Cupcakes & Conversation with Jurgita Dronina, Principal, The National Ballet of Canada
What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning?
My will to live each day to my best ability.
My wish to achieve my own set of goals daily, no matter if it’s in ballet or life.
To not waste time at any point in the day.
If ballet chose you, as many dancers say it did, what is it that has made you stick with it?
The emotional closeness I feel with the steps and music. My love to perform for an audience and my addiction to the stage. Also the physicality of this art form, as I love to feel exhausted and know I gave all I could – at the end of each day…
What are you looking forward to dancing in 2017 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you?
I am looking forward to the busiest season I have ever had. The 2017/18 Season will be the most challenging year to come. I’m also hoping and looking forward to many unexpected opportunities and invitations that may come my way. I don’t usually look forward to a particular role, as most of the time I don’t even know which role or ballet I will be cast in (except big classical productions) or whether I will be part of a new creation or not, but otherwise I am really looking forward to reprising my role in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale and coming back to the role of Aurora in Sleeping Beauty.
Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance?
I feel very privileged and lucky to be able to perform alongside the greatest Principal dancers worldwide, so I really cannot come up with someone’s name in particular. But if I could, I would have loved to experience how it feels to dance alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov.
If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?
I would love to dance somewhere in Sedona, Arizona or in a church, especially in one of those really old ones that I visited in Italy or Armenia dating back to the 11th century.
How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?
I wear Gaynor Minden pointe shoes which do not require much preparation, except that I usually work in my shoes for a few months (at least!) before feeling they are ready to go on stage with me. I feel comfortable only in old and soft shoes that follow the movement of my foot.
What is your daily routine at the moment ?
At the moment we are preparing A Streetcar Named Desire by John Neumeier, so rehearsals take up the full day. I wake up 6:45 am, walk the dog, prepare breakfast for my son and get him ready for school. I am at the studios at 9:00 am, where I have a bit less than an hour to warm up. Usually I do Pilates on a Reformer before class.
From 10:00 am – 11:15 am I have class, then rehearsals from 11:30 am – 2:30 pm. My break is from 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm of which I use 30 minutes to do a workout in the gym or rehearse an upcoming guest performance. Then I have rehearsals from 3:30 – 6:30 pm.
If I happen to finish earlier I squeeze in a Gyrotonics session, and if I have a later start in the day I enjoy starting my day with a personal training session at the gym.
Most of the time I get home at around 7:00 pm.
On the weekend, it is a full day booked with my son’s activities, play dates and time in the park with our dog.
What do you eat during the course of a typical working day?
I always start my day with water and fresh lime. For breakfast I have tea and almond milk, an egg or protein bar (I love RX bar, lärabar or other bars with natural ingredients) or fruit with almond butter or tahini. I also grab a coffee before class. For lunch I take a pea protein shake with a handful of nuts or toasted coconut while working, or, if I have more time to actually have a proper meal, I go for some sort of protein and veggies or soup. Throughout the day I drink electrolytes and magnesium. Dinner includes different vegetables with a source of protein (fish or meat). I love to enjoy tea with milk in the evening or eat fruit to satisfy my sweet tooth.
You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite?
- Dalai Lama
- Nelson Mandela
- Ana Pavlova
- Freddy Mercury
- Woody Allen
It would be a fun dinner!
What would surprise people about you ?
I love motorcycles and rock climbing. I would still like to surprise people after this interview, so I will keep other surprises to myself!
Who inspired you to dance ?
Actually, there was no one in particular who inspired me to dance. What inspires me to dance is my inability to function without dancing and physical activity and not being able to fully express myself, if it’s not through a played role on stage or through music and movement.
What is your best piece of advice ?
Hard and intelligent work is the number one key to success. Finding specific training that works for you is so important in this career – knowing a pattern of training that works for you will help overcome the many problems one might face with their body’s limitations. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open and to constantly question yourself in order to continuously move forward and not stay in the same place without developing. It’s only through a constant struggle and hunger for perfection that one can move forward and keep creating.
How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?
After the last rehearsal on the performance day I have a massage for my legs, a little rest with my legs up and a snack followed by makeup and hair. I warm up doing my own class onstage or backstage, then I put my costume on and go through the steps onstage to get in the right mood.
How do you deal with the stress of performing ?
I don’t have performance stress or nerves. I am usually calm as I go through my routine and just look forward to being onstage again and performing. I know stress would just diminish my performance, so very early in my career I learned that dancing stress-free is always the best option for my performance and gives me so much more freedom to be “in the moment” and to be true to what I do on stage. I believe stress blocks expressing one’s true feelings and forces one to do things “automatically”, losing spontaneity.
My approach is to have no worries and to just dance and live life onstage.
Which role has tested you the most & how ?
Swan Lake and Don Quixote – for different reasons:
From a young age, I was constantly told I would never dance the role of Swan Queen because of my height, but after preparing for my first performance as the Swan Queen with legendary Natalia Makarova, I have danced it the most out of all my roles and done ten different stagings of the ballet by now with numerous companies around the world. This is when I turned my weakness into my strength.
Don Quixote is due to my technical insecurities early in my career. I was afraid to turn and my dearest coach, Guillaume Graffin (who I worked with while dancing with Het Nationale Ballet) made me not only lose my insecurity, but made me enjoy turns and take risks. This is the magic of having a great coach to work with – that your biggest fears become your greatest achievements. Don Quixote became a really fun performance to experience and I definitely had a blast onstage!
If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create?
Something free flowing and flattering that helps perfect the lines and doesn’t make me feel that I need to hide certain angles.
What do you look for in a dance partner ?
Honesty, generosity, spontaneity and feeling complete trust with every touch while being partnered. I like when my partner sees and feels every detail that I am trying to add to the duet and can share his ideas as well so I can get to know his personal view and thoughts on what we are trying to achieve. It’s only then that I feel like it’s possible to adapt to each other and dance in harmony to inhabit the relationship and characters onstage.
What is your favourite quote ?
“Every talent must unfold itself in fighting” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?
Mmmm… probably anything that requires neat footwork.
A phrase I use far too often is … ?
“It is because…”
What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?
That’s a difficult one! I’ve had so many memorable moments that it’s hard to pick one! There is a difference between the best experience and the best performance…but the moments that I will keep in my heart for a long time are:
Taking a bow while performing Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale with The National Ballet of Canada at Lincoln Centre in New York and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The audience was incredible and it was so unbelievably moving to be well received in such iconic places.
My guest performance of Giselle in the London Coliseum with English National Ballet. In general it was one of those performances that happen only a few times in a career and the memory of it will always be so strong.
The gala performance I curated to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of Lithuanian National Ballet in Vilnius. The feeling of being able to give back and share the learned craft with the place that raised me and taking a bow in front of a fully packed audience that knew me since I was a child was truly special. I love performing in my home town. Even though it was a lot of work to put it together, seeing this idea coming to life was one of the best moments for sure.
Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?
Multitasking and organizing.
In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?
I would like to feel happy and satisfied with my work and feel like I used every opportunity to the maximum without wasting time.
Who would you like to have a conversation with ?
Salvador Dali. He is simply fascinating to me.
What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?
I would think the most important thing to me would be to exit while still dancing at my best level and keep the memory of my last performance being on the highest level. I would also like to feel that I did all I could with the time I was given in this short career, therefore I always try to take every opportunity that comes my way. I would like to leave feeling accomplished and with the best memories from being onstage. And of course, to have something to transition to would be ideal.
Jurgita is currently in rehearsals to dance the role of Blanche DuBois in the Canadian Premiere of John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire. The ballet will run from June 3 – 10, 2017 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, Ontario Canada. More information here.