The Nutcracker was premiered in 1892, but, curiously, it only became popular after the Second World War. The original choreography was by Petipa’s assistant Lev Ivanov, who made the “white acts“ in Swan Lake. But unlike the original versions of that work and The Sleeping Beauty, hardly anything of the Ivanov’s Nutcracker has survived, other than Petipa’s very detailed libretto, so many a choreographer has felt free to mount his own effort on Tchaikovsky’s music. So why another ? I asked David Nixon.

“We didn’t really have enough repertoire to rotate in the Christmas season, and I’d always wanted to do a Nutcracker here as it’s a ballet I think is important for ballet companies, and also because I think this is the best choice to give Northern Ballet Theatre something quite traditional.”

Nixon, who is from Canada, had already made a couple of Nutcrackers in the US, and his new version, though very different, has evolved from this experience.

“In some ways, it’s a development and in some ways it’s been very much influenced by England. I’ve set it in the Regency period, and it embraces the orientalism of that time as well. That period works well because you have all the social dances, and I’m able to keep the party scene dancing, whereas often in the party you get a lot of people just walking around.

“Also, I’ve never understood the Land of the Sweets, because sweets were very different then, so we built on the idea of orientalism and the idea of the Brighton Pavilion, because orientalism and the East would have been a fantasy, especially for a child living at that time. All that has resulted in what I think is quite an English production.”

Northern Ballet Theatre is a classical company, but the works David Nixon has made for them have often moved towards intense drama. This time he has produced a much more classical piece.

“It’s very classical apart from the Chinese dance, and that’s what I wanted it to be. From my perspective, it’s the way to do Nutcracker; I don’t really see it as a piece of adaptation, and so the dancing goes back to my own career and heritage, and is based on classical vocabulary.”

Many choreographers have taken in the much darker side of the original Hoffmann tale, and have also searched for a deeper meaning in the character of the young Clara. Is this story an allegory for her sexual awakening ?

Not for David Nixon.

“Not at all. If you read the Hoffmann tale, it is much darker, because any fair tale from before the Victorian times is dark and violent, and has sexual and other connotations, but the way Tchaikovsky wrote it, and the way Petipa envisaged it [Ivanov had stepped in as Petipa was unwell], is much lighter, less affected. So, for example, the battle scene with the mice is not a dark evil place; it’s just toys imagining they’re having a battle. They don’t even have real swords, so when the mouse King dies it’s just a token death.

“Also, this is really a family piece; it’s for families, and it’s about a normal, loving family celebrating at a very special time of the year. It’s not a time when I want to think of those darker issues, I just want to think about the child and what she dreams.

“I’ve kept pretty close to the original libretto, and there’s no change to the music, except one addition. The tarantella is usually a variation for the man, but I’ve always found it doesn’t quite fit, so I’ve made a dance for Clara and the Nutcracker Prince to a tarantella which I’ve taken from The Sleeping Beauty.”

The designer of this production is Charles Cusick Smith, who previously worked on Nixon’s Three Musketeers.

“Charles had coped with the large number of scene changes in a very clever way, and I thought the way he thinks was appropriate for The Nutcracker. I didn’t want to set a remit, I wanted to give him more freedom.

“The only thing I said was that I was interested in setting it in the Regency period. I wanted it to be very English, but get away from the usual Victorian or Edwardian theme.

“As an “Englishman” who’s a foreigner here, I understand a little bit more what people from outside think of England, and the first thing is the period of Jane Austen and her novels.

“Charles immediately went down to Brighton and came up with the concept of a pavilion. In the first act there’s a little box which contains the toys, and that’s magnified in the dream into a kind of Chinese temple with different boxes within it.

“I love that idea!”

David Nixon himself has designed the costumes and has made the dances, is he also tempted to tread the boards once more, perhaps as Drosselmeyer? There is a huge laugh.

“No I’m not tempted at all! I’m quite happy not to be out there!”

n Northern Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker is at Milton Keynes Theatre from Tuesday until November 29. For tickets call the box office on 01908 547500.