BWW Interviews: The National Ballet of Canada's Jillian Vanstone


The National Ballet of Canada’s winter season opened on February 29th 2012 and features three full-length ballets, La Fille mal gardee, The Sleeping Beauty and The Seagull.  Jillian Vanstone was recently promoted to Principal Dancer and will make her debut in the lead role of Lise in La Fille mal gardee, while also dancing the role of Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty and the role of Nina in The Seagull. 

Jillian wowed audiences and critics alike last year when she danced the lead role of Alice in the National Ballet’s sold-out production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and now she is eager to take on the challenge of dancing three separate roles in the winter season.  BWW sat down to talk with her about her approach to the busy winter season, her advice to up and coming dancers and how ballet can appeal to a young audience:

Congratulations on the National Ballet's 60th season and your recent promotion to Principal Dancer! For the winter season, you're dancing three principal roles - could you tell us a bit about each of them?

Thank you. It is a really exciting season for me. The three roles I am performing are quite different from each other. I begin as Lise in La Fille mal gardée which is a comedy in the English pantomime style. The dancing is very challenging and the energy required is huge. There is a lot of jumping and I need a ton of enthusiasm to pull off the character. The story is charming and good for all ages. It is the best ballet for kids I have ever seen but is equally fun for adults. 

The Sleeping Beauty is the epitome of classical ballet so anyone who can't get enough of tutus and tiaras will love it. It is the most challenging role I have danced because of the stamina and precision required. There is really no room for error. Having said that it is also one of my favorites. It is one of my dream roles and I am so happy when I perform it. When I am not performing in the title role I am also dancing on other nights as a Fairy at Aurora's christening and as Princess Florine in the Bluebird pas de deux in Act III. 

I finish the season as Nina in The Seagull. This ballet has a much more contemporary feel and is very dramatic. Getting the emotion to read properly takes a lot of work and is the most interesting part of working on this ballet. The look and feel of the ballet may surprise people who have a preconceived idea of what a ballet is. 

How do you differentiate between the three roles and ensure that each one ends up fresh and unique?

I have to take them one at a time. When I am in rehearsal for one role I can't be thinking about the challenges of another. It is hard to be patient and trust that each will come in its own time. Worry tries to creep in but I keep reminding myself to be in the moment. In this way, I hope to keep my performances genuine. 

What has been the biggest challenge of learning three distinct roles? What has been the most exciting part so far?

Luckily I only had to learn the role of Lise since I have danced Aurora and Nina before. As there is a lot of material in La Fille mal gardée I was glad for this because my brain was at the saturation point with that one. 

The most challenging part of this season is actually dealing with the physical stress. Each role is so physically demanding especially La Fille mal gardée and The Sleeping Beauty and it is hard to balance when I need to push hard and when I need to pull back so that I don't exhaust myself. I am getting a lot of massages and going to bed pretty early. 

What made you interested in ballet as a child? What has the journey been like so far?

I really just loved moving to music. I was hooked after a weeklong Parks and Recreation program when I was 3 years old. I begged to take ballet lessons after that. 

It's hard to sum up the experience so far, as I have been doing this for a longtime. My time dancing has been filled with joy, frustration, hard work, excitement, the highest highs and the lowest lows. It is a very difficult profession physically and emotionally but the rewards are so great. 

A lot of our young readers see movies like 'Center Stage' and assume that's what the average life of a ballerina is like. How do you feel about the way ballerinas are portrayed in film? What's your average day like?

Some dance movies are great. Most are pretty terrible. Although Centre Stage is pretty corny, is not far off. The hard work and the doubts, the friendships, the ugly feet, the beauty is all true. 

There are some really good dance movies. There's an older movie called The Turning Point that I think is one of the best. Billy Elliot is a great one too. I also really enjoyed Mao's Last Dancer. Ultimately though I think anything that gets people interested is a good thing. 

My days can range from two hours of rehearsal to seven hours a day Monday to Friday. I begin every day with company class and then have my rehearsals for the day. We get a five minute break every hour and an hour for lunch during rehearsals.  My longest days during performances have me arriving at the theatre at 10:00 am and leaving at 11:00 pm with class and two shows between. A single evening show would see me starting around 1:00 pm with class and a few rehearsals followed by a show. You will find me in my dressing room after a performance with my feet in a bucket of ice water. 

What are your favourite non-dance methods of keeping in shape?

I do a lot of cross training. I do Pilates at Articulate Bodies with Je-an Salas and Gyrotonics at Gyrotonic Toronto with Crispin Redhead. I see a great trainer, Jocie Espinoza as well. My favorite cardio is swimming because it is full body and not weight bearing. Obviously with such a busy season I don't do as much cross training but I still fit it in a little to avoid injury and improve my performance. 

What would be your biggest piece of advice to young aspiring dancers?

Only that you have to love it and be willing to work harder than you think you will have to. Those two things will take you 95% of the way. 

Finally, what would you say is the best reason young people should come check out the ballet?

They should check it out to surprise themselves. Many people think they know what ballet is all about but the stereotypes in some people's heads are completely destroyed after coming to see a show. The National Ballet had a huge repertoire and we dance everything from the big classics to new ballets with music by the White Stripes, and everything in between. I've had many people come away after a show and say "I had no idea the ballet performed repertoire like that!"

Tickets for the winter season are currently on sale and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 1 866) 345 9595 or online at

The National Ballet’s 2012-2013 Season includes Alice’s Adeventures in Wonderland, The Tenth International Competition for The Erik Bruhn Prize, Giselle, The Nutcracker, Nijinsky, Romeo and Juliet, The Four Seasons & Emergence, Carmen and Purti Miro & No. 24 & The Man in Black & Theme and Variations.  Subscriptions currently on sale

For more information on the National Ballet of Canada’s Winter Season please visit their official website at

Photo Credit: Sian Richards

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