There is much to look forward to this festive season and without any doubt, one of the highlights, or perhaps we should say three of the highlights, are all wrapped up, in a perfect Christmas bundle, in a very special festival at Cardiff Castle.

The CARDIFF CASTLE CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL will see a specially-made Spiegeltent put up in the grounds of Cardiff Castle where it will show a Christmas ballet, family musical and comedy cabaret and burlesque. And it’s the ballet THE NUTCRACKER which kicks off the season next week.

This may be a ballet you recognise but the staging and production is something uniquely Welsh, and is the brainchild of Choreographer and Filmmaker JAMIEL LAURENCE.

Jamiel created works for several notable organisations and festivals, including the BBC, Google, Celtic Connections, Scottish Ballet, Ballet Ireland, and the Edinburgh Fringe.

His full-length contemporary version of The Nutcracker will be the first show to be staged at the brand-new Cardiff Castle Christmas Festival. The production features a rich cast of recognisably Welsh characters, including Uncle Idris, Bop Sheila & Bopa Linda and The Mari Lwyd! The production also features the showpiece Snowflakes as seen at Cardiff’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and featuring Jamiel’s unique take on dancing, tumbling, avalanching, and flying snowballs.

Jamiel Laurence occupies an individual position within the wider arts economy, as an artist creating work through collaborative practice, while also producing the work of other artists through entrepreneurship, bringing together his experience as a Performer, Creative Director, Venue Director, Producer, Filmmaker, and Choreographer.

Jamiel Laurence (Photo: Sian Trenberth)

We spoke to Jamiel about his work and what inspires him. What was it that drew him to The Nutcracker to start this festival season at Cardiff Castle?

“When I first came to Wales in 2021, producing this Christmas production made most sense for me – as a creative producer of work who wants to get audiences engaged with dance and associating their theatre experience with the festive season.

Having performed in various versions of the traditional version of Nutcracker myself, I hope that my unique version will have the same effect I felt on stage for the audience and for this group of young aspiring talented Welsh dancers.”

The reviews for this show with Rubicon Dance have been fantastic but your version steps away from the traditional productions we’ve seen over the years. How does yours differ?

“One of the unique features of my version of The Nutcracker is the blending of the traditional Tchaikovsky score with the Ellington jazz suite. Curating this combination provided me with the freedom to expedite much of the unnecessary story elements and boil down the story to the key components. The dancers on stage really respond to the jazz score and this allows everyone to have a really good time – both on and off stage.”

The characters sound interesting. What was your inspiration when you were creating them?

“After researching some of the traditional elements of Welsh Christmas folklore, I decided to give the characters their Welsh equivalencies and set the story somewhere in the valleys that seems memorable but might not necessarily exist. As an example, The Mari Lwyd was a natural replacement for the Rat King of the original story and allowed me to combine this character with the Nutcracker doll itself and explore an even more magical twist on the original narrative.” 

Becoming the Creative Director and inaugural choreographer for the newly formed Rubicon Dance Company in Cardiff last year, Jamiel facilitated welsh-trained graduate dancers achieving paying dance jobs. During his time as Director, Jamiel created the company’s first highly acclaimed full-length production, The Nutcracker, which we get to see next week.

Your CV is really interesting Jamiel, it also feels like you can’t keep those dancing feet of yours still with so many projects and ideas, but what drew you to the world of dance?

“My mother was a dancer and ran her own dance school in East London – and therefore from a very young age I was around all styles of dance. My mother is an inspiration figure – not only to me, but to her local community too – and she taught me the meaning of what it is to create something that others can be a part of, and enjoy. When I was around 11, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in dance and music, and from there I embarked on full time training.”

We’re sure you’ve had a few, but what’s been your career highlight to date?

“To be offered the custodianship of Wales’ first Spiegeltent dance experience at the inaugural Cardiff Castle Christmas Festival is a huge honour, and after spending time rehearsing with our talented cast, I think this current experience is one of my best to date, and that’s before it’s even opened! However, as a dancer I will never forget any of the really special stage experiences I had performing with my now wife, Constance Devernay-Laurence, at Scottish Ballet.”

The venue, the production and of course its almost Christmas make this a great reason to enjoy ballet, but why should people come along and see this show now?

“I think that The Nutcracker at Cardiff Castle marks a real make or break moment for dance here in Cardiff, and I’m hoping that this show will land with a bang. Following funding cuts to the arts across the UK, and with Welsh audiences not having a huge choice of theatre experiences that can stand up against touring west end shows, I want the people of Cardiff to come and see their home team in action and support a Welsh dance experience they can be proud of. It’s also going to be a truly magical night out!”

Cardiff Castle Christmas Festival presents THE NUTCRACKER from next Friday 25th to Sunday 27th November, for 5 performances only. Tickets and further info available HERE