12/12/2013 03:08 EST | Updated 02/12/2014 05:59 EST

Becoming the Sugar Plum Fairy

Visions of Sugar Plums are dancing in my head, but not in the way portrayed in T'was the Night Before Christmas. I'm visualizing my corrections and my goals for the solo and pas de deux I perform as The Sugar Plum Fairy in Act II of The National Ballet of Canada's The Nutcracker. I have just woken up and I am already in the process of preparing for my performance in the evening.

I often get asked if, after all these years of Nutcrackerperformances, it is now old hat and if I can just relax and not think too much about it. No such luck! I have been dancing this role for over 10 years, but it is still a challenge and I work hard every year to achieve the technical requirements of the role. But I know that the audience is looking for Christmas magic and I can't let the difficulty dampen my artistry. I am very aware that I need to deliver, especially to the children, a fairy princess.

I get up and head into my kitchen to prepare either green tea or coffee (depends on the day). Since the company starts a little later on a performance day, I sit with the paper and enjoy my hot drink before making breakfast. This is my time to relax and not rush. Since my show is in the evening, I don't want my mind getting too geared up this early. After a breakfast of eggs and vegetables, I have a glass of water, grab my snacks and lunch and head to the theatre.

Every day at a ballet company begins with a ballet class. Today, our class is at 11 a.m. This class warms up the dancers' joints, muscles and nerves, thus improving our performance and mitigating injuries (as much as we can). I arrive early to do some of my own stretching and exercises before we begin, and then am led, along with the other dancers, through our class by our teacher for today. I pay close attention to the skills I will need in the evening. Throughout class I am drinking water with Biosteel powder to help in my recovery and stamina.


Jillian Vanstone in The Nutcracker

After class, I rehearse part of the pas de deux with my partner, Skylar Campbell (who is making his debut as Peter/The Nutcracker), try on multiple pairs of pointe shoes to find the perfect ones (which I will later change my mind about), stretch my muscles and drink half of my protein and berry smoothie. Today most of the company will have a couple of rehearsals, but, because I am performing tonight, I am not scheduled for any.

I head up to our athletic therapy department to see Company Athletic Therapist Paul Papoutsakis, who helps me with a sore ankle using hands-on work and acupuncture. I end up hanging out there for a little while after my treatment because it is always social hour in the therapy room, and always a good laugh.

Next I head to the green room to sit with colleagues and eat an early dinner so I have time to digest before I go onstage. Chicken with sweet potato and spinach is my favourite pre-show meal. At the half hour call I make a green tea and go to my dressing room to begin putting on my makeup and, as each piece is added, I become more mentally prepared. I snack on almonds, dark chocolate or a Larabar as I layer on the makeup and brush my hair into a bun. I need to make sure my blood sugar stays level so that I will have energy when I need it. The false eyelashes are my favourite, and the lipstick goes on last. I make sure my tiara is secure and, as the overture begins, I fill another bottle with Biosteel and head to the studio to warm up again. As my first entrance is not until Act II, I spend most of Act I warming up backstage.

During intermission I put on my tutu and my pointe shoes (yes, I changed my mind!) and try out most of my solo. Skylar comes to the studio in his Act II costume and we wish each other well. The stage is available after the sets are changed and I try out the solo a little more on the stage floor. This all must sound obsessive, but my solo is really hard!

Five-minute call, then, "places please" and Skylar and I head to the wings. The music begins and when it is time, I am helped through a back doorway into the beautiful Fabergé egg that is the Sugar Plum Fairy's home. From behind the door I hear "ready on the egg," but I am already in place since I know the music cold after all this time. My nerves are in high gear. The doors of the egg open and all I see is a sea of eyes. Eek! But then from a few rows back I hear a little voice exclaim: "Is that the fairy princess?!" Whoever she is just made my day!