The Magic of ‘The Nutcracker’

Dancer Emma Hawes makes Sugar Plum Fairy debut
December 9, 2014 Updated: December 10, 2014

TORONTO—Ballet dancer Emma Hawes still feels the magic she experienced as a child when seeing “The Nutcracker,” the beloved classical ballet that has become a North American holiday tradition.

“It’s one of those things people grow up going to see every year. It really holds a place in a lot of people’s hearts,” said Hawes who danced the part of a little party guest in her first “Nutcracker” production and has performed many other parts in the ballet since.

Born in Delaware, Ohio, Hawes studied ballet in Columbus before coming to Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto in 2005.

Having caught the attention of The National Ballet of Canada’s artistic director Karen Kain, Hawes joined the company’s corps de ballet in 2011 at age 17 and is now making her debut as the famed Sugar Plum Fairy, the magical “Nutcracker” character that continues to fascinate audiences of all ages.

“Doing the Sugar Plum Fairy is definitely a dream, and it’s been a really amazing experience so far because it’s my first principal role so I get the chance to work with our principal coach Magdalena Popa and be partnered by [principal dancer] Guillaume Côté,” said Hawes.

“They’re both a wealth of knowledge and I’m learning so much every day. It’s really exciting.”

She’s also learning from her fellow Sugar Plum Fairies. (There are six performers dancing the part of the fairy during the National Ballet’s “Nutcracker” run.) Although she hasn’t had a chance to train with them, they have encouraged her to get through the technically difficult role.

“You can always learn so much from watching how they dance. They’re all so generous with their help and wisdom, so I’m very lucky,” she said.

“I’ve watched them over the years. Everyone does it differently and really beautifully.”

Hawes is now looking forward to bringing her own unique interpretation to the classic role.

“So many ballerinas have had their chance to dance this role and it’s really exciting to get my chance to put my own stamp on it because it’s a really lovely role to do.”

So what makes this character so fascinating?

“It’s kind of indefinable because I grew up watching it and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is magic.’ She’s so delicate and powerful and just kind. She’s a very sort of ideal ballet persona,” she said.

“I think it’s just very representative of classical ballet and how beautiful it can be— how much it can just light up people’s lives, especially for the kids.”

Hawes has found joy and self-expression in ballet since she was a child.

“From a very early age, I was lucky to discover that I felt very comfortable in [ballet],” she said.

“It felt like walking or talking to me. It was the way I could best represent myself as a human being, as an artist. I think it’s one of those really all-encompassing arts. You have music, emotion, movement—all of that together, it’s like nothing else. I think even to watch it, it’s so fulfilling. I feel extremely lucky to be able to dance it.”

As for future dream roles, Hawes said she has many, but in the end, it’s all about attitude.

“You can make any role your dream role. Any role I dance is my dream role.”

The National Ballet of Canada’s “The Nutcracker” runs from Dec. 13–Jan. 3 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Arts. For more information, visit: