Gina Storm-Jensen 2022
- Cesar Corrales
- Edward Watson
- Gemma Bond
- Gina Storm-Jensen
- Johanna Adams Farley
- Kevin O'Hare
- Leticia Dias
- Luca Acri
- Mariko Sasaki
- Mayara Magri
- Ricardo Cervera
- Steven McRae
- William Bracewell
Soloist, The Royal Ballet Ballet
Interviewed by Linda Gainsbury
American International Church, Thu 27th January, 2022
In David’s absence, Linda welcomed Gina (pronounced Ghina, with a hard G) who was busy on stage in three Romeo and Juliet shows that week in the very different roles of Rosaline and a Harlot. Linda mentioned that, the last time Gina came to talk to us with Donald Thom in 2015, she was in her second year, having just returned from an exciting tour in Washington, Chicago and New York. Linda then gave us a potted history of Gina’s early years. Gina is half Norwegian, half German, was born in London, and was accepted into the Norwegian Ballet School in Oslo at the age of eight. She also attended summer schools at the Royal Ballet School (RBS), won the Grasse International Competition in 2009 and reached the finals of the Prix de Lausanne in 2011, after which Gailene Stock, then director of RBS, offered her a scholarship. While there, she was named Most Promising Student and, after little more than two years, was offered a contract with the Company which took immediate effect. She was promoted to First Artist in 2017 and Soloist in 2021. Members therefore took the chance to congratulate Gina properly on her latest promotion.
While still a student, Gina danced often with the Company including in Symphony in C, Bayadere and Alice. In Alice, she had the smallest role in the ballet, but was so petrified that she told her parents it was too terrifying to step onto the stage, everyone else was so good, and she didn’t want to do it any more. Just four weeks later, she was in Symphony in C,loved it and then got a contract. That first time, the stage seemed too big and scary, but now it’s her home. Nowadays it’s more normal for young dancers to come into the company through the Aud Jebsen programme but Gina and Reece Clarke joined direct from the school and Linda wondered how they were introduced into the company. Gina said she latched onto Reece’s leg for the whole season but then she met loads of girls who were lovely and sitting next to them in the changing room was a natural way of getting to know people. She started bonding with Anna Rose O’Sullivan who became a friend and it was so good to be together in the company. Gina spent eight years in the corps which she said gave her the opportunity to do works several times and this helped her learn the tricks of the trade, how to pace herself and not get injured, and also she could help teach the younger dancers. She felt blessed to have done so many ballets and roles and Kevin O’Hare gave her the chance to do bigger solo roles while still in the corps which helped.
Linda asked if watching different interpretations on stage from her position in the corps was helpful artistically. Gina replied that everyone was so talented that she could learn from each individual, and it was good for her to be at the back, watching the soloists, as that experience went towards moulding her into the artist she wanted to become. She knows her friends who are Principals watch her shows as they may have 15 a year while the corps have nearly a couple of hundred! She now believes that she has the best of both worlds, in the middle of the hierarchy. Being in the corps with smaller and then bigger roles was a sort of structured career development for her. Gina felt she was taken care of and nurtured in the right way but getting the balance right was a challenge. In the couple of years before becoming a soloist, she had opportunities to prove herself in the corps and also in soloist roles. She has great sympathy for the corps whose work is so repetitive - “you need drive and motivation” – and, while having the chance to get really good roles was amazing, it was also stressful proving yourself in both. Linda remembered her in a group of taller dancers in the pas d’action in Bayaderewhich is like a corps role but exposed and that came quite early in her career. How does that kind of group get coached? Gina said they were coached incredibly thoroughly by Ballet Mistresses as everything had to be exact, properly spaced and absolutely together.
For the larger roles there was one person who cared for a dancer during the whole journey so it became a more intimate experience. For example, with The Lilac Fairy, which Gina danced quite early on, she was coached by Dame Monica Mason, who was very down to earth and wanted her to feel comfortable in the role. What was special was that she really takes every day and every step at a time and doesn’t expect a dancer to excel on day one. Gina said she messed up in the stage call but Monica just said, “Darling, don’t worry, Rome wasn’t built in a day.” She had a lot of patience and it was an amazing experience to be coached by her. Noting that, when the Italian/Cecchetti fouettés were coming up for the Lilac Fairy, the audiences were often tense in anticipation, Linda asked if there were tricks to help a dancer through those technical challenges. Gina said she didn’t know why it was so horrible at the end. “If you just do that step on its own, you’re fine; but at the end of the solo it’s very hard.” Everyone needed something different to get them through. Someone told Gina to think about falling forwards, which helped. Another dancer said to think of it as a new solo rather than the end of a long solo. “ It’s a mental thing”, added Gina. “Every show is different and you just have to go with how you feel in the moment. You’ve practised so many times and technically it’s in your head, so you hope your body takes over. In contrast to Carabosse, you are the benevolent creature who shapes the story and you definitely know you’re running the show.” When she was very young it took Gina time to feel sufficiently mature in the role but Kevin said, “Own the stage, it’s your story to tell’. Now she feels more comfortable and that came with experience. “You only dance the prologue and then, in the other acts, you are telling the story, so there is a lot of pressure on the first half hour but then you have time to enjoy the rest.”
More recently she was cast as Myrthe, a complete contrast to Lilac Fairy, and again coached by Monica. Gina probably hadn’t been alone and exposed on the stage before, which made it a really big thing. It was an amazing experience and she loved it but it was the hardest of roles stamina-wise and required so much endurance and push, even when she had nothing left: it was the first time she’d ever felt she was going to pass out on stage. Gina said that Monica was extremely good at coaching the three new Myrthes so they didn’t peak too soon when the shows were still a few weeks away and a slow build-up was needed. She recalled that, the first time she ran it through, she fell on the floor. Monica said, “Stand up, you can’t do that on stage, but you won’t do it again.” Gina felt that Monica was especially good with the emotional aspects and technicalities and told them not to think about it but just breathe and not stress themselves out.
Linda then quoted from Gina’s Instagram - ‘We are so lucky to have an amazing hair and make-up team who can transform you into any character you want’ - but suggested that the dancer creates the character from inside out. Gina’s reply was that the look helps you get into the character and time with the make-up artist provided an opportunity to think about who you were about to be. If it was a matinee there was not a lot of time between class and show but she did have to gauge when to get made up because Myrthe only comes on in Act II and sitting for too long in the make-up was not a good idea. Within a short run of Giselle she was also Bathilde and Zulme, three contrasting characters, but Gina felt that that kept things interesting. “Bathilde is a big character but not technically demanding so there’s not too much pressure and it’s nice to be on stage when you get to feel more comfortable and at home, “ she said. Christopher Carr (who shouted but in a good way!) coached Bathilde, but mostly they watched the first cast and learned from them, and Samantha Raine prepared the Zulmes, so they had many different coaches which kept it feeling fresh.
“As a Harlot in Romeo and Juliet, it looks as if you’re having a great time,” commented Linda. Gina stressed the importance of keeping the audience with you and entertained and their coaches said to ‘let go’ as Harlots who are outgoing and exciting. If she’s cast against type, Gina tries to let the music guide her and the people around her are funny and make her laugh. As a Harlot the following day, she was going to be with a great team – Marcelino Sambé as Romeo, Leo Dixon as Benvolio, James Hay as Mercutio, and Isabella Gasparini and Meagan Grace Hinkis as the other two Harlots. “If you’re suddenly put with another Harlot team, there’s a different energy - last time she was with Claire Calvert and Hannah Grennell - but Laura Morera, who was coaching, emphasised that everyone needed a back story. So, for example, she might not just look at Juliet’s letter, but think, instead ‘I’m bored’ and go off to chat to friends.” Gina had also been a corps harlot in Mayerling and, in both that ballet and R&J, she could find herself meeting other characters on stage and suddenly finding they were different dancers from usual. However, that could be a nice surprise because they were such a big family of friends, and everyone wanted good energy onstage so they supported one another’s interactions.
Gina had had a lot of roles such as Prayer in Coppelia, Ceres in Sylvia, the Arabian dance and Ruby girl in Rubies, Red girl in Patineurs, and tall girl in Elitewhen she’s dancing on her own or in a team or in a less conventional pas de deux such as Lady Mary in Enigma.However, to date she had not danced many with a partner. Gina likes being on her own on stage, relying on herself, but coming up for her was DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, Chris Wheeldon’s ballet, with four principal couples and, as one of them, this would be her first long pas de deux on the Opera House stage. She noted that there were now many tall boys in the company who were able to dance with her, so she hoped to do more partnering work in future. Fernando Montaño mounted a gala in Columbia where Gina performed the white swan pas de deux with Lukas Bjørneboe Braendsrød - the Norwegian team! They also appeared a couple of times in Norway, as well as in Canterbury, and danced the final Infra pas de deux together as well.
Gina reminisced about the Ruby girl where, at a young age, she felt quite exposed, especially under Patricia Neary’s keen eye, and said it would have been good to have a boy alongside her. She was also in Apollo with Pat coaching. Gina has worked with her for the past eight years and loves her great personality! Gina likes to be told directly what she needs to work on and, with Apollo, Pat knows and gets what she wants. “She has all sorts of fascinating stories and experiences to relate in the studio and it’s a privilege to work with her as she’s such a gem,” added Gina.
Gina felt that every coach she’d had been very special and had given her something along the way - in both the schools and the company she’d been nurtured so well with incredible teachers.
Gina had been in a lot of new works such as Flight Pattern, Woolf Works, Meta, The Wind, Anemoiand The Dante Project and thought that everyone tried to inspire one another in the context of new pieces: “The choreographer inspires you and vice versa, so it’s a nice and interesting process.” Every choreographer Gina had worked with had a different way of setting a piece, with or without assistants: some arrived into the studio with a clear idea of what they wanted to do; others worked with the dancers who were in front of them. Gina really liked it that new choreographers were coming in each season.
Occasionally Gina had been second cast, which she said was quite hard, as watching the first cast creating and trying to learn from them was more challenging than being created on, especially as there was the need to keep up with almost constant changes. She explained that, sometimes, the second cast didn’t get a show because there wasn’t enough time to rehearse. “Sometimes it’s filmed and you can watch it 20 times and still not grasp it.” She was first cast in a couple of pieces in Dante and second cast in others and, although it was nice to be on every night, it did get confusing remembering which role she was performing when. At one performance she almost didn’t come on as she’d forgotten which part she was doing! But Gina was very happy to be on stage with Edward Watson and to be able to honour him as the legend that he is. For Dante, there were memories of donning face protectors when getting their bodies chalked. “The spray was really cold so that the sprayed half of your body was freezing and the other was hot!”
Was there a favourite moment in a new work which sticks in Gina’s memory? One was more a disaster as, during Strapless, they had to push massive pillars onto the stage and, being tall, she had a medium pillar which went over some cable and fell bang on the floor, almost killing Teo Dubreuil. They were supposed to hide behind the pillars but the stage crew came on to lift it up and she was so mortified she didn’t know what to do. Very much on the plus side, Gina loved the emotion expended in Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern and said that everyone valued working with her as she knew what she wanted but was so grounded, so humble. “The whole group was so ‘together’ it felt as if we were one.” There was a sombre feeling about the subject of refugees and, before a performance of Flight Pattern, most individuals within the company felt a bit low and everyone was quiet and focused before the curtain went up. However, in contrast, before any Balanchine everyone was usually terrified and, with Romeo and Juliet,everyone was excited to get on stage. Gina felt lucky to be surrounded by such inspiring and happy friends and colleagues and to share so many experiences with them.
Gina remains one of those dancers with a very wide range of repertoire, some of which is on at the same time. She mentioned currently preparing for Swan Lake while doing Romeo and Julietas well as another work like DGV, each of which required different forms of movement. Gina said the body copes with the help of ice, and inflatable recovery boots were great, but it depended on how much anyone did and how much time off there was. Since Covid, they’d realised that having a break was essential for body and mind, so Sundays were very important. Daily class remained classically based, though the rep might not be. Gina likened class to breakfast or a daily medicine so the body was used to those exercises. Without them, dancers wouldn’t feel prepared and could get injured more easily. For Solo Echo in 2021, those in the ballet had some contemporary classes to get accustomed to the movements which were a massive contrast to classical choreography. As a soloist, Gina had less to do than in the corps and she had more recovery time.
Gina enjoyed being more exposed, loves being on stage and having opportunities to grow as a dancer. Just before Covid struck, she was Lilac Fairy for the live streaming and was also in some of the live relayed Insights. Linda wondered if she felt a greater sense of responsibility knowing there were thousands outside watching. Gina replied that she didn’t know she’d be doing the streaming of the Lilac Fairy until a couple of hours beforehand so had no time to think and that was better than having a long run in and stressing about. She said that there were a lot of one-off shows and relays which put a lot of pressure on the dancers as they had only one chance to nail it. The dancers remained uncertain about the increase in filming/streaming as they signed up for live performances from a distance and not close camera work which felt as if the lenses were checking everyone’s technique.
A group of dancers were recently involved in We are Molecular, a series of photos of bodies of different ethnic backgrounds intertwined. It was a campaign by a skincare and haircare company which they were representing. “One of the former corps de ballet girls got us involved to show off our fabulous bodies,” Gina laughed. She felt that it was good for dancers as people to be more accessible to the world, although there was a down side to social media.
Recently Gina was surprised to win a Norwegian opera and ballet prize jointly with Lucas Lima (a former RBS student who is now a Principal in Oslo). She had a day off and her Mum said, “Let’s do a girls’ trip”, to which Gina agreed. However, closer to the day, her mother was saying, “Have your passport ready” and, because of Covid, there was PCR testing which seemed a lot for just a day trip. Things got more and more suspicious once they were in Norway and Gina spoke entertainingly about the subterfuge her mother had engaged in to keep the purpose a secret. But the award was a truly wonderful surprise and a huge honour.
About her upcoming roles, Gina said DGV would be a big opportunity for her, in Swan Lake she’s doing big swans and princesses and just about everything except Odette which she hopes to do one day, and there was also Like Water for Chocolatecoming up, which would be exciting.
While recognising that she was still young, in terms of career development Gina said she wanted to do as much as possible and break the mould to show that height was not a barrier to achievement.
Asked from the audience, whether recovery was different after dancing on pointe or in flats, Gina said that, with pointe, one way to recover was ice bathing your toes whereas, for something contemporary, it was more about rest and recovery boots. Some people iced immediately after the show, others did it at home but that could get very late. She liked to get home and eat, was always super excited and talked for an hour to her boyfriend who wanted to sleep. By the time Gina got to sleep herself, it could be 1.30am and she had to be up at 7.30am the next day. Despite that, Gina felt that sleep was very important for her personal recovery.
When speaking with Donald in 2011, it was clear they found audiences were different on tour. Gina said her favourite audience was at the ROH and all the dancers were so grateful to everyone who came and enjoyed it. “In Japan, they love ballet so much that there’ll be about 150 people standing outside the theatre screaming while the dancers sign for an hour after a performance.” In most countries they’d visited, the audience had been pretty lively which was a good sign. She said that the feeling when you come on for a stage call with an empty auditorium is completely different. With a live audience supporting you, there was such a warm feeling with energy and an atmosphere which was indescribable. She also loved how the music takes her through the ballets.
Linda thanked Gina very much, saying it was lovely to have her as a guest in such a busy Royal Ballet week but at least she wouldn’t need the new inflatable boots that night! Everyone appreciated her coming and giving The Ballet Association a very interesting and real insight into her dancing life.
Written by Liz Bouttell and edited by Gina Storm-Jensen and Linda Gainsbury
© The Ballet Association 2022