Jillian Vanstone: Reflections on a Career in Dance
October 12, 2021
Jillian Vanstone. Photo by Karolina Kuras.
Principal Dancer Jillian Vanstone has a vivacity and precision that make her performances uniquely uplifting; even in darker moments she is an absolute joy to watch, with an ease of movement that defies the difficulty of what is required of her. She dances with exquisite clarity as Princess Aurora in Rudolf Nureyev’s The Sleeping Beauty and youthful wonder as Alice in Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the role that led to her promotion to Principal Dancer in 2011. Wheeldon’s choreography will now inform another major milestone in Jillian’s career, as she prepares to give her final performance with The National Ballet of Canada in After the Rain, capping a gorgeous career of 22 years on stage.
Jillian Vanstone in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic.
You have enjoyed a long and inspired career with the National Ballet and you continue to perform at a very high standard. How did you know that this is the right time to retire?
I am very grateful for the career I’ve had. There have been some truly incredible experiences and people that have made my time with the company very special. I leave with beautiful memories and wonderful friends.
In announcing my retirement there have been a few people who have been surprised by my news, but I’ve always known that I would want to step away when I was still able to dance without too much pain or a loss of ability. It’s very important for me to feel like I am still able to achieve a certain standard. In addition to this, being a professional ballet dancer requires a lot of sacrifice and a commitment to an exhausting schedule and lifestyle. While the rewards for that are wonderful, it can be all consuming.
It’s a bit scary to pursue a new path, but I’m looking forward to developing a new career. I am currently enrolled in management courses and hope to use what I’m learning along with my performance experience to explore other avenues within the performing arts. When I reflect on my career I realize that most of my greatest experiences have been while engaging in the creative process with committed and curious people. I hope to continue creative work in performance but in a new role off stage.
Jillian Vanstone in Company Class. Photo by Kiran West.
You are such a joyful, relaxed performer and at the same time so technically clean. How have you achieved that combination of qualities?
Thank you. I’m glad I come across as relaxed because I certainly don’t always feel that way! I’ve very rarely gone on stage without nerves.
I attribute the successes of my career to simply doing the work required for me to reach a high level. I’ve always put in the hours even when I was discouraged because I knew it would help me reach my goals. There were times when I wanted to give up, but I’m glad I kept working because it was worth it in the end.
I also asked for help when I needed it. Whenever I encountered a particularly strong coach I made sure to learn as much as I could and ask questions when I didn’t understand. I was really shy about this at first, but then discovered that most people are perfectly willing to help. There is an idea that persists that if a person is talented they can do it all on their own, but that’s not true at all.
Jillian Vanstone in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Karolina Kuras..
You have chosen to give your last performance in After the Rain by Christopher Wheeldon, a choreographer you have a significant history with. What do you admire about his work and this piece specifically?
I knew that I wanted to dance a ballet by Christopher for my retirement because dancing his work and being in the studio with him and his wonderful associate Jackie Barrett have been some of the best times of my career. His movement style made sense to me from the beginning and I love the incredible musicality, creativity and emotion of his ballets. I’ve always enjoyed his sense of humour and his commitment. He has always pushed me to do more than I thought I could and because of this he brought out the best in me. I am forever grateful.
I chose After the Rain because it’s a piece that I’ve always wanted to dance and that I think is very reflective of the best of Christopher’s work. It’s visually beautiful and has a depth of emotion that will be very meaningful for me in the final performances of my career.
Learn About After the Rain
Read Jillian Vanstone’s Biography