Val Caniparoli was all smiles when I meet him the morning after the opening of the Ryman Healthcare Season of The Nutcracker by the Royal New Zealand Ballet at the Opera House in Wellington.

The ballet's choreographer was happy with the dancers' performance but he was most happy with the way the audience reacted to the ballet — they loved it.

"Of course there will always be checks and little tweaks after every performance but I thought everything went really well."

Caniparoli grew up in the suburbs of Seattle, and has always been interested in music, theatre and literature.

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This is the fourth Nutcracker he has been involved with.

He says audiences these days are more forgiving of an industry like ballet.

"Remember we don't get hours of time on stage like theatre. There are so many moving parts in a ballet that I think the audience might not worry if there was a slight imperfection on opening night.

"We also have to think about the fact that the dancers are learning multiple parts. They don't just dance one character and that's really to keep them on their toes," he laughs.

"Especially on big tours like this one, it would be quite boring if they had to dance the same dance every time."

Asked what skills he needed to do his job he replied: "There is no school to learn these things, you learn by doing. You have to make your own chances and do whatever you can to make it work.

"I first choreographed at school then I got invited to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. A lightbulb went on at that stage and I decided I wanted to dance. By this stage I was in my late teens, well maybe I might have even been 20 — I loved old movies and was mesmerised by Gene Kelly. I lied about my age when I started ballet classes — I said I was 16.

"The competition was so high it was a difficult route to go down but I did it."

This is the fourth Nutcracker he has been involved in but the first one outside the United States. He says each one is very different but the common thread is that he tries to stay true to ETA Hoffmann's original story.

Caniparoli has danced in The Nutcracker as Herr Drosselmeier previously and at age 67 still dances for San Francisco Ballet as a principal character dancer.

"I can't say that I completely enjoy dancing now but it keeps me on the other side — being bossed about and told what to do — it keeps me honest."

He has "travelled the world thanks to my profession. Some would kill to have what I have — I am never complacent though — I have to compete with the young so I can't be," he laughs.

When he's not working he loves to eat out, trying new places and he loves going to the movies.

The Nutcracker is on at the Napier Municipal Theatre on December 1.