Last week, the National Ballet of Canada's newest star Jurgita Dronina made her grand debut, dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the holiday season stalwart The Nutcracker. The Russian-born, Lithuania-trained prima ballerina has danced with some of Europe's most celebrated companies, opting to join Karen Kain and company in Toronto because the city felt like a place she could call home. Here, she shares some of the secrets to her success, including why stage fright isn't for her.
A simple cure for stage fright
I know a lot of dancers have different ways of dealing with stage fright, but for me, that has never been something I worry about. I'm never stressed or worried. I just put on my makeup, put on my costume, I go through a few key steps, go through some steps with my partner to get the connection and then I can't wait to perform. I am always just so excited to get on stage. I guess I'm lucky. I think it's the way I grew up. I was exposed to things and I didn't feel there was much space to have fun, so my fun was being on stage, going into this magic world. For as long as I can remember, the stage was the place that I felt the most natural and comfortable.
It takes different strokes to rule the stage
Every dancer is so unique with different strengths, different bodies, different artistic qualities. When I go on stage, I'm not trying to achieve some kind of perfection standard that another dancer has achieved in terms of technique. It's not about jumping higher, doing more pirouettes. No matter what role you're performing, dancing is about sharing your own story and expressing yourself through your own body. Only I can do that. It's not even the same from one performance to another – I'm not a robot, every day is different. It's the same with so many types of [artistic performance]. People don't compare one singer to another singer – every artist is different.
One hundred per cent is not enough
I have been dancing six days a week since I was nine years old, so discipline is ingrained in me. I didn't know any other way. I didn't see other kids who were not disciplined, I didn't realize there was any other choice. Our instructors had this saying which was that every day at practice you work to 150 per cent. That way, if you have a bad day on the day of the show, you're still at a hundred, still excellent. After being trained like this for eight years, it's part of who you are.
The discipline of work/life balance
My escape from the demands of work life is my life at home. My husband was a [ballet] soloist for many years, so he understands my profession, the physical and mental demands. Still, we have a rule about keeping work at work. We have a three-year-old son and if I'm off, we don't speak about ballet. It's important to me to have that separation and it goes back to what I was saying about being fully invested in what you are doing. It takes discipline to not think about work, too.
Never be afraid to ask for what you're after
I have danced in many companies all over the world, but I never felt like I had found the place where I felt totally at home. I was looking for a city that made me feel that way both professionally and personally and when my husband and my son and I came to visit Toronto, we fell in love. I approached Karen [Kain] and I told her this is the place I want to be. She wasn't looking for a principal dancer at the time [the company had a larger-than-usual roster of senior female dancers], but that didn't stop me from expressing my wish. I'm really glad that I did, otherwise, who knows where we would be?
Wine over batter
In terms of my health routine, my absolute must is a protein shake that I drink after I work out. Throughout the day I drink electrolytes that keep my body from cramping and I take supplements such as amino acids. Those are my essentials – aside from that I really listen to my body and that has served me well. I'm not so, so strict. I'm a coffee addict. If I feel like something sweet, I'll have something sweet. After I have a premiere I like to go out for dinner with my husband and my son to celebrate. Quality food, a nice glass of red wine – that's enough of a treat. I don't need a big cake to celebrate.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.