THE Nutcracker, the famous ballet by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, with a legendary score by the great composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, has been an intrinsic part of Christmas for 129 years. Loosely based upon the story of The Nutcracker And The Mouse King by the much-loved German writer ETA Hoffmann, the Russian ballet re-tells the tale of little Marie Stahlbaum and the adventures she has when she creeps downstairs early on Christmas morning.

In Hoffmann’s story, the little girl’s impatience and inquisitiveness are ­rewarded by all manner of ­characters – including the Nutcracker Prince of the ­title and the enchanting Sugar Plum Fairy – coming to life in her ­family’s ­living room. Since its premiere in

St Petersburg in 1892 the ballet has ­secured its place as the quintessential work of dance theatre for Christmas.

Here in Scotland, the piece has a ­particular significance for our national ballet company. In 1973, Peter ­Darrell, the acclaimed founder of Scottish ­Ballet, created his own, much-celebrated ­choreography for The Nutcracker.

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As in the original Russian ballet, the child protagonist is called Clara and her encounters with the Rat King, the ­magician Drosselmeyer et al occur, not in the Stahlbaums’ sitting room, but in the little girl’s dream.

Darrell’s version enjoyed numerous presentations in the 25 years after its ­premiere. It was revived again, in 2014, by the company’s current artistic ­director Christopher Hampson.

Hampson’s re-envisioning of ­Darrell’s much-loved choreography (created in collaboration with designer Lez ­Brotherston) was to have been Scottish Ballet’s Christmas show for 2020. The kibosh was put on that plan, needless to say, by last winter’s Covid lockdown.

Undeterred, however, the ­company ­revives the piece this Christmas. ­Indeed, beginning at the Festival ­Theatre, ­Edinburgh on December 1, this tour – which entails no fewer than 74 ­performances in six cities – will be ­Scottish Ballet’s biggest ever.

Constance Devernay, a principal ­dancer with Scottish Ballet, will dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the latest production. The Nutcracker was one of the first ballets she saw as a child, she remembers. In fact, she continues, “it’s what made me want to become a ­ballet dancer”.

For her, this ballet epitomises not only “the magic of Christmas”, but also “the magic of childhood”. Which is why she is particularly pleased that, in line with Darrell’s original choreography, the show includes a number of child performers.

“We have some children on stage with us,” she comments, “and it’s inspiring for them, I think, but also for us.

“I remember when I was a child The Nutcracker was everything to me. It was pure magic and I loved it.

“We had rehearsals with the children last week, and you could see in their eyes the excitement, as well as a little bit of nervousness. It’s very special to be able to act almost as a role model for them.”

Devernay is very conscious that ­Christmas ballets are often children’s first experience of the art form. She is, she says, delighted to be “giving back” to today’s young audiences what she got from The Nutcracker as a little girl.

That is especially true, given the role she will be dancing. “The Sugar Plum Fairy is a role that’s so iconic that it’s actually difficult to make it look good,” she observes. Although the part is not “technically the hardest” ballet role, she explains, it requires a combination of delicacy and strength that makes it “very challenging”. She’s up for that challenge.

“It’s nice” to be dancing a role of ­contrasts, she says, because “you get the best of both worlds”.

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The ballet – which, in the hands of Hampson and Brotherston, positively explodes with colour, panache and imaginative flair – is tremendous fun. However, the knowledge that the ­production will be an introduction to live dance for so many children can be slightly daunting.

There is, the dancer concedes, “a bit of nerves” involved. “You’re leading the ballet, and it’s such a privilege to be dancing a role that is so iconic.”

Devernay has danced the Sugar Plum Fairy twice before. “I always like to ­revisit a role,” she says.

“You’ve learned something from the previous performances and you’ve grown as a person. You can implement what you’ve learned through the years.”

However, the dancer adds, that learning process can be nerve-wracking as well as liberating. “It’s quite challenging, ­because you want to improve on your past performances.”

Add to that, she comments, “some members of the audience keep coming back, so you’re trying to offer the role afresh, while also keeping the traditional, magical dimension that people expect.”

The dancer considers it “amazing” that Scottish Ballet still has Darrell’s ­Nutcracker in its repertoire. “There is a bit of pressure to make it how Peter ­Darrell would have wanted it, for sure.

“We’re able to learn from the first ­productions, but we’re still able to add our own touches. One of my favourite things, as a dancer, is to take something that has already been done and add your own personality to it.”

The National: Evan Loudon (centre) and company in Scottish Ballet's Starstruck - Gene Kelly's Love Letter to Ballet. Photo: Andy Ross.

THERE is, Devernay explains, an added excitement for the company in presenting The Nutcracker this year. Although Scottish Ballet has already made its Covid-era return to the stage – with the superb Starstruck , Hampson’s innovative new ballet based upon Gene Kelly’s Pas de Dieux – there is something special about finally presenting a Christmas ballet that was denied to audiences last year.

Marvellous though Starstruck was, she observes, “it wasn’t quite the same” as this revival of The Nutcracker. For a start, due to Covid restrictions, Starstruck was performed to a recorded soundtrack, rather than being accompanied by a live orchestra.

The Christmas production, by ­contrast, will boast live music, played by a full ­orchestra. In that sense, the show marks Scottish Ballet’s return to full stage ­production.

To be dancing the ballet “especially post-Covid”, is, Devernay says, “going to feel amazing.”

The Nutcracker tours December 1 to February 12: