TORONTO—Jillian Vanstone remembers being part of the creation of James Kudelka’s “Cinderella” from its beginning in 2004, watching the then director of the National Ballet of Canada choreograph the ballet right in front of her eyes.
Vanstone has since had various roles in the production, but dancing the part of Cinderella for the first time is particularly special.
Growing up in Nanaimo, B.C., Vanstone had her first dancing class at age 3, her first ballet lessons at 6, and by age 8 she had told her mother she wanted to be a ballerina.
Her determination and love for ballet led her to Canada’s National Ballet School in 1994, and to the National Ballet of Canada in 1999, where she was promoted to principal dancer in 2011.
Not unlike Cinderella, Vanstone has worked hard, aspired to stay true to herself, and appreciated what she was given.
“Every once in a while I’ll be on stage and I’ll really recognize how much I’m loving what I’m doing,” she said.
Although she has achieved her childhood dream of becoming a principal dancer, Vanstone knows there is no reason to be complacent.
“I’m always working to become a better artist. There’s of course endless development to achieve artistically and technically.”
Aspiring to dance for another decade, Vanstone looks forward to discovering new roles, finding different dimensions to the roles she’s danced before, and dancing on more stages as part of the ballet company’s tours.
She is also learning from fellow dancers, whether they are principal dancers, her partners, or other members of the ballet company who often find ways to help her improve her performance.
One valuable lesson was seeing veteran dancer Greta Hodgkinson gracefully get up after a fall on stage.
“As a young dancer I would look up at the principal dancers and think that they didn’t have mistakes like that, so that was a good thing to know—that everybody makes mistakes, and it’s how you handle them,” said Vanstone.
This experience taught her more of what it means to be considerate of the audience—helping people have a wonderful experience and feel at ease if mistakes occur.
A Special Fairytale
The classic fairytale “Cinderella” was one of Vanstone’s favourites growing up. Throughout her life and career, she has aspired to stay true to the values she found in it.
“What’s lovely about the Cinderella character is everything she achieves is through being genuine and kind, and beautiful on the inside. It’s not about being conniving and pushing other people out of the way to get to the top,” she said.
For her, “Cinderella” is a powerful example of good triumphing over evil.
“No matter how scheming, for instance, the stepsisters might be, you’ll get caught out in the end if you’re trying to do bad things in the world. Things work out in the end because for the characters that win out, they didn’t compromise themselves, they didn’t compromise their morals.”
In the current production of “Cinderella,” she performs with first soloist Naoya Ebe, with whom she has danced several roles already. She expressed her admiration for the quiet, dedicated dancer.
“What I especially find fantastic is [that] during a performance, he really fully gives himself over to a role. … There’ll be certain things he’ll do that are so charming and so part of the character that it really helps me on stage in my character,” she said.
“So I think we’ve really been forming a good partnership—learning from each other.”
The National Ballet of Canada will present “Cinderella” from June 4–15 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Arts. For more information, visit: national.ballet.ca