Third Year student Sojourn Johnston talked to us about how COVID has taught us to adapt and finding positives in this new environment, plus more.
When did you start dancing?
My parents have always encouraged my brother and me to pursue our passions and they have contributed so much time, effort, research, love and care into us and our dreams. When I was 5, my parents took me to watch my friend’s ballet recital and I knew instantly that I wanted to dance; thus I began ballet. I was very shy and wouldn’t speak to anyone outside of my family. However, when I was on stage at my first performance, my shyness dissipated and I was totally lost in the performance. At 8 I joined a competitive dance group, performing ballet, jazz, tap, and hip-hop. I began attending summer intensives at the age of 10 and when I was 12, I moved to Boston to train full time with Koltun Ballet Boston. I had the opportunity to be homeschooled, allowing me more time to focus on my training, as well as work at an accelerated pace and graduate from high school two years early. While I have been fortunate to have excellent instructors wherever I have trained, KBB gave me the training, support, confidence, strength, mentorship, and ability to make it to English National Ballet School (ENBS).
At ENBS, I have had wonderful training and mentors, our tutors become like second parents to us. I feel that each teacher brings a different set of experiences to each situation, allowing for wonderful instruction with outstanding results. I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful support system of family, friends, teachers, and mentors.
How has your time been at English National Ballet School?
ENBS has changed my life, from the lifelong friendships, fantastic teachers and training, to the wonderful opportunities such as My First Ballet (unfortunately our performance schedule was canceled due to COVID lockdowns; however we still fully learned and rehearsed it). We were given the outstanding opportunity to work with Ruth Brill, who choreographed My First Ballet: Cinderella. Ms. Brill promoted a challenging and wonderful learning experience, encouraging student input and ideas, allowing us to fully embrace the roles, and observe her choreographic process. Throughout our third year we’ve received the guidance for the preparation necessary to obtain a professional job. Ms. Viviana Durante has created new and innovative opportunities for the school, such as interesting choreographic collaborations, and digital and online performances. She has also made the school a welcoming and supportive environment, encouraging her students to pursue their goals.
What does ballet mean to you?
I love and live to dance-it’s where my body and soul feel both energised and comfortable. It’s the only place where I can feel adrenaline and nerves and at the same time, find stillness. The moment before I walk onstage cannot be compared to any other, and I find pure bliss in the feeling of community that I find with my peers, the warmth of the stage lights, the excitement backstage, the feeling of a gorgeous costume, and the energy from the audience.
Dancing is a form of storytelling, and it allows me (us) to pull an audience into a story, and take them to magical places, far from their own lives or deeper into their own lives. Ballet is the foundation that most dance styles are built upon. It is an art, and requires the discipline to practice every day to maintain and grow as an artist. Beyond the grace and agility of ballet, tremendous athleticism and strength are necessary to perform.
What is your favorite ballet to either watch or perform?
One of my dream roles is The Ballerina from Jerome Robbins’ The Concert. I am fascinated with this role because of the quirky and playful nature and also by the subtle and perfectly timed comedic effects. I also enjoy the roles of the Ugly Stepsisters in Cinderella and the Queen of Hearts in Alice and Wonderland, for many of the same reasons.
Who is your favorite choreographer and/or dancer?
My favourite choreographers are William Forsythe and Akram Khan, both brilliantly revolutionary and in my mind, achieve perfection in their ability to portray emotion and story. It’s difficult to choose a favourite dancer-every dancer brings different strengths and inspiration; I love to watch Lia Cirio for her boldness and strength-my eyes don’t leave her when she’s on stage; Derek Dunn for the same reasons and for his genuine nature he brings to every role.
What are your future aspirations?
I think it is intuitive as a dancer to want to know what you will be doing, when it will happen, and where, so that plans can be made. COVID reminds me every day that I can’t hold firm to any plans for the future. However, there are so many positives in this new environment in which we all share. I have experienced as a third year student applying for companies, opportunities that I may not have looked for nor found in a normal year, and in a normal audition cycle. Specifically, the ability to audition via video for many more companies than if I would need to be at an audition in person in normal years, saving both time and travel costs, thus allowing me to explore a variety of options.
My dream is to become a professional ballet dancer within a company that creates innovative and fresh takes on classical works as well as creates exciting and thought provoking original works. A company where tradition is honored but not strictly adhered to; where dancers are employed to assist with company responsibilities such as social media, marketing, filming, and costuming, creating a symbiotic relationship that promotes growth for both the dancer and company; where innovative, unique ideas and techniques are valued; where dancer and choreographer and director are willing and able to experiment and push the boundaries of what dance can become. I feel that especially with the recent pandemic, companies have had to adapt their production and performance methods. New and smaller companies may be in positions to adapt more quickly and might write the future of ballet and dance.
What is the best part of being a student at English National Ballet School
The best part of being an ENBS student are the wonderful teachers and staff that guide you through this important time in your life, and the friends that truly become your family. I have learnt so much from each of the teachers I have had, not just technically but also as an artist and a person. We are encouraged to experiment artistically, and behave and perform as professionals.
We have had excellent instruction within our academic programming that focused on dance history, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, the rare study of Benesh, and career development, providing us with the knowledge both extremely useful and necessary for dancers.
The physio team at ENBS has been exceptionally helpful and supportive, guiding us in injury prevention, and, in unfortunate scenarios, treating our injuries. The ENBS support team is unrivaled in their ability to handle any situation we throw at them, with good humour and playful natures, and regularly develop and share new lighthearted ideas and fun projects.
ENBS has many international students, thus dancers are living far from home. We form our own second family. I feel fortunate to be surrounded by so many talented dancers in a setting where we can grow and learn from one another and support each other’s accomplishments. My year is especially close, and I am so very grateful to know each and every one of these extraordinary people.
Photo credit: Photography by ASH
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