There are precious few in any field for which excellence is merely the starting point. Currently in the full flowering of her career, Russian ballerina Jurgita Dronina is one of those few. She performs in Swan Lake this month for the eighth time in her career. The preceding performances having taken place during her tenures as principal or guest dancer for renowned national companies such as the Royal Swedish Ballet, the Dutch National Ballet and the Royal Danish Ballet.
Our conversation begins with Tchaikovsky’s seminal work itself. Swan Lake is split into four acts and the lead character, Odette, the White Swan Princess, is played by the same dancer as Odile, the Black Swan. “[The ballet] has delicate and specific quality demands in the white act,” Dronina remarks, “and high technical demands in the black act,” referring to acts two and three respectively. “To me,” she adds, “it’s not about portraying the bird. It’s being the creature – a mature creature with lots of depth and story in every step and gesture.”
Thirty-year-old Dronina’s passion for the play stretches back to her first performance of Swan Lake at the tender age of 21, coached by legendary dancer Natalia Makarova. “Natalia’s interpretation,” recalls Dronina, “[of the Swan Queen] is the epitome of ballet to me. She passed on a lot of priceless secrets and knowledge on how to use the ‘swan arms’ to express the story. I still have the image in my head. It will stay forever.” As for her own performance, Dronina remarks: “I was very nervous for my first Swan Lake and I think it was the only time I have ever been nervous on stage! From the early years, I was told I’d never be dancing Swan Lake with my small physique, so this was a huge deal for me to prove everyone wrong who told me that.” So what inspires her to keep breaking barriers? “Being able to transfer from one character to another,” she immediately asserts, before continuing: “And the possibilities of body language, the language of movement, amazes me constantly.”
That pursuit of amazement and expression led Dronina to move her life to Toronto from the Netherlands just over a year ago to join the National Ballet of Canada. “With all the classical roles and experience in my pocket,” she reflects, “it was the time to find a place that would appreciate all of that and allow me to continue developing as an artist and enjoy my best years in this career. Toronto is a great city for the balance in life I am looking for.” She also cites her husband’s and son’s Canadian citizenship as huge motivators for her to move there, as well as the sheer beauty and vibrancy of Toronto. “And what matters the most to me,” she adds, “is that it’s family-friendly. All my family absolutely love living there.”
With the future in mind, we ask Dronina what roles she looks forward to performing and she shares her ambition to dance in L’histoire de Manon, as well as the role of Tatiana in another Tchaikovsky ballet, Onegin, both of which are ballets in the National Ballet of Canada’s repertoire. “The great thing is that this art form is a never-ending creative process,” she tells us. “There will always be something new and exciting that I would like to dance. It really feels like there is no end to it.”
With her best years still ahead of her, we end by asking Dronina what makes a great dancer. Her answer is refreshingly specific: “One has to be beyond determined and bulletproof at a very young age to achieve something in this career.” She continues: “It takes a personality, a uniqueness to an individual. One truly has to know who one is and keep it real and true on stage. The worst is when someone tries to make a dancer into something they are not. Good coaching and professional eyes are the keys to anyone’s career.”