Scottish Ballet principal dancer Christopher Harrison on Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling

Narrative ballet based on La Sylphide promises three-dimensional performances

A party-goer lying worse for wear on a dirty bathroom floor isn't the look Scottish Ballet usually goes for. But it's fair to say that principal dancer Christopher Harrison wears it well. Playing the lead character of James in Matthew Bourne's Highland Fling for the second time, Harrison is once again finding something to love in this seemingly flawed character.

'He's full of bravado, and a very complicated character, but there's a part of him that I love,' says Harrison of the guy who ditches his fiancée for a pesky sylph. 'There's a reason James is the way he is, and I believe that deep down, he's not a bad guy; he's just had a rough time of it.'

All dancers like to think the characters they play are three-dimensional, but Bourne in particular works hard to ensure audiences can believe in everyone performing his shows. To that end, the first day of rehearsals involves a paper and pen, rather than dance shoes and a mirror. 'Matthew wanted us to find our own backstory,' explains Harrison, 'and to think about what our history might be, why our characters are the way they are and how they relate to other people. That way, with every movement you do, there's an understanding of why you're doing it, so that you really feel like you're not acting, you're living it.'

Based on the 19th century ballet, La Sylphide, Highland Fling follows a young soon-to-be-wed couple and their group of friends, as they celebrate the upcoming nuptials. Until, that is, James' head is turned by a creature from another world. 'I don't want to give too much away, but in the second act James is more exposed and bare,' says Harrison. 'He meets this thing that he's besotted with, and lets himself be vulnerable for the first time. Because of that, something terrible happens, and it's heartbreaking.'

Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Wed 4–Sat 7 Apr & Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Tue 10–Sat 14 Apr

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