IF Scottish Ballet has a pin-up, it's amiable French principal Sophie Martin. It was probably true even before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. If not, it was certainly true after nine million pairs of eyes had watched her brave slippery conditions to perform with kilted dance partner Christopher Harrison, he of the wide smile and porridge packet physique.

Martin's star status will be further underlined next month when she throws herself into the lead role in the work which is to dance what Hamlet is to theatre: Swan Lake. “Everyone knows the name,” is her simple encapsulation of its purchase on the public imagination.

Today is a rare day off for the elfin 31-year-old. Right now the only thing she's throwing herself into is the deep sofa in her Glasgow flat, and perhaps a slice of the lemon drizzle cake she baked earlier and which sits on a wooden cheeseboard between us.

Tomorrow, however, it's back to work as she and Harrison return to Scottish Ballet's rehearsal space in the Tramway for another gruelling day with David Dawson, the highly-regarded choreographer commissioned to re-work this staple of the classical ballet repertoire and turn it into something new and – purists look away now, please – entirely free of tutus. It's a challenging project, as all concerned know very well.

“It's a lot of pressure on the choreographer to start with,” says Martin. “I remember in the studio he actually said: 'You have to work with me because I'm not that confident about it'. People might think, 'How dare he choreograph a new Swan Lake!' People are going to expect something.”

The chances are Dawson will deliver. A former dancer with English National Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, the London-born choreographer ended his performing career at Ballett Frankfurt, where he was mentored by the great American choreographer William Forsythe. Still only 44, he has been creating his own works since 1997.

Today, he is regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative British choreographers thanks to works like Psychic Whack and dancingmadlybackwards. But it's his move into the field of full-scale narrative ballet that has finally brought him to Scotland's national company. So can we be sure those expectant local audiences will be thrilled rather than outraged when the curtain goes up and the tutu-less spectacle begins?

“I think I would really enjoy it if I watched it,” says Martin. “But I am a dancer, so I look at the movement more than the whole of the production.”

The costumes are by Japanese dancer-turned-designer Yumiko Takeshima, a regular collaborator of Dawson's. Breaking with tradition, she's putting Martin in a leotard.

“There's going to be an emphasis on the movement, purely,” the dancer explains, “so we have to move more to make it look like we are swans.”

Another clue to what audiences can expect comes courtesy of the poem Dawson has pinned to his mental mood board for inspiration: Study Of The Object by Polish poet, essayist and playwright Zbigniew Herbert. Helpfully, Scottish Ballet have also pinned it to their website.

It's pleasingly chewy and everyone will have their own reading, Dawson included. But here, in three words, is mine: mysterious, silent, ethereal. Not that silence is an option in even the most radical re-working of Swan Lake. One thing that hasn't been changed is Tchaikovsky's famous score.

Dawson's public introduction comes at Glasgow's Theatre Royal on April 19. But the company met him last August when he arrived to cast the production and begin working with Martin and Harrison, who will play Odile/Odette and Siegfried respectively, the lovers at the heart of the action. It was an “intense” rehearsal period, Martin recalls, made harder by the fact that she had only been back in Glasgow for a few days after a month off. She had prepared, though, by taking her pointe shoes home to France. “I had to be ready,” she says. “We didn't have the luxury of taking it easy. David was in and he wanted to start making his Swan Lake straight away so we had to give it 100%.”

Martin also watched as much of Dawson's previous work online as she could, though having seen his 2002 work The Grey Area performed by Dutch National Ballet at the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival she was already well aware of his reputation.

“I was excited and maybe a little bit scared because he's that famous, he's worked with the best,” she says. “You think: is he going to be disappointed with us?”

And is he? It's a cheeky question, though it elicits an honest enough answer.

“It's hard to tell because at the moment he's in the creative process and he's trying to finish the ballet. There are moments when he can be a bit impatient. But genius is a bit crazy I guess.”

There's a pile of DVDs in the corner of Martin's flat. I scan them quickly, looking for one in particular. It isn't there and Martin laughs when I mention it: Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan. In the Oscar-winning film, Natalie Portman plays a ballerina slowly unravelling as she prepares to perform both the Odette and Odile roles in a forthcoming production of Swan Lake. In the dance world Portman's character inhabits, genius is definitely a bit crazy.

“I usually don't watch that type of movie but I went because it was ballet,” Martin admits. “Good on Natalie Portman for training up, because it's not something you can pick up easily. So I think she did well. But some moments I just wanted to laugh out loud. It was like a caricature of a dancer. I mean she was having half a grapefruit for breakfast! None of us could last on that until lunch, which is at 2pm at the moment.”

Martin will admit to having felt moved by some roles she has danced, such as Abigail in The Crucible or Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. “When it's more realistic I can identify with it, though it's still a little hard to imagine that these days you could be called a witch,” she says. “Juliet is easier, because that easily happens: you're young, you fall in love and nothing can beat that.” But psychic trauma of the Black Swan variety clearly isn't her style.

Likewise breakfast is something more substantial and far more in keeping with the country she has called home for the last 13 years: porridge. “And cake,” she adds with a giggle.

Born and raised in Cherbourg in Normandy, Martin is the middle sister in a family of three girls. She started ballet lessons aged five, only because her elder sister was doing them. When her sister stopped, Martin carried on, eventually landing a place at the prestigious Paris Conservatoire. She joined Scottish Ballet in 2003, straight from "school", as she calls it, and has been with the company ever since.

“I like to do a bit of everything, which Scottish Ballet does, and I realise I have a good position here and often do good roles,” she says. “And I enjoy Glasgow. Weather-wise it's not so great, but it's a young city.”

So if they ever put Franco-Scottish on the census form, that's the box she'd tick now.

“I wouldn't say I'm 100 per cent French because I've lived here for so long. I've been here all my adult life. But I'm not Scottish either. If I went back to France I'm sure there would be a lot of things I would find quite odd.”

Getting back to France to see family is tricky, though. Glasgow to Cherbourg is a nine-hour journey, door-to-door, and with dancers often being given only two or three days off it's hardly worth the trouble. Instead, visits home are restricted to the summer months, when the company closes down for four weeks.

When not in France, Martin uses her down time to go backpacking. One recent trip took her to Colombia, flying into Bogota then travelling up to Cartagena on the Caribbean coast before heading to the country's Ciudad Perdida, or lost city.

An intrepid traveller then? “I like doing that, just getting flights and then seeing what to do when you're there,” she says. “You always find a hostel to stay in.”

Oddly, given its reputation as the acme of the classical ballet repertoire, this will be Martin's first Swan Lake. And the only version she's ever seen was on television, “when I was a young kid back in France. English National Ballet were doing it. It was Evelyn Hart and Peter Shaufuss”.

This, then, was the 1989 version, choreographed by Natalia Makarova, Mikhail Baryshnikov's former dance partner, but based on Marius Petipa's original choreography as well as on later additions by Sir Frederick Ashton. Barring Makarova's interpolations, it's classical to the core. David Dawson's will be very different. His Odette is “not a victim”, says Martin. “She's not under any spells so I don't have to be all sad and shy. It's more like she's the softer side to a person, and Odile is the femme fatale who crashes the party.”

As with footballers, the career of a dancer is relatively short. The long hours of training and physical exertion take their toll on joints and, in particular, ankles. Martin is partial to acupuncture as a way of alleviating the pain, to the point that she says she's now thinking of buying the necessary needles on the internet and learning how to treat herself.

“Sometimes, in the evening, it would be good just to put a couple in your shin, or whatever. Sometimes when you have a massage it just irritates and inflames the muscles. The pins don't do as much, but it's more peaceful and eases up the muscle.”

It's a winning image: Scottish Ballet's principal ballerina kicking back to watch Strictly with a slice of cake in her hand and a porcupine's worth of needles sticking out of her leg.

But as the aches and pains become more troubling, more thought is given to coping with them and, an attendant concern, to life after dance. Sophie Laplane, a colleague at Scottish Ballet and a contemporary at the Paris Conservatoire, is carving a career for herself as a choreographer. Her newest work, a collaboration with Glasgow-based electronic musician Alex Smoke, will feature in the company's autumn season. But Martin sees her own future elsewhere.

“I prefer dancing,” she says simply. “We've had the opportunity to try [choreography] but no, I think it wouldn't be for me … At the moment I'm working with the education department to see if I want to stay in the field. I'm lucky in that I'm quite petite so even in a few years I'll still look young enough. But I think my body's going to tell me when it's time, how the workload is, different things. Maybe I need to look more at modern stuff which is less tough on the ankles. We'll see. It depends on a lot of things. If I decide to have a family one day, that makes the choice for you.”

Sophie Martin's dancing days are far from over yet, though. There are still lifts to practice, entrances to rehearse, solos and duets to hone and a dazzling new production to take to the country. And no ordinary production either. This one is Swan Lake. The biggie. Or, as she cutely calls it, “the ballet of ballets”.

Scottish Ballet's Swan Lake opens at the Theatre Royal, Glasgow on April 19 (until April 23), then tours to Aberdeen, Inverness, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Liverpool (to June 4)