Spotlight: the National Ballet’s newest prima ballerina leaps from playing the chicken to dancing the lead

Spotlight: the National Ballet’s newest prima ballerina leaps from playing the chicken to dancing the lead

Jillian Vanstone
Jillian Vanstone is the kind of person who, when asked to name her flaws, responds that she’s too precise in her movements—a humble-brag that would be annoying if it weren’t totally accurate. We expect perfection from ballerinas, but the 30-year-old Vanstone, who was recently promoted to principal dancer at the National Ballet, takes that ideal to an extreme. Though she can look a little out of place executing Twyla Tharp–style dance steps, put her in a starched tulle tutu and a pair of toe shoes and she’s an old-fashioned prima ballerina in the vein of Evelyn Hart or Karen Kain. She was picked by the British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon for the title role in last year’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which required her to be onstage for most of the show’s three-hour running time. That performance prompted Kain, the National Ballet’s artistic director, to award Vanstone its highest rank. This month, she dances the lead in La Fille mal gardée, the pastoral classic about a plucky country girl pressured into an arranged marriage. It’s a sign of how far she’s come: in the National Ballet’s 2002 production, she played a chicken. La Fille also happens to contain the kind of demanding classical choreography she lives for, with virtuoso solos and fast, complex footwork. Later in the month, she’ll play Princess Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty—the most athletically demanding part in the canon (performers have been known to wear out as many as three pairs of pointe shoes in a single night). Vanstone always dances the part with flawless poise, laying waste to the notion that nobody’s perfect.

BALLET
La Fille mal gardée
Feb. 29 to march 4
Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts

(Image: Christopher Wahl. Hair and makeup by Jukka/Plutino Group)