Ms. Ricci, of Johnston, RI, is a graduate of Rhode Island College. She trained with Winthrop Corey and Christine Hennessy, becoming a member of Festival Ballet as a teenager. Her principal roles include Arabian, Snow Queen and Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cinderella, Neopolitan, Pas de Trois and Big Swan in Swan Lake, Snow White, Princess Elena in Firebird, Mina in Dracula, Prelude and Seventh Waltz in Les Sylphides, Giselle, and many other leading roles. In 2006, she premiered Mr. Djuric’s Dancing by Ear at the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival. She can also be found behind the diamond counter at Ross-Simons. This is Ms. Ricci’s twenty second season with FBP.
Q. You must have lots of uncles and aunts who are all subscribers to the Festival Ballet Providence and who have seen you grow up from a student to a dancer with the company?
Actually, we’ve danced in many different theaters, so it’s also local stage hands who have known me since I was a kid and when I go into their theater we can laugh about anything. It’s a lot of fun.
Q. Is there a teacher who stands out in your life?
My former director, Christine Hennessey, by far. She’s the one who molded me—and my sister who used to dance. She was like a second mom to us. She pushed us all the way. When we were young, she moved us into the company class just to give us the experience of being among company members to see how they worked.
Q. How old were you?
When we were pulled out of our classes, we were nine or ten. She chose three of us youngsters and had us take a dance class away from our regular class just to have that experience every week.
Q. So you were with the professional dancers when you were nine?
We were in the corner on a little bar and we were terrified. It’s like going to an audition. Any type of audition unless you’re extremely full of yourself is always very terrifying. But the good thing was that Christine Hennessy was always comforting, saying things like, “Don’t give up little ones. Keep up. Try to do what they’re doing as best you can.” Even though the steps we’re a little more complicated, we did the easier version of it.
Q. When you went back to your own class, you must’ve been like royalty?
We were like superstars. It was great.
Q. What are some of the things you feel that you’re best at and what are you struggles?
I like more dramatic pieces. Anything that has a story to it. I love acting. I love passion. My favorite role of all time has been the Arabian dance from the Nutcracker. Since I first saw it, I’ve wanted to learn it, wanted to dance it, but it was always performed by a tall girl and a tall male partner. One day I just took it upon myself to stand in the back of the room and pretend I was doing it with the bar and that was when Christine Hennessy was watching and she said, “Good job little one back there. Keep it up. Maybe someday.” Sure enough the following year when I turned sixteen, she actually gave me two morning shows to do. I’ve been doing that role ever since. And that’s probably one of my most noted roles apart from Carmen. Carmen’s another favorite of mine. Also, Schéhérezade and Princess Zobiede. I like sultry, dramatic pieces.
Q. And what are some of your struggles?
I was never a turner. You see all the girls doing endless fouettes. It was never something I liked to do, nor was I ever pushed to do because those weren’t the type of roles I was placed in. But over the years the company has transformed itself. It started very classical. It’s turning more contemporary and modern. So, we get more of a variety of dances that require both classical and modern techniques. Very seldom are we doing hardcore classical ballets.
Q. If you were already in professional classes when you were nine did you know then that ballet was what you wanted to do?
I knew right away. And I have to say it was because of Christine Hennessy and her husband at the time, Winthrop Corey. He now runs a ballet in Mobile, Alabama. But they were the ones who made me who I am today. They gave me the elegance and always pushed me to the limit. They’re just beautiful people and very inspiring. They never said, “You’ll never do this. You look awful.” They always found the good in you and made you better.
Q. Were your parents happy with your dancing?
They have a program now called Dance Moms. Oh, my gosh, it’s awful when parents act so overbearing, so interfering in their child’s growth. My parents were never like that. When they dropped us off—my sister and I—they put us in Christine’s hand and wanted her to nurture us and take us where we could go and that’s how it was.
Q. When did your roles begin growing in the company?
Most of it started when I was a teenager. When Christine Hennessy was running the company, her daughter always did the lead roles with one other dancer. They would alternate. Then, Christine started placing me in as the third party to also alternate. When that happened, I knew I was finally getting there. Now at my age as long as I’m dancing, I’m happy. I don’t have to do the lead roles. But I like to do something that is memorable for the audience.
Q. How do you prepare for a role? Do you watch what other dancers do it?
Once you see a lot of dancers, then you want to be like those dancers. I take more the criticism and corrections that are given to me. Christine used to work with me one on one. I’d come in on a Sunday and literally just the two of us would work together. Very, very special. You don’t see that approach much anymore, especially in larger companies. She would let me know how I should be feeling, what I should be doing, what’s going on in the story and then I would just go with it and interpret it.
Q. How do you connect to the audience?
A lot of eye contact. I’m not afraid to look at people. I know many of my colleagues don’t like to look out into the crowd. They feel like it’s intimidating or distracting. I need to see someone when I’m onstage. It’s kind of comical in that when you are onstage there’s always a dead moment where you’re not doing something. You can see who’s sitting in the front row. I see a lot of my customers from my other job. Later on I’ll say, “Oh, I saw you sitting there following me.” But I usually like to look out and target someone and dance for them.” It’s the same way when I attend a performance, I always look at who has the best technique, who has the best legs but after while I look at who’s emoting to the audience. That’s what gets me. If I get goose bumps or my eyes start to fill up, then you’ve definitely won me over.
Q. You’ve had a very long career. What’s the secret of your longevity?
Keep moving. Even now when the season hasn’t started and not much is happening when I’m at home as soon as I wake up, I’m stretching in bed. While I’m eating breakfast, I’ll have my leg up on the couch, stretching. I’ll do some sit-ups, some push-ups. I’ll do a powerwalk to my evening job. Once you stop all those old injuries come back. And you start feeling the aches from a knee injury, from your back. So, you have to constantly keep moving.
Q. How do you prepare for a specific performance? Do you have a routine that you do?
I come to the theatre already done up. I know a lot of people don’t like that but I go to the theatre and my make-up’s already on. I don’t have to think about doing that. I just have to touch up during the performance. I’d rather just deal with the hair and then stretch and stay relaxed.
Q. Oftentimes dancers have lipstick that is way too red.
I was told that you’re not supposed to wear a true red color lipstick because the way the lighting hits you it could make the color look black. I’ve always been told you want to use a brown red or an orange red, so that it makes the color look a little more toned down.
Q. How do you know how your make-up looks on the stage?
Depending on the piece that we’re doing at the time if it involves very, very bright lights then you know you need very heavy make-up. Otherwise, you can tell when they videotape it, if you end up with a white blob onstage you know that you’re face is getting washed out. Our make-up is always put on a lot heavier than anyone would normally wear.
Q. Does everyone tell each other how they look?
I have to say our director will come up on stage and say, are you wearing enough make-up. I don’t see enough make-up. You should be looking like this person right here. Go to the dressing room.
Q. What kind of memorable advice have you been given that’s stuck?
I always remember Christine Hennessy telling us, “Hang in there little ones. Don’t give up.” You’re always faced with different obstacles. But I always hear her saying, “Don’t give up.”
Q. You’ve been with the same company for a long time.
Q. That’s a long time.
I know. People are always asking me why I haven’t gone somewhere else but I always say why would I? I went to college in Rhode Island. I have a teaching degree in English. My family, all my friends are local.
Q. Do you prefer classical or modern?
I would have to say it’s kind of transitioned over the years with Misha here with all the different dance styles. I like working with new choreographers. Fresh movement. I don’t prefer hard core contemporary where it’s very abstract movement. I like things that have a little more of a story to it—more drama!
Q. Balanchine is abstract.
He’s not one of my favorites. I like Anthony Tudor. He’s a little more elegant. But it depends. Each piece is different. I really like new ideas, fresh ideas.
Q. What are some of your memorable roles?
We performed the ballet Dracula a while ago and we had a guest artist come in to dance. Right now he’s running the Joffrey Ballet School. And both my sister and I were cast for the lead roles. She played Lucy. I played Nina in Dracula. It was incredible. This was Winthrop Corey’s Dracula who was one of my former instructors. He also set Cinderella. I danced Cinderella for him. The Dracula was new and exciting. The music was from Bram Stroker’s The Dracula. It was exciting.
Q. Is your sister older than you?
Three years younger. She retired significantly earlier. She partook in a lot of lead roles with me. We were side by side doing things. She had a little more spunk than me. She was the jumper. The turner. She had that attack on stage.
Q. How was having your sister on stage with you?
She was actually a big help. Because she could do things that I couldn’t do and I could do things that she couldn’t do, we were constantly watching each other, coaching each other. If I was falling over, she would be saying, “Jen, fix this.” Or if she was doing something, I would be like, “Tweak it a bit.”
Q. What kind of ballet shoes do you wear?
Right now, I wear Gaynor Mindens only because over the years I’ve had numerous ankle issues. Maybe not so much from dancing as I have this extra bone in my foot. Doctors are always wondering how I can dance with an extra bone in my foot but it’s possible. You just have to find the right shoe. I have to say I like a very soft shoe. It needs to be extremely soft because I’m one of the rare few who has flat feet. So for my foot to look OK on pointe, the shoe has to be soft so I can be over my shoe. I’ve looked through different types of Gaynors, someone can wear them and the shoe looks like it broke in half but for me it never looks that way. I’ve gotten to the point where I have one of my friends wear them to break in the shoe and when it’s good enough for her, I take it over.
Q. As a longtime member of the Festival Ballet Providence do you take part in many ballet community activities, fund raising activities and things like that?
It’s in our contracts that we need to participate at all functions. But I do it because for me I know a lot of people. My other job is in retail fine jewelry and many of the people at the ballet functions are already my customers and I like to meet new people to invite them to come into the store. I work at Ross Simons. I’ve been there thirteen years. We carry very high end jewelry. I’m a person who likes a lot of glitter. I’m bored if I’m in a plain costume or atmosphere.
Q. Has Ross Simon provided any jewelry as part of your costumes?
I’ve been trying to encourage them to do something. Years ago we did Balanchine’s Rubies and I told them that they should take part in one of our fund raisers and display their high end ruby collection and auction something off but unfortunately the ballet already had someone backing us for that. But I thought it would’ve been ideal. Or have the dancers dripping in rubies and diamonds. Swarorski provides the Festival Ballet with jewels and crystals.
Q. Many dancers when they retire continue on in some form of teaching or administrative position in the world of ballet. Others leave ballet completely. What path will you take?
Most often when you take on this type of art form, you’re really not doing it for the money. You’re doing it for the love of it. Christine Hennessy always said to us, “It’s so important to go to school. Don’t drop out of school for dance. Always have something else in your skill set.” And that’s why right out of high school I went to Rhode Island College to get my degree and I got my teaching degree running back and forth between rehearsals and theater time. I tried the teaching for two years and did not love it.
Q. How did you get into the jewelry?
It happened right around the time that Misha came. He flip-flopped our entire schedule. He wanted us to rehearse during the days. Before when I was teaching English, we were rehearsing evenings. So, I knew I had to make a big decision right there. I’d have to let go of one or the other, so I let go of the teaching because I had the degree and I could always recertify. That was easy to do. And at the time Ross Simon was closing an old store and opening a new store and I’ve always had an interest in gems. Elizabeth Taylor was my idol. I read many of her books and about all the jewelry that was given to her. Ross Simon instantly hired me. And I’ve been with them ever since.
Q. Do you plan to do any dance teaching?
I would prefer to coach.
Q. What’s the difference between dance teaching and coaching?
With dance teaching you’re preparing classes with students of many ages. Coaching is when you’re working on a production and you may just focus on the lead person or a few people who are doing the solos within the production. You work with them one on one and focus on their movement. Their style.
Q. Any favorite dance books or dance movies?
The Red Shoes and Center Stage has always been a big movie. Everyone loves it.
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