Drew Jacoby began her professional career at age 17 in San Francisco with Lines Ballet, where she was a principal dancer and had numerous original works created on her by award winning choreographer Alonzo King. In 2005 she was invited on Sylvie Guillem’s Japan tour, where she performed principal roles alongside dancers from the Royal Ballet and Paris Opera Ballet. She won a 2005 Princess Grace Award and in 2006 was voted Dance Magazine’s It Girl. In 2007, she moved to New York City to begin her freelance career and market herself independently from a ballet company. She has performed works by acclaimed choreographers including George Balanchine, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Lar Lubovitch, Dwight Rhoden, Mia Michaels, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Lauri Stallings, and Lightfoot Leon. In 2008 she co-founded her independent partnership, Jacoby & Pronk, with former Dutch National Ballet star Rubinald Pronk. Jacoby and Pronk have guested with Dutch National Ballet and have performed multiple seasons with Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, as well as engaging in their own projects all over the world, including their own week at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. In 2010, she founded a media website called DancePulp which features HD video interviews of the world’s top dance industry professionals. DancePulp videos are also viewable on Hulu.com.
Q. How did you get interested in dance?
I was always running around and acting really wild when I was little. My mom put me in ballet when I was 5. I loved being active and physical. Dance just stuck. I think it’s the combination of athletics and artistry that worked well for my personality and skills.
Q. Since you grew up out of the mainstream of dance and dance training in Boise, Idaho, where did you take lessons and how did it come about that you sought more advanced training at places like the School of American Ballet?
Though small, Ballet Idaho is a professional company, with an academy. I was around older dancers since I was about 9 years old. And I worked intensely with the company’s ballet mistress at the time, Lisa Moon. She had danced in Europe and trained with David Howard. She began giving me privates and having me come take class with the company, in addition to my school classes. She was the one who saw something in me, and encouraged me to get out of Boise. From age 9, I was attending summer programs outside of Idaho. I got a lot of positive feedback from several teachers at these programs, and was encouraged to audition at more major ballet schools when I was old enough. So, from age 12 on I started going away for the summers to even bigger schools. (PNB, SAB, SFB) It was understood that I needed to attend one of these schools full-time to achieve my dreams, so I went to SFB year-round at 15. And later went to PNB for the two following years.
Q. What was the application/audition process like for SAB?
Just like all the other major schools. They have audition tours in major cities around the country. I think I went to Seattle for my audition. I tried for PNB, SAB, SFB, and Houston when I was 12. I got into all of them, but went to PNB because of a full scholarship. I went through the same audition process the following year, and chose SAB for that summer.
Q. I assume you were a boarding student at SAB. How old were you and what was that like for you living away from home in New York City?
I was only at SAB for one summer, when I was 13. I stayed in the dorms there with all the other kids. It wasn’t until the following year, that I left home for the year….and that was to San Francisco Ballet. I lived with my mom’s cousin and her family. It was rough leaving home, just barely 15…but I loved the intense high level training. I also loved being in a real city, experiencing urban culture and art.
Q. At 17, you danced professionally with Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet. What drew you to a company with a more modern repertoire rather a more classically based company?
I was at PNB for the two years following my year at SFB. I was expecting to get into the company, and they gave me every reason to believe it would happen. But in the end, they decided it was too risky to hire such a tall girl (5′ 11″). I was too young to be a soloist, too tall for the corps, and they needed girls from the school that would fit right into the corps de ballet rep they were doing. Although I was dancing a lot with PNB’s corps in many of their productions, the directors wanted me to do as much dancing as possible and knew they couldn’t offer me as much as I needed. Many directors came to watch our class at PNB, and PNB helps pay for their advanced students to go audition for companies. I didn’t know much about Alonzo King…I was more focused on the major rep companies and still wanted to dance classical. But he came to PNB and taught class. It was very intense, and he was unlike anyone I had ever met. He somehow brought more out my dancing, even in class. After meeting him in Seattle, he invited me to San Francisco to work with LINES for a few days to try some of the rep and get a sense of the company. The work suited me very well, was extremely satisfying, and he made no hesitation in expressing his interest in working with me. If I had had it my way, I would have gotten into PNB and danced all the tall girl roles. But boy am I happy it turned out the way it did. I grew so much more dancing with Alonzo than I would have in any major company as a 17 year old tall girl waiting for my turn. Alonzo gave me solos from day one, and really shaped me and helped me find my voice. I was dancing all the time, being challenged, traveling the world. Not standing in the back line of the corps, not dealing with big company politics. So, to answer your question, what drew me to a company with a more modern repertoire? I’d have to say fate. I wanted to be in tutus and tiaras, even for my first couple years at Lines, I was thinking about going somewhere with classical rep. I see in hindsight, that that would not have made me happy, and I’m grateful for my unique path.
Q. Alonzo King choreographed many roles for you. What’s the difference between learning a role that others have danced and having a role designed for you? Would Alonzo work with you creating the role or did he come to the studio with very specific ideas for you to execute?
There is a HUGE difference in dancing something that was made specifically for you as opposed to learning rep that has already been done. Usually choreographers creating on you want to have your input, your involvement. They use your best attributes, and the work feels like part of you. Dancing something that was originally created on someone else can sometimes be quite challenging and not as rewarding. Being created on is ideal for a dancer’s growth. It is very satisfying. Alonzo definitely worked with me collaboratively, and wanted my voice in the creative process. He wouldn’t come to the studios with steps prepared already and tell me exactly what to do. As a young dancer, it was hard to trust myself to work like that, but it helped me grow immensely.
Q. When other people dance roles originally designed for you, do they ever speak to you about the roles?
Yes, they usually tell me how hard the parts are. Alonzo used my technical and physical strength a lot and pushed me further than I thought was possible. But the great thing about him, is that he changes his work…it’s living…he makes it work for the individual. So he can tweak things for different dancers, even if it’s the same role. A lot of choreographers work like this. They want the dancer to look their best and do what looks good on them.
Q. Do you feel more freedom dancing a role designed for you or is it, paradoxically, less free in that the intention and attention of the choreographer is right there on you?
I definitely feel more freedom dancing roles made for me. I can add more nuances. Yes, the choreographers’ intention is right there on you, but clarity of intention is imperative! Choreographers usually want to see the individual.
Q. While you were dancing as part of a company, you also began touring and making guest appearances. How does that work from a business standpoint in that one company is paying you a salary and now you’re dancing somewhere else? Does your home company get compensated for your absence? Do you get less salary because you’re away? Who pays your insurance? Is it easy to get permission to dance with other companies? Is it just an accepted part of the ballet world?
You usually get the guesting work during your off time with your permanent company. This is what I did when I went on tour with Sylvie Guillem. Guidelines for guesting vary from company to company and person to person.
Q. What do you love most about ballet and what are some of the peak moments in your career?
I love being so in the moment on stage, that you lose yourself. You’re absorbed in your performance. These moments are rare, but precious. I use to be more in love with the performance aspect of ballet, and while it is still the highlight for me, I am finding that I am more and more in love with the creative process in the studio. Perfecting something, being molded, being challenged. I think it’s a patience and maturity I am finding, and it is very rewarding. The work. I used to like the reward of performing ( I still LOVE this) but I am finding equal reward in the journey now.
Q. You have an agent. At what point in your career did you get an agent and what role do they play in your dance career? Do they handle other aspects of your career in terms of possible book, film or advertising deals?
I don’t really have an agent. I have a commercial agency for anything that may come my way from that area…and have recently been talking to a manager to start handling Jacoby and Pronk, but for the most part, it’s been all me. I hope to find someone that can really do the business work for me, but for now I find that I am my best representation.
Q. In 2007, you decided to have an independent dance career separate from a company. What led to that decision? Was it difficult to make?
I joined Lines when I was 17, directly out of school. I spent four wonderful years working hard with Alonzo King. I learned a lot and got my foundation with him, but I still wanted more experiences. I wanted to work with many different choreographers. I auditioned all over, both in Europe and America. I wanted to be in a rep company, so I would have the opportunity to dance a variety of work. But my audition process was very frustrating. My height and body structure set me apart, and it was hard to find a director who wanted to take a risk with me. I wouldn’t blend in to a company. And I think that deterred directors. They all were very complimentary, but it was just never the right fit. At one of my auditions, the director spoke to me for over an hour after. He said that I wouldn’t fit into his company, I wouldn’t be happy, I’d stand out too much….and I was just too unique. He asked me why I was waiting for directors to dictate my career. he said I should make my own shows, do my own thing, be in movies, model, choreograph. He said it might take a while, but it will be worth it. He asked why I wanted to do ballets made 200 years ago, when I should be the one being created on. I laughed at him and thought this was all pie in the sky. But then I realized….I needed to stop trying to fit in a mold. Stop trying to follow the paths of other tall ballerinas. Just be me. And I decided that day to move to NYC in 6 months. I was injured at the time, so I rested for a few months, got back in shape, planned my move to NYC, and started making connections. It was then that I started marketing myself, and exploiting my uniqueness, rather than trying to fit in.
Q. Having a career as an independent dancer provides you with a great deal of freedom in terms of roles and venues and travel but it also burdens you with a lot more responsibility and time you have to spend as a businesswoman, managing your career. How do you juggle those two sides of your dance career and do you enjoy the business side?
At times the business side can be overwhelming and burdensome. Luckily, I have the skill, drive, and responsibility to manage….but it’s not always fun. Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it, but the freedom and choice, and sense of achievement give me such reward….and I know it’s because of all that hard work. It’s just a trade off. A sacrifice. I’d be making different types of sacrifices if I were in a company. And I’d have different benefits. I think the risks and challenges are more in with my independence, but so are the rewards. It’s just a more extreme way of having a dance career. I like to be in control, so I think it suits me.
Q. Almost all of your education and training has been with dance. Did you find yourself ill-prepared to deal with the business side? Did your dance training help? If you need business help, where do you find it?
I don’t know where that set of skills comes from. It’s just in me. I think it’s out of survival and drive that I became good at those things. I want certain things, and I know no one else is going to get them for me. So, I learn to do it myself. I am a doer. I don’t like to procrastinate. I don’t think my dance training helped at all. I know a lot of dancers that have no administrative skills. I think it’s just my personality mixed with the ability to write.
Q. In 2008, you began a partnership with Rubinald Pronk. How did you meet him and what prompted you to form this partnership?
We met while dancing with Complexions. We were partnered together a lot, and became good friends. I was new to NYC and just getting a feel for the dance scene, and he had been in Complexions for about a year. I told him why I moved to NYC, to be independent, try freelance, etc, and he said he wanted to do the same thing. I said, what if we market ourselves as a team? It’s easier to be freelance as a partnership than alone, and he agreed. We started brainstorming, and just went for it.
Q. What plans do you have for this dance partnership and what do you hope to accomplish?
What we originally intended to accomplish was just to have the freedom. To be independent, find companies to guest with, enter the gala circuit, and see where that leads us. Now we’re getting ready for our own full evening at Jacob’s Pillow for a week! Other dancers want to be a part of what we’re doing, and it’s growing. Who knows what’s next. I think anything could happen. I’d like to see the partnership be recognized more commercially, and we’re working on combining the concert and commercial sides of dance in a future collaboration with a performance art group in Kansas City. We just want to be fresh. That’s the goal.
Q. If you danced for different choreographers in 1870, everything you danced would be firmly based on classical technique. Now, every choreographer seems to be trying to veer as far as he or she can from classical technique and from other choreographers in an effort to be “original”. Do you find this to be true and does it make dancing with different choreographers more difficult?
I think it’s hard to find a choreographer who’s vocabulary is truly original. What’s great about working with so many different people is the different approach they use and intention behind their work….even if it’s not revolutionary movement. I like the challenge of trying things that are foreign to me….but it really is a challenge….as a dancer, I want to look good. So that vanity aspect can get in the way sometimes. But it’s all about growth. I wouldn’t want to work with the same person over and over without experiencing other voices.
Q. The goal of classical ballet is beauty. What do you feel is the goal of modern choreography? What do today’s choreographers want to achieve? What do you think they have in common, if anything?
I think modern choreographers want to create beauty as well. Ballet is more topical…modern choreographers usually have an intellectual approach behind their work, even if it’s abstract. But I don’t think you can really generalize like that. Dance is dance. It’s all beautiful. It might not all be “pretty.” I don’t care what kind of dance I’m watching, as long as the dancer is present and honest. I’d rather watch a really tacky ballet if the dancer is abandoned in it, than a contemporary piece where the dancer is just going through the motions.
Q. With Rubinald Pronk, you made a few dance films. What prompted you to do that? What are they about? Where were they shown? Where can they be seen now?
We wanted to make a dance film to be used in an evening of dance….since there are only 2 of us, we would need to fill time with something else besides us being on stage. So, I applied for a special projects grant from the Princess Grace Foundation and got it. We collaborated with fine art photographer Alvin Booth, and made a series of short abstract art films….with the idea that they would be used if we ever had our own evening. And now we do have our own evening, and they will be shown at our Jacob’s Pillow show. The film can be purchased in the shop of our website: www.jacobypronk.com. They have also been shown at a few film festivals. A couple other films we did were just for experimentation with friends.
Q. You have a new website, DancePulp, what is it and what do you want to accomplish with your website? Do you work on it personally?
Oh, yes I definitely work on it personally! It’s just my husband and I. Our idea, and our labor! The site features candid HD video interviews of dancers, directors, and choreographers from all over and from all different backgrounds. It is my hope that the site gives something of value and substance to the dance community, educates students, and let’s audiences see dancers from an inside perspective.
Q. Since you work with film and video, do you have any favorite dance films?
The Rain, by Pontus Lidberg…..so beautiful!
Q. Lots of dancers like quotes for inspiration. Do you have any quotes that you like?
I can’t really think of a specific quote, but Alonzo always talks about not being stingy with your dancing. Being generous. That makes a lot of sense to me, and I try to use that approach. Getting over oneself.
Q. What future projects have you got planned for yourself?
After Jacob’s Pillow….A collaboration with Quixotic Fusion, a Kansas City based performance art group, hopes to form a small touring group of dancers, DancePulp, and I’m sort of just flying by the seat of pants. I’ve been planning a little too much lately, and just want to find some time to work in the studio with great choreographers. I will probably spend some time at NDT working with Sol Leon for growth and inspiration. I always keep busy.
Q. Any advice for aspiring dancers?
Think outside the box. Don’t let anyone put fear inside of you that would stop you from trying anything. Don’t be afraid or discouraged by rejection. I was rejected a million times. It’s usually not personal, so you really have to believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, it will be hard for others to believe in you.
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To check our Drew’s new website DancePulp, click on the URL below. To return to Ballet Connections, click on the Return Arrow in the upper left hand corner of your browser.
To check our Drew’s Jacoby & Pronk website, click on the URL below. To return to Ballet Connections, click on the Return Arrow in the upper left hand corner of your browser.