Interview

Iain Mackay interviews Jenna Roberts

Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay danced together in The Nutcracker last year, during which Iain went off mid-show with an injury. Here he interviews Jenna about that performance, as well as the roles she's danced subsequently.

Have you forgiven me yet for leaving you to improvise a solo version of the Nutcracker coda?

[laughs] I was more worried about you! I could tell something had gone wrong in your coda and when I came on for the fouettés I could see you lying on the floor in the wings. People were waving at me and I guessed it was that you weren't coming back on, and when I came off after the coda I was panicking because I realised that you must have really badly injured yourself. It was horrible.

Then I remembered that we still had to do the finale - well, I had to do it on my own! I didn't know what to do! By that time Marion [Tait] was back in the wings telling Ty [Tyrone Singleton, who was dancing Drosselmeyer] to come off stage and take of his cloak. And Tom [Rogers] said he could stand in for the Prince, but he was still dressed in the Arabian dance costume, with body make up and a baldy! It was very stressful, and the longest finale I have ever had to do in my life!

I ran on and did a few twirls and some relevé pasés. It was awful, but to be honest I was just more worried about you. Not nice!

I’ve been lucky to see first-hand how your dancing has evolved over the last couple of seasons. Do you feel after your terrible injury in 2007 and the long time away from performing that you have now reached a good place in your career?

I feel like sometimes I still hold back and I don’t know why. I don't want to make excuses, but that's maybe because of my foot. Its not that I think about it any more, but the two years off and the seriousness of my injury can still creep into the back of my mind. It's strange; before the operation I was dancing in a lot of pain but I was in denial. There are actually ballets that I danced and I can't remember performing them, and I think I probably blanked the memories out deliberately.

When I came back to performing, it took me a really long time to dance without thinking about my injury. The first thing I performed when I came back was Aurora [the lead in The Sleeping Beauty], which was really in at the deep end. Then I remember almost a year later, when you and I performed Romeo and Juliet in Cardiff; that was the first show that I finally felt I was back. That was almost two and a half years after my operation- that’s a long time. In a lot of ways It has made me stronger, and it has certainly made me appreciate dancing much more.

What keeps work interesting for you?

I love doing new choreography. Working with Jessica Lang creating Lyric Pieces [as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham, in 2012] was an amazing experience. Apart from Le Baiser de la fée by Michael Corder – which I also enjoyed- it is the only work that has been created on me.

I also love the big classics, and I can’t wait for the day Romeo comes back. Also Swan Lake, Giselle - I love the challenge and depth of those incredible works. Two Pigeons is also one of my favourites, and last time we danced it we had only one show with very little rehearsal and I remember it was still special.

Above: Jenna in rehearsals for The Two Pigeons, partnered by Robert Parker.

In the summer you spent a couple of weeks as a guest with Queensland Ballet, Li Cuxin’s company in Australia. How was dancing back in your native Oz?

It was really interesting actually. I hadn't danced at home in Australia for 14 years so that was nice. The work was quite hard, they had a lot of dancers off injured so I ended up dancing more shows than was originally planned. I danced a piece choreographed by Greg Horsman which was technically very demanding and a good challenge. My partner was Matthew [Lawrence, ex-Birmingham Royal Ballet dancer] so it was really nice to be back dancing with him again.

It was a great experience. The company is smaller than Birmingham Royal Ballet - maybe 30 dancers - and quite young. The dancers and Ballet Staff were so lovely and friendly, and Li was amazing. He was so inspiring to work with and be around. There was a great atmosphere.

I know you have always wanted to dance John Cranko’s Onegin, and this summer you are almost getting that opportunity, albeit in the form of the Opera and not Cranko’s ballet!

Yes, Joe [Caley] and I are going to guest at Glyndebourne Opera Festival in Onegin. There is a pas de deux at the beginning of Act III choreographed by Ron Howell. It was originally danced by Stephen Jefferies and Bryony Brind. So that will be nice; it’s something different so I’m really looking forward to it. As long as they don’t expect me to sing!

[Note from Iain: For the record I’ve heard Jenna sing at Karaoke - please Glyndebourne, let her sing, she’s AWESOME!]