From Student to Star : Jessica Cohen, Northern Ballet
From Student to Star is an interview series featuring Graduates from vocational ballet school as they begin their professional careers. Ballet News will be following them periodically to keep you up to date with their progress and whether the reality of ballet life lives up to their high expectations.
Californian Jessica Cohen graduates from English National Ballet School (ENBS) and will shortly join Northern Ballet as a Corps de ballet dancer.
Her interview perfectly encapsulates the essence of what I’ve written previously about being a media savvy ballet dancer. If you’re approaching your graduate year, are you as ready ?
You’ve accepted a contract with Northern Ballet. How did that come about?
Since this was my graduate year at ENBS, my main focus for the majority of the year was auditioning for companies. When I decided to move to London to train at ENBS, it was my ultimate dream to dance in Europe, in the UK particularly. I auditioned for Northern Ballet in March, and really loved the atmosphere of it. Mr. Nixon contacted me afterwards offering me a contract and I was ecstatic!
What do you know of the company ?
I know that the company has a great reputation for dancing dramatic narrative ballets, ballets that tell stories, and that is something that really attracts me. I also know that it’s a touring company, and I am really looking forward to being a part of a company that offers so many performance opportunities with the added excitement and hard work of dancing on so many different stages.
What are you looking forward to about joining the Company ?
I am really looking forward to being around such a strong and talented group of dancers at Northern Ballet and learning from them by dancing with them. I am also excited to dance the great choreography of this season that has so many different characters, emotions, and settings that will be so inspiring and creative for me! I love transforming into different characters, and as a student you spend most of your time bettering yourself in the studio, now I will really get to evolve as a performer and an artist.
How do you think Company life will differ from your student days?
Since as a student we spend most of the day training and coaching our technique, it will change because class will be just a morning routine and the rest of the day will be spent rehearsing and then performing. However, I think it will be a smoother transition for me since this year ENB created ENB2, which meant the 3rd years toured with a production of My First Sleeping Beauty, and this meant we spent most of our 3rd term rehearsing and touring as a ‘working company’.
What do you think you will bring to the Company?
I am extremely passionate about my work, and about dancing and pushing myself to the next level, and I try to always seek to evolve and grow as a dancer, and I hope to bring this same enthusiastic energy into my work at Northern. What I gathered from my audition for the company was how the artistic staff at Northern really encourage the dancers to constantly improve and challenge themselves, and work on the nitty-gritty details, and that’s exactly what I hope to do! I can also be really silly so I hope to bring some laughter!
How are you preparing yourself for your first professional contract ?
I am trying to soak up the most knowledge out of every day I have left at ENBS and take advantage of the last weeks of great training, because it has been the most positively transformative experience for me here. I have learned so much from my teachers Sarah McIlroy and Paul Lewis. We are currently preparing for our summer show, Don Quixote (suite), so I am focusing on gaining as much strength as possible so that I can head to Northern strong and ready to work!
What are your best achievements as a student ?
When I was a student at San Francisco Ballet School, I was given the opportunity to dance with the company’s corps de ballet in Giselle, Swan Lake, and Symphony in C, which were all really special achievements for me. This year, I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to dance the lead role of Princess Aurora for the ENB2 production of My First Sleeping Beauty, and this was an amazing experience that I gained so much from, in performance and technique. I think dancing in this production really helped me to gain confidence on stage and in portraying a character, and I had so much fun approaching each performance with a fresh outlook, trying to dance in the moment and interpret the classical steps with new intentions each time.
Why ballet ?
As a little girl, I was always bouncing off the walls of my house dancing, singing, and putting on a show non-stop – much to my big brothers dismay…. But through the years ballet became the thing that really stuck and it grabbed my heart…now I’m addicted!
Do you have a dream role and dance partner and if so what/who are they?
I have several dream roles, but of them, Juliet is a role that I hope to dance one day. I have always been moved by Prokofiev’s heartfelt score, and I would love to dance a role with so much emotional depth. As far as a partner, the most important thing to me is someone who you can truly connect with, and that you can feel the electricity between you when you dance…I hope to find this in a partner.
How do you imagine your first day going?
I imagine I will be a healthy mix of nervous, anxious, and excited…. but hopefully it will be an enjoyable day of rehearsals!
What would you say to those students entering their Graduate year ?
I would say to the students entering their Graduate year to take the time to prepare yourself for all your auditions early on, so that you can seize as much opportunity that comes your way. The most important piece of advice I would give is to take the process one step at a time, always reminding yourself of your goal, and then following the steps you need to take to get there. Enjoy your classes and the energy the teachers give to you, because they possess invaluable wisdom to share and it will help you during the stressful audition time!
Where would you like to be this time next year; how will you measure your progress over the year?
This time next year I hope to be really happy and enjoying my work. I hope I will have grown as a dancer through performance and experience, and that I will still be inspired and excited to push myself every day. I think the best way to measure my progress would be to listen to my gut feelings and if I still feel that insatiable hunger that dance inspires… then I’ll be assured I’m continuing to strive to be better, and never get too comfortable….
Watch Jessica in My First Sleeping Beauty where she danced the Principal role of Aurora