You’re given opportunities in life that do one of two things, cause a substantial amount of growth by the “rising up to the occasion” or are to be treated as a lesson for future growth. Either way ya grow. These very opportunities, when you are handed them, are life changing in either outcome. They seem bigger than you, outside of your reach.
My first time of growth, by no surprise to anyone who knows me, involves a dog. I was 11, and her name was Emma. I was entrusted with her life from her first breath and over the course of 13 years grew as she grew through the trial and errors of that said growth to her last. The second account I can recall of said growth was at 13 when I was entrusted with my first “big role”… Marie (or Clara) in ‘The Nutcracker’. It was that performance I knew this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Fast forward several years, several companies, several lessons learned, cities lived, injuries healed, love found, I have found my home and quite possibly most growth at Dance Theatre of Tennessee. I feel as though every performance series has caused a growth in my artist, over the course of our now fourth season. The most recent has been in ‘Giselle’ which is one of the most iconic roles a ballerina can ever be given the chance to perform (no pressure). It’s been on my ballet bucket list since the first time I saw it, but never really thought I’d get the chance to do. The whole process has been with trials and errors over the course of rehearsals. With a ballet that is your artistic director’s favorite and who has performed it several times in his own career, knowing it inside and out, one can only imagine the details for every movement that are demanded on every part (again no pressure). He had encouraged me to watch other ‘Giselle’s on my downtime, sent me a documentary on ‘Giselle’ to watch, had Kathy Mcbeth from Atlanta come to give some coaching and words of wisdom, and arranged a few Skype rehearsal sessions with his mentor and prima ballerina Lisa Macuja Elizalde, artistic director of his own stomping grounds of Ballet Manila in the Philippines. In the process, I was even asked if I’d be willing to dye my hair dark. Being a natural dirty blonde, but pretty open, I agreed. I think it was to help me not see “Jen” in the mirror but to look different… Younger maybe… To help me get out of my head a bit. It’s a ballet that I have seen every great ballerina, all my ballet icons, dance on VHS’ (remember those).
I (like any girl) have more insecurities than I would ever outwardly admit, that have been planted from early teachers or artistic directors whoever doubted me to get to where I am now… More self doubt than my sassy self would really show anyone… And like any artist, a fear of failing at these life opportunities, even in all the growth, because iconic ballets like ‘Giselle’ don’t come around every day, nor the promise to even check off your ballet bucket list.
From the first step on stage to the last I’ve been guided, pushed to think differently, ”try it this way”, “almost”, “it’s getting there”, to after our review came out and my director told me he was proud of me… I know that there has been growth, but also a ton of lessons that will be carried from this series. It’s been more than I could have ever hoped for. To say the growth my artistic director envisioned for my artist and entrusting me with his favorite ballet, and all the other ballerinas that have ever danced it before me, I can only but hope to know this kind of growth again in my dancing career. To share the stage with a company of my friends who have also grown and been pushed, dance next to my friend and favorite partner from year one to now as my Albrect, and having my family and friends come to see this special performance, I couldn’t feel more like the luckiest girl… All because of my artistic director believing in my growth. It’s been magical.
- Jennifer Drake