National Ballet of Canada’s Tina Pereira Shares Her Biggest Onstage Challenge, and Her Love of Quantum Physics

November 21, 2022

Trinidadian Canadian ballerina Tina Pereira joined the National Ballet of Canada in 2001, steadily climbing the ranks before reaching principal dancer in 2021. Here she talks about how she manages fast tempos, why she started her own leotard line and her secret to success. 

To whom or to what would you attribute your success?

To my coach, artistic advisor Magdalena Popa, and to my love for self-improvement. Working with Magdalena is such a gift. She gives her all to building a dancer’s strength, confidence and stamina in every rehearsal, and she is behind you all the way until your last show. In my recent debut of Odette/Odile, I told her she made me want to be a coach myself because she rehearsed away all my fears and gave me the confidence to step into the role like the ballerina I wanted to be. If I could give back to even one dancer what she has given to me, I would be so happy.

You left National Ballet of Canada for two years to dance with Dutch National Ballet in 2004. What took you there? And what brought you back to Canada?

As a student I danced the lead role in Pyrrhic Dances, a ballet by Toer van Schayk, at the National Ballet School’s Spring Showcase. He was also the resident choreographer for the Dutch National Ballet. That experience had kept me curious about Amsterdam, but I always planned on spending my career in Canada. Also, because I was terribly homesick, I didn’t last long in Europe.

Tina Pereira rehearses in a ballet studio, wearing a black leotard, white practice tutu and tan pointe shoes. She is shown in profile doing a fourth position on pointe with her left foot in front and her right arm raised.
Pereira in rehearsal for William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy NBoC..

Of your repertoire, which ballet has been hardest to learn and perform?

I’m mostly sensitive to fast music and steps. I am really hyper-mobile, so for me dancing at super speeds can be fun, but at the same time, really not fun! This season, we will be performing Symphony in C and I dance the fourth movement principal. She moves at super speeds!

Have you had a worst nightmare onstage?

Yes—and it was a lesson learned, for sure. On the rare occasion, the orchestra can either play quicker or slower than the tempo to which you’re used to rehearsing. The first time it happened to me was in Balanchine’s Serenade, and it was a faster tempo than I had previously rehearsed.It was quite a challenge, because I love to dance on the music. Then and there I learned to stay in the moment and keep my natural rhythm, no matter what tempo comes my way.

You have your own leotard line, Ballerina Couture. What originally inspired you to create it?

My friends kept asking me to sell them my leotards, but I wasn’t a professional sewer. Initially I just sewed for fun and made everything up as I went along—so I couldn’t accept payment. Eventually, there came a time when I had enough interest from colleagues, as well as online, that I decided to pursue manufacturing.

From where do you draw your leotard design inspirations?

I have so many ideas, although not all of them are tangible in the end. Mostly I try to create a structured and flattering cut or style that I would personally like to wear. Then I endeavor to build it.

Tina Pereira stands in sus-sous on pointe inside a gilded, golden set. Behind her is a blue background covered in stars. She wears a pale pink tutu, gold tiara, pink tights and pointe shoes.
Tina Pereira in The Nutcracker. Photo by Karolina Kuras, courtesy of The National Ballet of Canada.

In 2020, you were the subject of Tina, a short documentary about your relationship with dance, particularly following a long-term injury. What was it like to work on a film, and was it intimidating being the subject?

It was so fun making this project, mostly because of the crew at Airfoil Media. We filmed little clips here and there over a long period of time. There was a performance aspect to it at the end of the film. I didn’t know how it was all going to come together, so the end product was a surprise for me. To be honest, because I didn’t know what to expect from it, it wasn’t intimidating at all.

What advice would you have for students wanting to be professional dancers?

Get to know your body, your weaknesses and your strengths, and attempt to make them better every day. Also, it’s all about the baby steps!

If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?

A physicist. I love studying quantum physics and learning about the world we live in at the most fundamental level.