Nina Tonoli
Photo: Sebastien Galtier

Nina Tonoli


From the ‘kids’ songs’ by girl band K3 to the flamenco Firedance from one of the Riverdance shows: as a young girl, the Flemish dancer Nina Tonoli imitated every dance video clip she saw. This passion didn’t come from her parents, although she says, “I do get the athletic physicality from my father. Late in life, he’s still very active and goes running every week. And my mother was very supple and used to be an actress, so altogether that’s a good mix.” So when a couple of classmates started ballet classes, the nine-year-old Nina went along ‘almost instinctively’, though at the time she never dreamt of becoming a professional dancer. “I did it purely because I enjoyed it.”

At the age of twelve, Nina already had to choose a graduation ‘profile’ at secondary school (as is customary in Belgium), and it was her mother who said, “At the ballet academy, the ‘profile’ is dance.” Nina says, “And that appealed to me.” She auditioned successfully for the Royal Ballet School Antwerp, where she had to work like mad, as she was a late starter. “Added to that, I was still very playful, so it took a while before I could apply the required discipline.” 

Royal Ballet School 

It was only at the age of fourteen, when she scored well at a ballet competition, that she started to take her training really seriously. The following year, she enrolled for The Royal Ballet School’s Summer Intensive, and purely because a friend was doing the subsequent audition class, Nina did the same. “To my dismay, I was accepted. I hardly dared tell my parents and the school director in Antwerp, but it helped that The Royal Ballet School offered me a scholarship.” For three years, she was part of a close, diverse, international group of students in London, which she says, “raised me to a higher level and gave me more discipline.” 

‘A whole sandwich’ 

In her final year of training, 2011/2012, Wiener Staatsballett was one of the first companies to hold auditions. Nina actually knew very little about the group, but her interest was aroused by the reputation of its artistic director, Manuel Legris, a former ‘étoile’ with Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris. And vice versa, it turned out that Legris was also interested in her. Nina was the only candidate to be accepted at the audition, and just six months later she was promoted to soloist, and then to principal in 2016. Shortly after joining the company, Legris immediately cast her in the role of Clara in The Nutcracker. “That was a whole sandwich”, she says, using a Flemish expression. “I was thrown in at the deep end straight away.” It was followed by main roles in Le Corsaire and La fille mal gardée, among other ballets. “It was really hard work in Vienna, but I learned an incredible amount from all the opportunities I was given.” 

After a long and difficult period of injury, she decided to leave Vienna, after seven years there. “During my absence, the focus had switched to other dancers too, so it was time to spread my wings.” When she was still a student in London, she’d wanted to audition for Dutch National Ballet, but the director of The Royal Ballet School wouldn’t give permission to do so, as she already had an offer from Vienna. So in 2019, she finally seized the opportunity. “I did a company class in Amsterdam, and a soloist contract had just become vacant, so I was in the right place at the right time.” 

Totally new outlook on dance 

Although it was difficult to prove herself at the outset, due to the corona pandemic, she says that in her first season she was still able to dance some roles that suited her well. “Like in Balanchine’s Who Cares? and David Dawson’s The Four Seasons, and the role of Myrtha in Giselle.” She particularly enjoys neoclassical works. “Ballets by David Dawson and William Forsythe are so challenging, they really give you a totally new outlook on dance.” And her role in Christian Spuck’s Messa da Requiem also brought out new sides in her. “Although the production had been created earlier, Spuck adapted the role in such a way that it really felt like my own.” But the big classics still keep on challenging her as well. “Every time you dance one of those ballets, you can add something else to it, through having more experience of life.” 


Nina says she has ‘the energy of a chameleon’. “I want to grasp a choreographer’s idiom quickly and discover how to ‘transform’ myself, so that one time I can be lyrically soft, and the next dynamically explosive.” And she absolutely hates ‘faking’, whether on stage or off it. So she likes it when other people don’t beat about the bush. “That means the Russian approach appeals to me more than the English one. Russian ballet masters are often hard on you, but it’s only to get the best out of you.” She laughs, “It’s a loving push.” 


Place of Birth: 
Ghent (Belgium) 

With Dutch National Ballet since: 

Career with Dutch National Ballet: 
Soloist (2019)

Previously danced with: 
Wiener Staatsballett 

Royal Ballet School Antwerp (Belgium), Royal Ballet School (London, United Kingdom) 


  • 2013: Award of Excellence, on graduating from the Royal Ballet School 

  • 2011: British Ballet Association Award 

  • 2009: Chausson d’Or competition in Paris, second prize and ‘special prize’ 

Honourable mentions: 

  • 2021: ‘Outstanding performance by a female dancer’, Critics’ Choice Dance Europe