifices.

I really miss the way Christmases used to be. It is something that makes me quite sad.

I miss family, just being around family members, having turkey dinner and eating together, just that whole feeling of being so relaxed and being able to enjoy that spirit and all the giving. It has always been my favourite time of year.

I always looked forward to Christmas but now instead of holiday it means really working.

It isn't going to change for me any time soon. Pretty much every year, if you are in a classical ballet company, you can look forward to The Nutcracker. When it is all over on December 26, you feel complete exhaustion.

I always tend to let it all out at the very end. The curtain comes down and I have my moment of tears. It's like a love-hate relationship. It comes to an end and you feel sad and think: 'Oh, it's over.'

But at the same time you think 'Yes! It's over. I can sleep, I can relax.' You feel physically dead - you are drained physically and mentally. You're completely spent. It's really quite a relief in a way.

The Nutcracker was the first ballet I went to see as a girl. It started me on this whole love journey thing with it. I fell in love with ballet when I saw The Nutcracker. I was seven or eight at the time. I just found it really magical. I remember loving the pointed shoes and the way the dancers pointed their feet. After that, I started to get more serious about ballet.

I came to Hong Kong two days after I graduated. I grew up in Vancouver and I trained with a teacher there for about 10 years before joining the National Ballet School in Toronto for two years. This is my first ballet company.

This is my fifth year dancing The Nutcracker in Hong Kong. I've been doing it since I joined the company. With The Nutcracker, everyone has to dance all the time because we are a smaller company and there are so many shows. It's really very physical. When The Nutcracker comes around, you have to be strong to get through it.

Hong Kong audiences are not as welcoming of ballet in general as they are overseas, although they are getting better.

I find audiences are more appreciative of ballet in Canada. We don't get as many people coming to the shows. Their applause is more reserved. They are not sure how to respond, in a way.

In Canada whenever I went to see a performance there was always a standing ovation at the end of the show, but you would never get a standing ovation in Hong Kong even if the performance deserved it.

The music by Tchaikovsky in The Nutcracker is simply beautiful. It is enchanting. Whenever you hear the music you know Christmas is coming around and that feeling definitely helps with the role. You try to capture all the mystery and tradition that Christmas has and put it into your dancing.'

The Hong Kong Ballet is performing The Nutcracker at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre until December 26. Details are available at