By Diana Dunbar
Sonia Rodriguez, principal dancer with The National Ballet of Canada, spoke with me at the company’s studios on the waterfront overlooking boats swaying on the water.
Coming from a ballet class, Sonia is dressed in rehearsal clothes and is warm and candid in conversation. She appears almost ephemeral; in a world which requires years of intense training and preparation.
Dancers are cognitive of this, yet most mornings find themselves in class; afternoons in rehearsals; and nights performing under the stark glare of stage lights knowing that each movement will last for just a moment.
Speaking with Sonia gives a glimpse into the world of a principal dancer with a renowned ballet company. She speaks about the roles she’s performed; on choreographers she has worked with; on the company’s upcoming tour to New York; on the importance of balancing a career and having a family; and the challenges of being in a field that is not known for the longevity of its dancers.
Born in Toronto, but raised in Spain, Sonia studied ballet with Pedro de la Cruz and at the Conservatory in Madrid; then at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco. It was there that she first got a glimpse of the life of a dancer. She became a member of a semi-professional company which gave her a “taste of what professional life was going to be about.”
At seventeen she joined The National Ballet of Canada, drawn to the company by its reputation for its varied repertoire, “We have the classics and new productions are created on us which broadens the way you move and makes you a more versatile dancer.”
The classic Giselle is one of her favourite roles, “The first time I performed it was very challenging to really understand the romantic style. Act I is very earthy – the acting is real- a young woman falling in love; then the nervous breakdown which sets the stage for Act II. It’s important to find a distinct difference between Act I and Act II. It’s more challenging in Act II to create the ethereal way of moving. If you do your homework it never leaves you; every time you come back to it, you can start building and finding new ways to tell the story.”
Sonia is scheduled to make her debut in the lead role of Hermoine in Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale, coming to New York this month. “Christopher Wheeldon is very good at creating choreography that shows the personality of each character and what they are going through.” To prepare for the role she’s read all about the character and tries “to be as true as possible to the choreographer and what he wants. If you know who you are in the character you will react in that moment within the structure of the piece.”
Sonia is also performing in A Streetcar Named Desire, part of the company’s upcoming season, choreographed byJohn Neumeier. Neumeier, she says, “is a choreographer who has really changed who I am as an artist. His choreography is emotionally based and there are many layers to his ballets. Every time I dance one of his ballets, I am very excited.”
Every dancer is aware of the brevity of a performing career; but that is changing with more dancers are having longer careers. Sonia takes a philosophical view on this, “I feel fortunate to have had this career, and that my body is still responding the way it is. It’s very fulfilling – you get to a point where you know so much about yourself; what you are good at, your weaknesses and your strengths. I feel like I have good genes. I’m blessed that my body is very pliable, very responsive in that way. I feel very good; I’ve had injuries, but because I know more about myself, I feel I can perform better.”
As well as performing longer, Sonia is the mother of two sons and manages to balance a demanding career while raising her children, “It helps to have a strong support group. Motherhood makes you stronger, shows you how much you can do and give. It’s very fulfilling.”
Sonia has brought many beautiful and wonderful moments to audiences around the world. Her motivation comes from her “love of dancing” and all that it requires. “Nothing brings me closer to being in the moment and tuning everything else out as being on stage. It’s almost like a meditative state, not being distracted by anything else.” She also speaks passionately about time spent in rehearsal “working on the craft, improving yourself and developing relationships with your peers and building trust.”
And finally when I ask which role would she cast herself in? That would be George Balanchine’s Rubies. A shining jewel.
And we can’t wait to see her light up the stage in New York City!
Check out their tour and season dates: www.national.ballet.ca