Sonia Rodriguez Celebrates 30 Years
by Kathleen Smith
November 1, 2019

MERW-2018-1-600.jpgThis season, Principal Dancer Sonia Rodriguez celebrates 30 years dancing with The National Ballet of Canada. Since 1990, Rodriguez has been an audience and critic favourite, bringing intelligent interpretations and an elegant musicality to roles such as Cinderella, Blanche DuBois in John Neumeier’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Aurora in the The Sleeping Beauty and Terpsichore in George Balanchine’s Apollo, among many others. 
Sonia will be honoured after her performance in Giselle on November 8. Later in the season she will perform in the world premiere of Choreographic Associate Robert Binet’s Orpheus Alive and in the company premiere of Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort.
You’ve chosen Giselle as the centerpiece for your 30th anniversary celebration. Can you speak a bit about what this ballet means to you?
I think it was in 2000, just before I got promoted to Principal Dancer, that I danced the role of Giselle for the first time. But I was in the ballet many times before that, in the Corps de Ballet, as a soloist – I’ve done every part. It’s nice when you have a well-rounded understanding of the ballet itself, not just one particular role. 
I find it a very interesting ballet, one that’s created the most change in the ballet world since it was first choreographed. It paved the way for many other works and is a really important piece in the history of ballet. 
The role of Giselle itself is very challenging. So every time you come back to it, there’s more to dig into, especially when you come back to it at a different point in your life. The first time I danced Giselle I was preoccupied with the technicalities of it, trying to achieve the right quality of the Romantic era. It has a very distinct style that you don’t necessarily work with every day. 
I don’t approach it in quite the same way now. I think it’s crucial to the role to make Giselle believable, so I try to find ways to make her relatable and truthful and not just make the experience aesthetically pleasing. I want to find that humanity in her that people can really connect to when they’re watching. That’s really important.
Are there other ballets that have been transformative or meaningful for you?
The Sleeping Beauty has been close to my heart as a classical ballet – I love the purity of the choreography. It’s one of those ballets that sits well with my own technique, so I always feel good dancing it. I like that it is so black and white. It’s a very hard ballet to do – there’s no hiding – but there’s a sense of comfort in always knowing exactly what you need to do next.
For dancers like myself who like to move with a sense of purpose, who get pleasure in finding out the ‘why’ about what a character does and who they are – it’s always incredible to tackle John Neumeier’s choreography. His characters are always so complex and there’s always so much to discover. Those are dream ballets to do.
It’s also great to be in Robert Binet’s upcoming Orpheus Alive. And later in the season, Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, which I have never danced – it’s a little jewel as far as I’m concerned. It’s not specifically difficult to do; it doesn’t require a lot of stamina, in fact it’s quite calm, with very small vignettes and 2.5-minute step out. But the dance is not solely about doing the steps. Kylián’s work has an inner beat, almost like a beating heart, with that kind of rhythm and musicality. The company hasn’t done Kylián in a long time – it’s a nice treat for us.
Is the diverse repertoire one of the things that has kept you at the National Ballet?
Thirty years is a long career and I’ve been fortunate to have a varied repertoire offered to me – and yes, it’s one of the things I love most about the company. It has really helped me to challenge myself and push and grow and learn. I’ve been fortunate that great choreographers have come and given me chances to discover new ways of moving, new ways of working and expressing myself – that’s just so wonderful for me. Discovering new things is what keeps me going.
What gifts do age and experience bring to a dancer?
There’s a better understanding of your strengths and your weaknesses. You’re more in tune with your tools. When you’re younger you push a lot more on instinct. So much is learned with experience. You come to realize that ‘this is who I am and I accept this and I like this and this is what I have to offer’. And that helps you shed this little skin of everybody else’s expectations, which can hinder you from being the best that you can be. When that happens it’s wonderful to just go onstage and feel free. At this point in my career, I really know myself as an artist and how much more I can do. 
What does this November 8 celebration mean to you as a dancer?
You only realize it when you’ve been doing this job for a long time but every time you go on stage is a celebration. We are so fortunate we get to do what we do – it’s such an incredible art form and it’s so fulfilling. A big milestone is great and you appreciate it, but everything is a gift when you get to this point.
I’ve had a longer career than I would have ever imagined. I feel very blessed.  

Giselle is onstage November 6 –  10, 2019. 

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