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Jillian Vanstone and Zdenek Konvalina in rehearsal for "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has given Jillian Vanstone the opportunity of a lifetime. He has made the ballerina the first-cast Alice, which means she performs in the coveted spot on opening night.

"I want an Alice who is natural and honest on stage. She has to be completely fresh and unaffected," Wheeldon says. "The story is told through her eyes, and Alice has to bring us into her world. Jillian has these qualities."

Born in Nanaimo, B.C., Vanstone, 29, trained at Canada's National Ballet School. She joined the National Ballet in 1999, rising up through the ranks to become first soloist in 2006.

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For her part, Vanstone thinks it was her energy and vibrancy that caught Wheeldon's eye.

Avid National watchers have long considered the dancer the "go to" girl, because she has the chops to execute both classical and contemporary ballet superbly well. Principal roles under her belt include Giselle, Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and both Katerina and Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, albeit second or third cast.

Vanstone says she did a little jig when she first heard about the Alice casting, but at the same time, she realizes that the role is a tremendous challenge. Alice virtually never leaves the stage. "I'm living in the studio," she says, "because there's masses of material to learn. I'm still finding out, for example, where it's best to take a breath. To build up my strength and stamina, I dance flat-out in rehearsals rather than mark time."

As for her interpretation of Alice, Vanstone says: "She's feisty, spunky, optimistic and curious. She's not afraid to try anything. I identify with her, and share in her wonder."

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