Close-up: Begoña Cao

The dancer knows what ballet needs: John Sergeant in a tutu...

At this time of year, most of us are either sinking into hibernation or gearing up for the party season. For Begoña Cao, neither is an option. Over the next four weeks, she will be not only dancing principal roles in the English National Ballet's productions of The Sleeping Beauty and Manon, but also performing a handful of roles in seasonal favourite The Nutcracker.

"I will be pretty much living in the theatre over Christmas," says the 29-year-old cheerfully. "But when you start being given principal roles you take them on top of your other work – it's demanding, but I enjoy it. The more you dance a role, the more you build the character, which is more rewarding."

For Cao – London-born of Spanish parents – The Nutcracker has particular significance as the ballet in which she made her performing debut as a child. "My first taste of being on stage was as one of the snowflakes and I loved it."

And Cao says this new production has plenty of surprises in store: "Not only is it different choreographically, the set design is by the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, and it's very contemporary – we have snowflakes jumping out of a fridge, a character called Viagra, and the grandfather has a Zimmer frame."

How does Cao think her craft fits with the nation's renewed love of dance? "I'm surprised no one has made a reality show about ballet," she says. Could she turn a John Sergeant into a fleet-footed dancer? She giggles. "Yes, but it would require a strict, military regime!"

'The Sleeping Beauty' runs to 14 December, 'The Nutcracker' from 17-30 December, and 'Manon' from 2-11 January at the London Coliseum, London WC2 (0871 911 0200). Visit for details