'A New Realm' | Former Sarasota Ballet Dancer Living Her Dream in Broadway Sensation but Her Love of Acting, Singing and Storytelling Never Left. Even after She Joined the; A Ballet Dancer's Career, of Necessity, Starts Early. by Her [Derived Headline]

By Seidman, Carrie | Sarasota Herald Tribune, December 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

'A New Realm' | Former Sarasota Ballet Dancer Living Her Dream in Broadway Sensation but Her Love of Acting, Singing and Storytelling Never Left. Even after She Joined the; A Ballet Dancer's Career, of Necessity, Starts Early. by Her [Derived Headline]


Seidman, Carrie, Sarasota Herald Tribune


A ballet dancer's career, of necessity, starts early. By her early teens,

Jessica Cohen was already making the daily commute from her Marin

County home to study at the school of the San Francisco Ballet; by 19,

she'd moved to London to finish her training and join the Northern

Ballet.

The musical theater she'd loved as a child was sacrificed to pointe shoe pursuits;

there wasn't time for both.

But her love of acting, singing and storytelling never left. Even after she joined the

Sarasota Ballet in the fall of 2013, she couldn't completely let it go. Over her three

seasons in Sarasota, she took acting classes and vocal lessons at Florida Studio Theatre

"just for me to be creative and enjoy myself."

Then along came the 2015

Tony Award-winning Broad-way

production of "An

American in Paris," based on

the film featuring Gene Kelly

and Leslie Caron and choreographed

by one of ballet's

most revered living dance

makers, England's Christo-pher

Wheeldon. The musical,

about an American soldier and

a mysterious French girl, both

yearning for a new beginning in

the aftermath of the war, caught

the attention of a petite corps

de ballet dancer in Sarasota and

got her dreaming.

"I had seen the press when it

was first created and thought,

'Wouldn't it be unbelievable

to be in a show like that?" said

Cohen speaking by phone from

West Palm Beach, the seventh

stop on the "An American in

Paris" tour she joined in Octo-ber.

"It's ballet, it's Christopher

Wheeldon, it's Broadway ... it's

everything I'd ever dreamed to

do all in one."

So, even as she continued to

dance in Sarasota, Cohen made

contact with the tour producers.

She was invited to audition

in February of 2015 and, even

before the ballet season had

ended, she was making plans

to move to New York and begin

rehearsals for the show's very

dance-heavy ensemble. The

blessings of Sarasota Ballet

director Iain Webb and his wife,

assistant director Margaret

Barbieri went with her.

"They were very supportive

and excited for

me," Cohen recalls.

"Honestly, I think why I

could leave on such great

terms was that everyone

felt I was on the right

path."

Now she's looking

forward to reuniting with

several of her former

dance chums when the

tour comes to the Straz

Center in Tampa for a

six-day run.

"I'm excited, I'm ner-vous,"

says Cohen, of the

reunion. "It's a big full

circle moment for me."

Cohen believes her

time in Florida helped

prepare her for all she is

handling now -- a different

city every few days;

eight shows a week, each

one with nine costumes

changes including

three wigs; and some

pretty technical ballet

choreography.

How she got to Sarasota

in the first place

was a matter of both

good fortune and good

timing. When, in the

late summer of 2013,

her British visa was

not renewed, making it

impossible for her to stay

with the Northern Ballet,

she emailed Webb to

inquire about an audi-tion.

Coincidentally,

it was just after Sara

Sardelli, another diminutive

dynamo with the

company, had unexpectedly

retired from the

stage.

"So they had an opening

and a really specific

one, for a petite dancer,"

says Cohen, who flew to

Sarasota to audition at a

company class with only

a carry-on and never

went back to England.

"It was luck and magic. It

was the universe conspiring

for that whole

thing to happen."

In her second season

with the company, it was

her experience creating

the role of Mary in the

ballet's commission from

British choreographer

Will Tuckett of "The

Secret Garden" -- a ballet

with a narrator, intended

to be used as an outreach

tool for school chil-dren

-- that reawakened

Cohen's longing to act

and tell a story. …

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