Cupcakes & Conversation with Jessica Burrows, Artist, Boston Ballet

Cupcakes & Conversation with Jessica Burrows, Artist, Boston Ballet

What motivates you at 8am on a Monday morning ? 

I am not a morning person so Monday starts with a coffee. I also have the mindset that the earlier I start the more I can accomplish, and I have a never ending list of things I would like to work on.

If ballet chose you, as many dancers say it did, what is it that has made you stick with it ?

I actually don’t think ballet chose me. I worked really hard while I was in ballet school and it took me some time to decide whether or not I wanted to pursue it as a career. But I realized during my final years of training that I love dancing and I love performing, so while I do have other interests apart from ballet, for the time being there is simply no other industry I would rather be involved in.

ballet dancer in the snow

Jessica Burrows in Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll Photography, courtesy of Boston Ballet

What are you looking forward to dancing in 2018 & what are the big challenges likely to be for you ?

I am currently in my first season with Boston Ballet so learning the new repertoire and adjusting to the new work atmosphere is a challenge in itself. In addition, I am really looking forward to working with Sorella Englund again on La Sylphide. She coached this ballet when I was a teenager in school and it will be so lovely to experience her energy again and dance this ballet as an experienced professional. It’s always nice to come back to ballets you have danced before.  It’s a great way to measure your artistic growth.

Who would you most like to dance with & what would you dance ?

I would actually love to dance a classical grand pas de deux with any of my male classmates I graduated with. We were like family and many of them are now soloists and principals with major companies around the world. I never got the chance to dance with any of them as professionals; even if we were at some point in the same company we would never be partnered together.

If you could dance anywhere in the world (not only in a theatre), where would you dance ?

I was in Athens this past summer and went to the Acropolis. The theatre was truly breathtaking and I stood there for a while imagining dancing in it. There would need to be an excellent temperature regulating system though. Another, maybe more comfortable, dream stage is Palais Garnier.

How do you prepare your pointe shoes ?

First I sew ribbons and elastics on my shoes, then I put them in the microwave for a few seconds. I put them on my feet and then spray some water on the toe joints. I wear Gaynor Minden pointe shoes so the microwaving is to melt the plastic. Even though my shoes are custom it is the only way I can achieve the desired level of softness I like in my shoe, and by wearing the shoe directly afterwards the bottom sort of molds to my foot.

What is your daily routine at the moment ?

Well my routine changes depending if it is a performance season or rehearsal period. We are currently in a rehearsal period. I wake up between 7-7:30 and get to BB studios between 8:30-9. Twice per week we have either a dynamic stretch warm-up or Pilates before class which I always join. Then our ballet class starts at 9:45-11:15. We rehearse from 11:35-6:30 with an hour lunch break. Some weeks I have some breaks during the day, other weeks I don’t; it really depends on which ballet we are rehearsing. At the end of the day I do a cool down which consists of stretching, visualization exercises and a headstand. Then I head home to eat dinner and relax.

Jessica Burrows; photo by Lee Wai Leung for Worldwide Dancer Project; photo courtesy of Jessica Burrows

Jessica Burrows; photo by Lee Wai Leung for Worldwide Dancer Project; photo courtesy of Jessica Burrows

What do you eat during the course of a typical working day ?

My breakfast consists of oatmeal with maple syrup (true Canadian) and a double espresso. During the day I don’t like to eat anything too heavy so I just snack, usually some fruit, and a protein or health food bar, sometimes a protein shake, sometimes more coffee. I’m not much of a cook so dinner is something easy, usually a dense salad with some protein, or I will go out to eat with some friends. I love vegetables so even when I go to a restaurant I tend to order healthy dishes.

You can ask six famous people to dinner – who would you invite ?

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tina Fey, Justin Trudeau, Edith Piaf, Vincent Van Gogh and Joël Robuchon. There would need to be a translator and Joel would of course decide the menu.

What would surprise people about you ?

I can give a ballet class in Mandarin, which I guess would surprise most people meeting me for the first time.

Who inspired you to dance ?

I don’t think there was ever one specific person who inspired me to dance initially, but many people have inspired me to go further with my dancing and make it into a career. I had one teacher in particular, Glenn Gilmour, whose support and skilled coaching inspired me to step into the professional ballet world.

What is your best piece of advice ?

Always keep an open mind, stay present and enjoy.

How do you prepare in the hours before a show ?

I check all my shoes, make sure I have the right pair ready for the show. Then, as I really enjoy doing my hair and make-up, I make sure I give myself enough time to do it properly; it really helps me transform and relax. Then I warm up, and I always review the material I am about to dance. If necessary I go through it with the music on my iPhone.

How do you deal with the stress of performing ?

If I am about to perform something very difficult I try to calm down by taking some deep breaths and finding space to focus, and then all I can do is dance the ballet one step at a time and stay present.

Which role has tested you the most & how ?

I think each role has tested me in different ways; there is no more or less, just different.

If you were asked to design your own ballet costume, what would you create ?

I would design something with a lightweight, long skirt, and it would be red. I have a very strong connection with this colour.

What do you look for in a dance partner ?

Pas de deux is probably my favourite element of ballet. I really enjoy connecting on stage. I just like a partner who is committed to the work, who takes the time to listen and is willing to connect.

What is your favourite quote ?

“All I know is that I know nothing.” Socrates

Do you have a ‘signature step’ – one that comes naturally to you ?

If I have to choose one “signature” I would say hops on pointe. I guess I struggle less than most.

A phrase I use far too often is … ?

I don’t know if I have a specific phrase, but I definitely apologize more than necessary.

What’s been your best on-stage moment so far ?

I have really had so many amazing moments! I am so fortunate to have lived so many of my dreams on stage. But 2 years ago I was on tour with the Hong Kong Ballet and we performed on the stage where I danced my first recital as a child. I was performing one of the leads in the ballet and it was a full house of all my friends and family who hadn’t seen me dance in years. I took several bows with my eyes full of tears.

ballet dancer on the beach

Photograph by Omar Z Robles

Do you have a secret skill which no-one knows about ?

Does being able to sleep the entire day after a week of performances count?

In terms of your ballet career, where would you like to be in a year from now ?

A year is quite long, you can accomplish so much. I don’t want to limit myself to something really specific, but enjoying my career is my ultimate goal. I also have some smaller career goals like choreographing again, and performing some of the roles I am learning. Hopefully I will be able to achieve these things in the coming year.

Who would you like to have a conversation with ? 

This is a tough question, as it really depends on the mood I am in, either Ai Weiwei or Darcey Bussell.

What is your exit strategy, for the time when you stop dancing, and how did you plan it ?

I think I will always stay creative and related to dance. I don’t have a specific exit strategy, but I really love teaching and I was given some opportunities in the past to assist the corps de ballet in my previous company. That being said maybe one day I would like to join the artistic staff of a dance company.

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