Stella Leowinata had to pinch herself when she was told she landed the role of Marie in The National Ballet of Canada’s The Nutcracker.
The 11-year-old Don Mills Road and Lawrence Avenue resident, who started her first year at Canada’s National Ballet School in September, said she yearned for the coveted role from the first time she watched the seasonal performance.
“I did not expect it at all because it’s my first year (at the school),” said the Grade 6 student. “I thought the Grade 7s would get it. It was a huge surprise for me.”
Since moving with her family from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Toronto four years ago, Stella had trained in the ballet school’s associate program in the evenings while enrolled at St. Bonaventure Catholic School.
Last January, the youngster passed her first audition with the prestigious ballet school for the chance of acceptance into the full academic and dance program. Stella was invited to join the summer program and in July, found out she was one of about 50 new students out of 1,000 accepted into the school’s full program, which boasts graduates such as Karen Kain, Rex Harrington, Veronica Tennant and James Kudelka, who choreographed The Nutcracker this year.
And in late October, Stella received word she was one of three ballet students chosen for the role of Marie.
“I didn’t believe it, I kept pinching myself,” she said. “I was really happy. I called my mom right away.”
Over the past several months, Stella has kept a hectic schedule, with two blocks of academic classes and one dance class during the day at the Jarvis and Wellesley streets school, plus rehearsals for The Nutcracker after school.
“It’s a very tight schedule, but you learn to work with it,” she said.
The Nutcracker tells the story of Misha and Marie, a quarrelsome brother and sister, and their friend, Peter, the stable boy. With Baba, their nurse, and Nikolai, their flamboyant uncle, the children travel from winter to spring and from childhood to adolescence.
Running Dec. 8 to 30 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. W., Stella only has three performances left with The Nutcracker on Dec. 21, 23 and 29.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking in the beginning,” Stella said of opening night. “I could feel my heart beating in my ears. But once you’re pushed out on the stage it’s easy and so much fun. I just want to enjoy my last few performances and be grateful I was part of the production.”
And when she’s a little older, Stella hopes to land another role in The Nutcracker, this time of The Sugar Plum Fairy.
“The steps are so pretty and she is so beautiful,” Stella said. “I hope to be like that.”
Stella isn’t the only dancer in her family, as her mother, Linda Leowinata, studied ballet and ran her own studio in Surabaya.
“Stella started ballet at three-and-a-half years old and was always surrounded by ballet dancers,” Leowinata said.
Leowinata said she wasn’t fully confident her daughter would be accepted into Canada’s National Ballet School because of the fierce competition.
“I’m very happy for her because that’s what she wants and I support her fully,” she said. “She was only one month into the program and I did not expect her to be chosen as Marie. When she told me, I said ‘Wow, am I dreaming?’ She is basically on stage for the whole second act.”