Jurgita Dronina was born in Russia in 1986. She moved to Lithuania with her parents at the age of 4 and started training in ballet 6 years later. She studied at the M.K.Ciurlionis art school in Vilnius first and later on at the Munich Ballet Academy under the directorship Konstanze Vernon. After working with the Royal Swedish Ballet and guesting regularly across Europe, she is now a Principal Dancer with Dutch (Het) National Ballet.
Jurgita tells us more about what she loves about ballet and what life is like as a Principal Dancer.
Jurgita Dronina in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo: Angela Sterling
Hi Jurgita, thanks a lot for taking the time to answer our questions. So, tell us about your passion for dance. Where is it coming from?
JD: Honestly, I have no idea! No one in my family is connected to ballet or dance. I’ve always been a very active kid and after trying ballroom dancing for quite some time, my coached suggested my mum to take me to a ballet school. I passed the exams and got in. The passion was built little by little, with each year of training...
What is it in particular that you love about ballet?
JD: I just love being on stage. It is so addictive! To be able to experience so many different roles, to become "one" with each of them, to be able to create something of my own with each role and share something so deep and personal with the audience. On stage I feel "emotionally naked”, honest, true and where no one can interfere. Another reason why I love ballet is because I get to meet so many artists and travel. It is a very exciting profession where not one day is the same. Also I like the physical part of it, we are putting such demands on our bodies - like top athletes. Every day I work in ballet classes, I do rehearsals, performances, I go to the gym, I do pilates, yoga, swimming...etc. There are so many things we do on top of "ballet" to keep fit, strong and in the best shape possible.
You’re originally from Russia but you started your training at M.K.Ciurlionis art school in Vilnius, Lithuania. Why did you choose to train in Lithuania as opposed to Russia?
JD: I was born in Russia, but my family moved to Vilnius when I was 4. So since I was raised and schooled there, I didn't think I had any other options to choose from. That was the best choice I had for a ballet school.
Rupert Penenfather and Jurgita Dronina in Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Stanislav Belyaevsky
Can you tell us more about the training you received at M.K.Ciurlionis art school? What was it like?
JD: It was very busy! I had to have a very disciplined routine as I was going to a“regular” high school while doing my ballet studies on the side. So I would have to do a ballet class in the morning, go to a math or history class afterwards, then go to let’s say a pas de deux class and then to a literature class and then to character dance, ballet history, art history, piano lessons...and in the evenings prepare for competitions or performances with the company... I lived in the M.K.Ciurlionis art school "boarding school" 6 days a week and that’s what made it possible for me to survive such a routine; there was just no time for me to go home. As I remember it, we usually would start classes at 8 or 9 in the morning and would get back to our rooms at around 8 in the evening.
Wow, it sounds very hard! Was it any different at the Munich Ballet Academy? How did this part of your training differ from your time at M.K. Ciurlionis art school?
JD: Well, first of all I was done with high school before I left for Munich, but I still had to study one more year of ballet in Vilnius, so I decided to go to Munich to study at the same time. I just wanted to make the most of my last year in ballet school and get more experience somewhere else. And it worked! I had managed to travel between Munich and Villnius for exams and Graduation concerts.
What I loved about the Munich ballet academy is that it gave me a great transition from school to the ballet theater. It was a different training from the one in Vilnius. I have learned a lot from Konstanze Vernon about pointe work and a different, more refined dancing quality. We had a very strong pas de deux work, which helped me tremendously afterwards and I loved the feeling of being coached in rehearsals as an artist and not as a school student.
It sounds like a great opportunity and as you said a good transition from student to artist. Looking back at your training, who made a difference to you? Who were your favourite teachers and what is the best piece of advice they gave you?
JD: I really appreciate all the ballet teachers and coaches that I have worked with. Each of them had taught me something different and valuable. I was lucky to work with so many guest teachers during my years with Royal Swedish ballet and able to get coached by them on almost all the repertoire I have danced there. The best piece of advice I got was to "just go for it" and "quality, quality, quality- not quantity".
Rupert Penenfather and Jurgita Dronina in Romeo and Juliet. Photo: Stanislav Belyaevsky
Great advice! Let’s talk about all the competitions you’ve participated in (and won) in the past. Which prize do you value the most?
JD: The opportunity I value the most was studying at Munich Ballet Academy. The scholarship that I got after winning gold in France and the experience to dance on the old Bolshoi stage, during the closing gala of the competition in 2005, where I got silver. It was an unforgettable experience and we were the last ones to dance on that stage before the theater was closed for renovation!
A fantastic experience! What have you learned from doing all these competitions?
JD: That it is not all about the pirouettes... ballet is a form of art. And artistry is the most important.
Competing can sometimes be nerve- racking. Do you have any tips on how to keep calm and dance to the best of your ability?
JG: Do not forget that every entrance on stage is a performance. Even during competition it wasn't about competing for me; It was about making a performance.
You moved to Stockholm in 2005 to join the Royal Swedish Ballet. What persuaded you to join the company?
JG: The former director Madeleine Onne invited me to join the company after seeing me in a competition. I liked the company's repertoire and I just followed my 6th sense :)
Jurgita Dronina and Jan Zerer in Minos. Photo by Tamas Nagy
Were you right to follow your 6th sense in the end? What do you remember of your time there?
JG: The best memories I have are about great coaching experiences. Throughout my years there I met a number of guest teachers who helped me grow faster as a dancer. And the company's artistic values and influence are a big part of me today.
What motivated you to seek a new opportunity in 2010 then?
JD: For a while I was looking for a special partnership. I was getting tired of changing partners for each performance and build from scratch every time. Then I danced with Cedric Ygnace in a gala performance and we both felt that it was a very special partnership. It led to a guest performance of "Don Quichote" with Dutch National Ballet. A few months later I joined the company to continue dancing with Cedric.
How wonderful! You mentioned guest performances. You’ve done that several times, haven’t you? What do you like about it?
JD: Every guest experience is unique. It is exciting to meet new partners, new coaches, dance with different companies, on different productions, be on a different theatre stage and experience a different audience and different traditions every time. These are very inspiring experiences. I’ve always felt refreshed and somehow newly motivated after all my guest performances.
Tell us about your move to Het Nationale Ballet?
JD: It was a bit scary in the beginning since one never knows if the decision to change companies was correct and if all will go well. But I like to just follow whatever comes my way and take risks. I felt it was very easy to integrate the Dutch National Ballet. The company is very diverse and people are just so nice and supportive. I felt part of the "family" right away. But, of course, the main reason to move was to continue my partnership with Cedric. Having my partner within the company helped a lot.
Jurgita Dronina and Cédric Ygnace. Photo: Angela Sterling
Can you tell us more about what it is in particular that you like about Het Nationale Ballet?
JD: Very creative, passionate, positive and fun people to be work with. We do so many programs a year that time seems to just fly and I feel always busy with something new and exciting. The repertoire is extremely diverse and I love our HUGE stage!
And as a principal dancer you’re a lot on this “huge stage”! What is a typical day like for you?
JD: Warm-up before class.10-11.15 Ballet class. 11.30-13.00 Rehearsal for the "running program". 13.00-13.45 lunch break, where I usually work on my upcoming guestings. Then from 13.45 or 14.00 - 18.00 (with a short break in between) most of the time follows rehearsals for the "upcoming" program or creations with the choreographer till the end of the day. If there is a performance that evening we finish around 16h. Depending on a ballet I will be guesting with - I might still work from 16-17 on upcoming "full length" ballet. Then getting ready for the evening performance that starts at 20h. But the schedule is always changing and we know it only few days in advance, so it’s never set and never the same.
Exciting! So tell us, of all the roles you’ve danced this season, which one was your favourite?
JD: The best experience I have had during the season 2011/2012 was working with David Dawson. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity to work with him for a while. I knew it would make me grow further and experience something completely new. I love the feeling of the kick adrenaline to take risks and go to the extremes of every movement, sometimes not knowing where it will take me. It was a very inspiring process.
What about your most challenging role?
JD: I think it would be "Swan Lake". I was blessed to have an opportunity to work with Natalia Makarova on Odette/Odile and understand what this ballet is all about. To be coached on every little arm movement and neck position. The thought behind each step. The knowledge I got from Natasha is absolutely priceless. If not Natasha, probably I would have never thought I could dance swan queen and now I have danced 4 different productions and it is one of my absolutely favorite ballets.
Jurgita Dronina. Photo: C.Thorborg
What are your plans for next season? Are there any roles in particular that you are looking forward to dancing?
JD: During the season 2012/2013 I am looking forward dancing "Paquita" that I haven't danced yet and Chritopher Weeldon's new creation of "Cinderella".
Thank you Jurgita for your time and good luck with the new season!
Jurgita’s twitter handle