Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageDancing a Cinderella story Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Jun 2, 2014 in Entertainment
Toronto - For ballet dancer Jillian Vanstone, performing in ‘Cinderella’ is a sort of culmination of a childhood dream. The National Ballet of Canada artist debuts in the title role this coming week.
Jillian Vanstone was literally rendered speechless the first time she met a professional ballerina. Having attended a touring performance of Swan Lake as a ballet-loving ten year-old, she scrawled an adoring note to dancer Evelyn Hart on a program insert and handing it to an usher.
“He came out later and found me,” she recalls, a smile creeping into her voice, “and he said, ‘If you like, you can come meet her after the show.’ I went backstage later, and I stood there, completely stunned. I don’t think I said a word. My mum spoke to her! My jaw was probably hanging open... I completely froze up and just stared.“
Vanstone will be dancing the title role in the National Ballet’s production of Cinderella, opening this week in Toronto at the Four Seasons Centre. The British Columbia native started in ballet at the age of six, and was later accepted into the National Ballet School. She formally became a part of the National Ballet of Canada in 1999. Four years later, Vanstone was promoted to Second Soloist; in 2006 she was promoted to First Soloist, before being appointed a Principal Dancer in 2011. Vanstone’s extensive repertory includes includes title roles in Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, along with major featured roles in George Balanchine’s Apollo (Calliope), James Kudelka’s staging of The Nutcracker (Sugar Plum Fairy), Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story Suite (Maria), as well as the title role in the much-praised Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Christopher Wheeldon in 2011. Each dancing experience has been special, sometimes playing parts in her very own fairy tale of sorts, but they didn’t come without unique challenges, too.
Sleeping Beauty was… pretty much one of the hardest things I've ever danced,” she confesses. “It’s really difficult — it’s very classical, very exposed [...] but at the same time, it's one of the most fulfilling things to do. The music (by Tchaikovsky) is incredible, and you’re in the best shape of your life, because it’s just so hard! It gets you on top of your game! My memories surrounding that whole time are very fond and positive, though I was nervous like I'd never been since stepping onstage for the very first time.“
Jillian Vanstone in  The Sleeping Beauty  in 2009.
Jillian Vanstone in 'The Sleeping Beauty' in 2009.
Aleksandar Antonijevic
“The circumstances surrounding (Alice) were incredible too, the process was amazing. I was working with Christopher Wheeldon, the North American premiere was here, and the response was fantastic. There was such a lineup outside for people to try to get tickets — we sort of felt like rock stars! That was exciting. And right after the run, I was promoted to Principal Dancer, which was very special to me.”
One factor that contributes to Vanstone's love of Cinderella is being present during the work's creation in 2004; another is working with choreographer James Kudelka, who, she says, "always talks about telling the story very clearly, and not doing anything extra, not distracting from the main point. It’s figuring out the moments to make it bigger, exaggerate, what to tone down, how the thought process needs to be [...] finding within the very intricate choreography and technique how to best move the narrative forward in a way that reads well to the audience and makes them feel something."
Balancing the technique with the art is something dancers are always striving for, she notes. “That’s our job, our constant aspiration. We want to be artists, and that's why we spend so much time getting the technique down-pat. You get to the point where you’re not thinking about it.”
Still, she acknowledges being a professional ballerina has its challenges. “We go in five days a week — six days a week when we’re performing," she says, "and sometimes when you're tired and stressed, you can forget this is a pretty big deal. But every once in a while, I'll have the tutu and the tiara, the typical ballerina look, and I'll think, ‘My eight year-old self would lose her mind right now!’ It’s good to remind yourself that this is what you really want to be doing.”
Vanstone makes a point of understanding the characters she dances. In terms of approaching Cinderella, Vanstone says it'll be a mix of taking advice from dancers who've performed the role before, those who haven't, and figuring out what works best for her. "Ultimately, I'll make my own decisions as to how it makes sense to me," she says. "I never want to put something on that's more related to somebody else. You have to try to find the character within, rather than putting on a persona someone else has done before."
Aleksandar Antonijevic and Jillian Vanstone in  Alice s Adventures in Wonderland  in 2011.
Aleksandar Antonijevic and Jillian Vanstone in 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' in 2011.
Cylla von Tiedemann
It’s this actorly understanding that has impressed critics, including Globe and Mail dance writer Paula Citron. In reviewing Alice in 2011, Citron wrote: Vanstone is an absolute charmer. Her technique has always been exquisite, but this ballet also demands an actress. Her Alice is a feisty girl who isn’t afraid of anything, and who throws herself into every new adventure with gusto. She seems absolutely alive on stage, glowing with youth.
During rehearsals for Wheeldon's ballet, Vanstone had remarked that "I identify with her, and share in her wonder." This understanding of character seems to be as central to her as dance steps.
“It’s very difficult if you don’t identify with the character, to be able to convince people that you’re genuine once you get onstage,” she notes. “You have to find something within yourself. I guess I particularly love dancing story-ballets because I get to find this part of myself and exaggerate it and… find maybe things I didn’t know about myself, or… in some ways, become another person… but all stemming from something that’s within me.”
Vanstone's love of Cinderella has roots in her past. “This is a story I loved as a kid,” she confesses. “I had two different storybooks of it, and the Disney movie I watched over and over. I remember seeing many different version of this ballet too, so it’s kind of exciting to be dancing this role, a story I loved.”
A dancer's joy in performing becomes one with the audience’s experience of watching it, leading to a shared kind of connection, that is, according to the performer, palpable.
“You feel the audience,” she observes. “They like these stories, these fairy tales. And often a lot of children come to the shows, their energy is amazing. You can really feel it. There are people in the audience who wonder, ‘Can you feel us? Do you know we’re there?’ And really you do, you feel the energy.”
As to her being the “Evelyn Hart” for some hopeful, ballet-loving ten-year-olds now, “it’s so bizarre! When it’s you, you're like, ‘Really?! Oh my gosh!’ I can remember that, but… yeah, it’s funny when it’s you!”
More about Ballet, Ballerina, Jillian Vanstone, Cinderella, national ballet
More news from
Entertainment Video
Latest News
Top News