Jade Longley: „ I just want to dance as well as I possibly can“
This interview was published in Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatres' magazine "Bravissimo" 2020 No. 2/3 in Lithuanian. The English version of this interview is only available here.
The young ballet dancer Jade Longley is counting her third season in Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Studio. During that time she already took part in a project „Creative Impulse“ and was awarded as „Ballet Hope of the Year“ in an annual Opera and Ballet Theater award ceremony. J. Longley joined the ballet studio after graduating from ballet school in London and the last couple of years were full of a new experience for her. With this talented dancer, we talked about her life in Lithuania and experience in the world of ballet, on stage, and on the filming set.
You are a young ballet dancer. How did you imagine a ballet dancer‘s life when you were a little girl when you decided to become one, and how do you view it now, when you are actually doing the work every day?
That‘s a good question. Honestly, when I was young I was one of those typical girls. When they are four or five years old they all want to be ballet dancers. I just never really stopped. I remember going to my first baller classes when I was maybe three or four years old and I would love it so much. I really knew from that moment – that is what I wanted to do. Obviously, when you are young and you want to be a dancer, you imagine performing every day, doing point work. Actually, it‘s quite similar to what I thought back then. At the moment I feel like I am really living the dream that I had when I was young. It‘s really fulfilling to me to say that I have achieved at least part of the dreams that I have had. There is a lot of work that I probably did not realize when I was young. When I was a little girl I really enjoyed the performing aspect of it and I always wanted to be on stage. I would put off plays and performances for my parents and I would make them watch me in the living room. When you grow up you realize that it is not all about performance. Most of the work and time is going to be in the studio perfecting the technique.
You have graduated from English National Ballet School. How did you decide to come to Lithuania to work? What was the main reason why you chose to work here?
In our graduate year we were told to look into all the different companies in Europe, or depending on which continent you want to go to, and really do our research on the companies, what type of repertoire they are doing, which companies might be suited for us. Not just which companies do you want to go to but which companies could give you the most to flourish. As I was auditioning, I‘ve got a few jobs and I really had to look into each one I was offered.
Lithuania‘s repertoire has got classics, which I really wanted to do, and they also have a nice amount of contemporary, new works. I really like the balance between them. Also, when I came to audition, Vilnius seemed like a very nice place to live. You just get that feeling that this is the right place.
We‘ve all been in lockdown recently. How did you spend your time during quarantine? Maybe you had more chances to look around in Vilnius or maybe you had a chance to visit some other places in the country?
Actually, I‘ve been doing a lot of walks around Vilnius and went into the foresty places. I don‘t even know the names of the places. You know when you walk from your house just to see how far you can go. It‘s been nice to explore more, to have time to look around, and to really get to know the place that I‘m living.I also spent a lot of time keeping the routine, doing a class in the morning. It‘s so easy to wake up in lockdown and to think: „I don‘t feel like doing a thing today“. But there comes the next day, that becomes the next one. After the first week I‘ve decided that I really need to set goals for myself and even if I‘m not doing anything else in the day, I need to do one class. I need something that will keep me on schedule. I also had a lot of time to do painting, which I like because my mother is a painter. I was also reading a lot. I did all those things that you might usually not have time to do.
Is it difficult to keep in touch with your family and friends while living in another country and working full time as a ballet dancer? Is it possible to balance working away from your loved ones and maintaining relationships with people you care about?
I have close relationships with my family. I‘ve lived in London with my parents all my life up until I moved to Lithuania. Suddenly, I was in a new country, living by myself. I‘m used to speaking to my mom every single night. I still do but it‘s strange and new now having that distance. But that‘s my career and I have to find ways to make it work. During the lockdown, I‘ve had more time to facetime with friends. I haven‘t spoken to some of my friends for some time because everyone has different schedules all over the world now so it‘s been nice to have big group calls when we got together online.
Are the ballet dancers already coming back to work after the lockdown? How the work is organized under these inconvenient circumstances?
Well, we had classes through „Zoom“ every day up until the 1st of June and then we‘ve gone on official holidays. We‘ll have holidays until the 5th of July and then hopefully we‘re going to be able to do our premiere of „Giselle“ in August. So we will start rehearsing „Giselle“ and it is going to be pretty intense, at the beginning of the season. But I‘m waiting for it, I‘m ready for that time to push myself again.
There are plenty of stereotypes about the ballet world that are coming from films and media. People, who don‘t know much about backstage life, often think that ballet dancers are working alone, preparing their grand solo performances, that they have to compete fiercely to get important parts and apart from that – eat extremely healthy not to gain weight. Could you draw a more realistic view of the ballet dancer‘s world?
Ballet does come with certain stereotypes. I remember how our teachers used to say that people would put needles in your point shoes. But in reality, it‘s really not like that. Everyone is very supportive and you feel genuine happiness. When I do well, someone is happy for me and vice versa. I think that when a dancer gets to the stage, he or she is already respected by other dancers because you know how much work everyone has put in to become a professional. You do need that support if you do want to do your best on stage. And I also think that my favorite dancers are the ones that are genuinely nice people out of the studio and it really comes across on stage. You can see if someone is just open and honest, and genuine.
I remember when I was younger, people used to say to my mom: „Oh, doesn‘t she want to go to play, to have time with friends? Does she not get lonely when she goes to ballet?“. My mom always had an answer: „She‘s with twenty other girls. They‘re all doing this together, training together“. Dancing is much more sociable than people might think and especially when you‘re doing code ballet work and you‘re doing it with twenty-four other girls. It‘s really all about the group effort to make that performance come together and you have to work together to make it work.
With regards to eating healthy, you do need to eat sensibly but it‘s more to have the energy. Not so much for how you look physically but so that you would have the energy to get through the show and the rehearsals, and to perform your best, so you need to fuel your body with good things.
You were awarded a „Ballet Hope of the Year“ award this year. How do you feel about getting this sign of recognition?
It‘s nice to have validation for your work. I do feel very honored because it‘s a Lithuanian theatre and as a foreigner to be given, it is quite special to me. It‘s really nice to be able to tell my family that I‘m doing well and that I am recognized for what I‘m doing.At the same time, I never like to pin my confidence on getting validation from the outside because I think it should come from within and that inner knowing that you‘re working hard and you‘re doing your best. I wouldn‘t want it to change too much how I perceive myself because I just need to keep working hard and to keep doing what I‘m doing.
In 2019 you took part in the project „Creative Impulse“. You‘ve created a piece „259“ and danced in Isaack Evan‘s work „Sheep or not“. Was there something you took away from this experience?
I think it was such a good experience. I was very unsure whether I wanted to be part of it because it was my first year in the company and I was kind of thinking I don‘t want to be telling people what to do and I‘m not really an experienced choreographer at all so it just could be really bad and it could humiliate me. But I pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone because there is something to be gained. It was really interesting working on the other side. I‘ve always been a dancer in a piece, I‘ve never had a different role, just standing back and watching the performance and choreographing it. This experience made me understand the struggles choreographers have and how stressful it can be. This project made me be creative in a different way. Ballet is a very creative art but as a dancer, a lot of the time you‘re just doing what you are told to do, and then your part is to interpret the movements in your own way. This peace really made me be more creative from a different perspective – one of creating a piece, thinking of lights, thinking of costumes, working out the best way to approach the dancers, working out the best way to choreograph in the studio, at home, writing it all down. All of that was a very interesting process. I don‘t know if I have much talent in choreography but I think that it gave me a lot of benefits from being part of this project. It really taught me a lot so I‘m grateful to have had that opportunity that this company gave me.
You‘ve mentioned some challenges that choreographers face. Could you name a few of them?
I was lucky enough because the dancers I had in my piece were very willing to help and work with me. They didn‘t have a negative attitude towards me. Sometimes I would have an idea in my head, I would try to tell them and they would tell me: „What? That‘s not going to happen“. The difficult thing was to figure out how to translate your ideas to the dancers. Now I realize that when a choreographer is creating work on the spot for you, it really helps if the dancer is willing to adapt and give their own ideas on how it could work because if the dancers are just standing there and looking at you, then the creative energy just goes away. But if they are excited and giving ideas then it becomes a process which everyone is part of. It‘s not just you on the spot giving commands on how to move.
I notice that more and more contemporary choreographers, who I‘ve worked with, really want that the dancers would have a voice and that they would communicate what they have to say. A lot of the time in school or especially with ballet, you‘re taught that you are a dancer and you just do what you are told and do the right thing, the right way. With contemporary choreographers, it‘s becoming more of a collaboration than it has been in the past.
How do you feel about that change?
I think it‘s a good change because, although, the classics are extremely important to ballet and we have to keep them anyway but I also think that dance needs to progress. With choreographers involving the dancers more in the process, it becomes more of your own work, as a dancer. Dancers no longer are just doing what someone has told them to do. It‘s more about the energy in the studio and through that, you could find things which you have never thought of, for example, you create new ways of moving and it can be pretty exciting. I think it‘s a good way of dance moving forward.
Could you introduce the concept of your work „259“, performed in the „Creative Impulse“ project?
The performance „259“ was about „The Whispering Gallery“ in St. Pauls Cathedral in London. One of the towers in St. Pauls Cathedral has a circular shape and if you whisper into one wall, the whisper will be trapped in the wall and it will go around the circular room. The piece was about circles and this idea of sounds and how sounds work, travel through the air. It also contained a more spiritual side of it – there are lots of stories trapped in these walls. When I read about this space I was really inspired to do the choreography based on it.
Your performance had a deep meaning. Do you think that the expression of your idea was successfully presented to the audience? Last year the duration of performances was shorter. Was there enough time to express creative ideas?
As someone who has never really choreographed before I didn‘t really think I could do more. I can‘t tell if the delivery was successful because you become too involved in your own piece. At one point in the process, it became really hard for me to see it from the outside perspective. One day I would watch it and thought: „I like it. It‘s working. It‘s doing what I wanted it to do“ and then the next day I would watch exactly the same and I would think: „No, it‘s not working“. I just hoped that people enjoyed it. I didn‘t want to make something too heavy. Some more established choreographers can address more serious issues, political ones. As for me, I just wanted to create something that was nice for the eye, that people would enjoy, and above all, I wanted that the dancers would enjoy performing it because I know the feeling. When you are enjoying the thing that you‘re performing, then it really makes a big difference. From what I have heard, the dancers have enjoyed it.
Have you ever participated in similar projects before or maybe this type of project only exists in Lithuania?
I know that in other companies they do workshops for choreographers but I don‘t think that anyone is allowed to participate. I think you have to be more of an established choreographer to be able to participate. I can‘t say for all the companies, but in some of them I know, you have to have more experience.
What‘s good about „Creative Impulse“ is that anyone who wants to participate can do that. The pieces were not performed on the main stage in the theatre. They were performed in the exhibition center „Litexpo“. For me, it was nice because there was a smaller stage so it didn‘t feel so overwhelming. It really just felt like it was a place for me to be creative and see what happens. Obviously, there were all these other art pieces around in the exhibition so I think it was a very good venue for dance performances.
I did do some choreographing in school. They would have the choreography competition each year and I think I did it twice, out of my three years in school. I mean, I‘ve always quite enjoyed choreographing but I just don‘t think that I have a huge talent for it. But I think, when I have the opportunity, it is good for me to push myself because it is a challenge and you always grow from giving yourself challenges.
You are a young and talented ballet dancer. Do you have creative or career ambitions that you would like to share?
When people ask me, I always find this question difficult because with regards to performing, I want to dance everything. Every time we do a ballet I want to do that ballet, the main role of it because I‘m always inspired by watching our principles and our soloists in the company and I just think: „Oh, I want to do that. That‘s amazing. That‘s my dream role“. And then we do another ballet and I‘m like: „Oh no! This one is my dream role!”. So I‘m a bit greedy because I want to do everything but I don‘t really have a specific thing which I would set my intention on because you never know what is going to happen in life so I don‘t want to say: „This one thing, it needs to happen“. I just want to do it as well as I possibly can and finish my career saying: „I worked as hard as I could, and I did everything I could, I don‘t have any regrets about what I did“. I don‘t want to finish my career and think: „Oh, I was a bit lazy when I was this age and this made me do this“. I just want to do as much as I can.
You talk about the end of your career. Are you already planning that far ahead?
I don‘t really like to think about that. Right now I want to dance as long as I can. I‘ve always said that I wanted to be an actress after I was a dancer but I don‘t know how possible that is. So I think that I‘ll need to stay in doing something in the ballet world. Ballet has been part of my life for so long that I‘m not sure how I would adapt to having it out of my life so whether that‘s teaching or... Well, I was thinking of getting a pilates training course because I‘m really interested in how pilates can relate to the technical side of ballet and how we work. How to structure your body to make it work in the right ways to prevent injury. I have a lot of things that I enjoy. I also enjoy writing. I‘ve always wanted to write a book and maybe that‘s something that I‘ll decide to do one day but right now there‘s nothing very specific which I‘m planning.
You already had a couple of roles in the film industry. You‘ve acted as a young Norma Restarick in the legendary „Poirot“ series (2010, directed by Dan Reed) and as Moth in the film „Ballet shoes“ (2007, directed by Sandra Goldbacher). Could you tell me a bit more about how is it different to perform on stage and in front of the camera?
That was when I was quite a lot younger but that was what made me think that maybe I could be an actress when I‘m older.
The experience is very different because it‘s not like performing when you have only one chance and there is the audience there, right in front of you. If you don‘t get it right on one chance then it‘s done. When you‘re acting, a lot of the time contains waiting for your scene. As an actor, you go to your van, sit there for maybe six hours, then you go get your hair and makeup done, you sit around and then you do the same takes over and over again and there‘s the film crew as the audience. It‘s much, much slower paced from what I‘ve experienced. But it‘s interesting in a different way because you see all of the ways that it creates a film in the end.
What are the upcoming performances that you are preparing for if there will be a chance to perform them in the nearest future?
Hopefully, we‘ll do „Giselle“ in August, which will be the premiere of the season. Then „Don Quixote“, later on in the season, obviously „The Nutcracker“ and „Barbora Radvilaitė“ which is coming back this season, because we didn‘t do it the last season. So the main ballet will be „Giselle“. That‘s the ballet we are going to be working on a lot when we go back which I‘m so excited by because „Giselle“ was the first ballet I ever went to see. I have the program from 2004 at the Royal Opera House and I think when I saw that performance I decided that I want to be a ballet dancer. So „Giselle“ has always been one of the ballets that I have closest to my heart.
Thank you for the conversation!