Eighteen-year-old Utah native Whitney Jensen has already begun making her mark at Boston Ballet. She joined the company just two years ago with several competitions and awards already under her belt, including a Special Distinction at Varna in 2008. She had studied under Valentina Kozlova, a former principal with both the Bolshoi and New York City Ballet, who trains dancers in the Vaganova style. Jensen made her debut as Polyhymnia in Balanchine’s Apollo in May and was promoted to second soloist two months later. Despite having little previous exposure to Balanchine work, Jensen’s performance as the muse of mime won her critical acclaim from The New York Times’ Alastair Macaulay, who wrote that she “brings a blithe ease to the role that makes me long to see her in other parts.”

 

Whitney Jensen: Ben Huys from The George Balanchine Trust taught us the ballet. He emphasized that the energy of the variation needs to be bright from the very first step. Since Polyhymnia is the muse of mime, I had to perform with my eyes and gestures. I’ve always thought that Polyhymnia was trying to get Apollo’s attention by being mischievous. I don’t know why I think that. Maybe it’s because her trademark gesture is her finger over her mouth as if she is saying “shh.” At the end, she opens her mouth wide and spreads her arms, and then it’s as if she catches herself and apologizes for speaking out loud. 

 

The variation is very fast, and Polyhymnia has a mask as her prop, so one of the most difficult moments was quickly placing the mask on the floor without dropping it or making a lot of noise. I always felt rushed. Also, I’m not used to doing Balanchine, so the piece felt very heavy on my legs. There’s a certain step we each do with Apollo, where we spiral down on our left leg, that is really intense on the left side. For a couple of days, all three of us girls felt like we had an animal stuck to our left thigh.

 

I love the feeling I have onstage when we do Apollo. The way that it’s lit and we’re all in white, that it’s about a god and three muses: It’s very ethereal. I feel this presence. I always say a prayer before the performance to get in that spiritual mode.

Pirouettes! En Pointe!

 

I have a friend who says, “I hate pirouettes. If there was any way to kill them, I would.” I think every one of us ladies has had the experience of putting on her pointe shoes while dreading the inevitable pirouette combination that will arrive to torture us. Unless you are one of the lucky few who is a natural turner, pirouettes on pointe are probably the scariest thing you will do all day. It happens to me all the time: the anxious “tombee-pas-de-bourree-oh-no-here-it-comes-help-me” feeling that always ruins my turn.

 

It seems that pirouettes, especially on pointe, are the last thing that anyone really masters. We practice them tirelessly, always trying for more turns, getting frustrated and tense when they don’t work out. Fear, though, is probably the most common denominator among dancers who have difficulty turning, and with good reason—it’s scary to push off and rotate up there on pointe.

 

However, there are a few simple cures for the common pirouette. Most of us know the physical rules to follow in order to perform clean, multiple pirouettes: Square hips and shoulders, strong relevé, coordinated arms, spot, engaged core, clean landing. I would say, though, that the mental rules are even more important. Getting over the fear of turning and making yourself stay up on pointe to finish your turn is paramount. Stay calm during turn combinations by not psyching yourself up for the pirouette at the end. Think of it like a recipe: “If I hold my arms and shoulders like this and plie and spot, etc., I am almost guaranteed to get the desired result.” Pirouettes are just a step that you can master just like you’ve mastered everything else. Nothing more. If you can calm your mind, next time you’re in class that anxiety will melt away, to be replaced by “tombee-pas-de-bouree-no-sweat-turn-turn-ta-da!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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