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Jurgita Dronina in Swan Lake. Photo Laurent Liotardo

Jurgita Dronina: 'I’m always in shape because I’m always dancing and there is no time to not be good'

LONDON: Catching up with Jurgita Dronina, even for a short interview, is no easy matter, ‘I am so busy, I just live in the moment’. But her bright smile and relaxed manner suggested this is not a problem, ‘I think I am the happiest I have been in my career’. After her training in Lithuania she joined the Royal Swedish Ballet in 2005 and then followed a principal contract with the National Dutch Ballet in 2010.

In 2015, Jurgita joined the National Ballet of Canada, Canada’s premiere company based in Toronto, where she has now made her home with husband, former dancer, Serguei Endinian, and son Damian.

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James Streeter and Jurgita Dronina in Swan Lake. Photo Laurent Liotardo

Most dancers would be happy with a principal contact with one top company, Jurgita is probably unique in having two. After guesting for some time with the English National Ballet in London, she accepted a lead principal contract in 2017.

‘I am very happy. Before I would dance with one company and be looking around for guest performances because doing just three shows a month was not enough for me. Now, working with both companies I never have that thought. I dance my last Manon here in the evening, then early next morning I fly from London, I arrive in Toronto next evening, and the day after I’m off to work to rehearse other ballets that I haven’t done.’

‘The only thing now is how to keep healthy, strong and in shape. Basically, just to keep healthy because I’m always in shape because I’m always dancing and there is no time to not be good. The pain here and there I try to address as quickly as possible and get the physio at the right time, so the problem doesn’t become bigger.’

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Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in Swan Lake. Photo Laurent Liotardo

In 2015 Jurgita tackled a new project. ‘It was the 90th anniversary of the Lithuanian Ballet and I produced Gala Concert Vilnius.’ It was new territory for her and she made use of her wealth of contacts from years of guesting, calling friends and colleagues from all over the world.

She said, ‘this is the budget I have’ (and here she laughs) but I really want to make something exclusive for the people and it is very important to me. And everybody I approached agreed! The Gala was a great success with top international dancers with choreography never seen before in Lithuania.

The classics are still what Jurgita enjoys the most. ‘Dancing the classics keeps me alive, keeps me feeling like I’m on top of my profession and on top of my body. When I manage a good Swan Lake, I have no questions for myself whether I can do it, because when you can do that well, then you know you’re in a good place.’

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Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in Swan Lake. Photo Laurent Liotardo

On January 3, 2019 Jurgita realised a long held ambition when she danced the opening night of Swan Lake with the English National Ballet at the Coliseum Theatre in London to critical acclaim. ‘It was like a dream come true and I will never forget it. When I was still at school in Vilnius, everybody told me I will never dance Swan Lake.’

‘It was type casting, people saw me as a soubrette only and that is one of the main reasons I never joined a company in my own country. I left to prove them wrong. So, when I came back to Lithuania to dance Swan Lake that was already a big thing. But that evening a teacher actually told me, “well, who cares about a Swan Lake in Lithuania? Wait until you do it in London, then we can talk”. That left a very bitter feeling and now I can say … “I’ve done it. Swan Lake in London”. It makes me feel proud.’

Swan Lake is Jurgita’s most danced ballet with performances in Sweden, Holland, Hong Kong, Shanghai Ballet and the opening night of Patrice Bart’s production in Rome. Never happy to rest on her laurels she is always willing to try something new to enhance her performance.

‘Here, on the opening night, I took a big step trying something completely new that I never done before. It was the way of not only feeling, but seeing it, especially in the white act and now it evolves much more. My favourite phrase here, and everybody waiting in the wings knows it, “you just wait–I have some new ideas”. I’m never afraid to try new things on stage and see where it takes me.’

‘Every cast in ENB is inspiring to watch, they are all very different, that’s one of the reasons I like it here. I don’t function by judging others and I love to support my colleagues. I love watching Alina [Cojocaru], she’s very special on stage. And the young ones, they remind me of myself when I was nineteen and I know how they feel’.

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Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in Swan Lake. Photo Laurent Liotardo

Like many great artists, Jurgita is always learning. ‘For me it is very important to work individually, not just the cookie cutter machine and the same correction–point your foot! In Amsterdam, Isaac [Hernández] and I had a ‘dream team’ with our coach Guillaume Graffin. He was someone I loved to work with every single day, he’s still like family to me. There would always be laughter, sometimes tears and he’d always know where we were and how to push.’

‘But I also find that with coaching here–I really enjoy it. After every performance I get feedback which is amazing. Sometimes when you feel it was your best performance, that is not how it looked. That is such a truth. So, I go home with a clear mind of where I am at and the next rehearsal I know what to work on and that is very inspiring. It keeps me upbeat, it keeps me alive.’

English National Ballet has an exciting repertoire that includes many contemporary works. I asked if they offered Jurgita the same satisfaction.

‘They are usually shorter works, but I did enjoy performing Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land, I did the last pas de deux. It is so beautiful, I just wanted to cry every time. So there are neo-classical roles like this that mean something to me and my partner. Hopefully, if we are true and real then the audience will also feel something. So yes, there is emotional depth but not the build up as in a full-length ballet.’

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in Approximate Sonata 2016

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernandez in Approximate Sonata 2016. Photo Laurent Liotardo

‘Even in Forsythe’s Approximate Sonata, Isaac and I had our story on stage. Every time was different, and we would take it in a new direction. There is a freedom which is amazing and there is not such a freedom in classical ballets.’

Jurgita was in Canada when ENB staged Akram Khan’s Giselle. ‘It was my time to go home and perform. I would love to dance it, but I have to manage my life and sometimes I have to say “no”. I watched the last pas de deux when Tamara [Rojo] was presenting it on the screen. I was happy that the first time I saw it was with the close-ups. What I saw on the screen completely changed things in my thinking. It’s much more than just liking it, I was stunned by it. And that happens very rarely. I am very proud to be working for Tamara. I would love to dance the ballet, but I have to make choices and so far, Giselle hasn’t worked out, but I think Akram is a genius.

Damien

Jurgita's son Damian "We like to rock!" Photo Serguei Endinian

Her son, Damian, is well integrated into Jurgita’s performing life. ‘The company is very helpful. They are flexible in arranging the shows because they know that I am alone here and they make sure that I can pick up Damien, come by train on tour and do my show. He had just started school in these first six months of us being in London, but he is now back in Toronto where he is enjoying comparing life at his Canadian school.

‘He already has good friends in two days.’ Communication seems to be his strong point. ‘He speaks Lithuanian to me, Russian to Serguei, English or French to other people and he was learning Spanish at school in London. He is definitely living a one of a kind lifestyle!’

Damien has decided ballet is not for him, ‘He tried but left after the first class … but he loves playing guitar and he loves watching ballet. He has watched the first act of Manon, and he loves Song of the Earth. It’s his favourite ballet’. He also loves Swan Lake and insists on watching it all the way through. “I want to see how it ends”. He had questions for Isaac, “why would you fall in love with the black swan? Can’t you see there is a difference?”’

Jurgita is a generous spirit and always willing to acknowledge the opportunities she has enjoyed. ‘I think I was born at the right age. Thank God, we live in a different age and that ballet has evolved and people’s mentality has evolved. Otherwise half of the amazing ballerinas the world has today wouldn’t dance half of the repertoire.’

‘I’m grateful to people I met through my career. If not for Natalia Makarova, I wouldn’t have that knowledge of Swan Lake: how to use my arms and my neck and maybe I would dance in a different way that wouldn’t be so effective for my proportions. One thing leads to another, and you meet many people along the road that make you a better dancer. There is always someone to help you.’

‘If not for Madeleine Onne in Sweden I don’t know if I would have danced Swan Lake. She was a director that saw something in me and if not for Madeleine, who knows, maybe I would not be where I am today.’

Maggie Foyer
13 May 2019

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