Howard County’s Dana Jacobson returns to the region… (Photo by Emma Fazzuoli )
Off stage, Dana Jacobson stands a stunning 5 feet 9 inches tall, with arms and legs that go on forever. When she dances, she stretches her arabesques and lengthens her high-flying leaps to look even taller, at least 7 feet from the tips of her toes to the top of her long blond hair.
This gutsy original is a sensation just walking on stage. Next week, Howard County's sweetheart ballerina will be doing much more than walking when she performs with the internationally renowned New York City Ballet at the Kennedy Center, April 3-8. Catch this high-flying, just turned 20-year-old in the Gershwin class, "Who Cares?" on opening night, followed by three additional shows, Thursday and Friday evenings and the Saturday matinee.
"I'm excited to be dancing at the Kennedy Center, so close to home," Jacobson said by telephone from New York recently after the NYCB's tour in Germany. "It was a wonderful first European experience, and the company was very well received. In Baden-Baden, each dancer was handed a beautiful white rose during the bows."
At age 11, the then Folly Quarter Middle School student became serious about dance as a profession and began training at the Washington School of Ballet.
"My parents were very supportive, driving back and forth from Glenelg to DC for daily classes," she said. "When I had the opportunity to dance in Mary Day's full-length 'The Nutcracker,' I got my first real glimpse into the kind of life of a dancer."
A year later, she started rigorous training with Patricia Berrend, a well-respected teacher at the Washington School of Ballet who opened a school in Olney, closer to her Howard County home. She credits Berrend for helping her progress at a faster rate.
"Dana is a beautiful girl, inside and out, who has always been extremely focused and dedicated to her dance," said Berrend. "At age 14, she was accepted to the Suzanne Farrell program at the Kennedy Center, and from that time on, Dana knew she wanted to be in the New York City Ballet."
Jacobson took part in the Suzanne Farrell program in the summer, then left for New York City in the fall. She was 14.
"I was intrigued with Balanchine's choreography and instantly wanted to be part of that world," said Jacobson, who joined the company in 2009. "Being tall and long limbed is a challenge to move at the speed that is a trademark of NYCB. But I love that challenge and the fact that there never seems to be a destination, just a path that keeps moving forward."
Jacobson follows in the footsteps of local dancers who have leaped into the professional world of classical ballet, and represents the continuation of a connection between Columbia and the New York City Ballet.
In its inaugural 1967 season, Merriweather Post Pavilion was the summer home of the New York City Ballet and Washington's National Symphony Orchestra. NYCB artistic director George Balanchine, himself, oversaw the building of the stage, which still remains the best sight line for dance in an outdoor venue.
New York City Ballet left Columbia in 1969, nearly a quarter century before Dana Jacobson was born, but not without leaving a legacy. Balanchine's "Diamonds" debuted here the first season, followed by Jerome Robbins' playful dances, some set to Broadway melodies, which perhaps led to his 1995 "West Side Story Suite," set to the 1957 music of Leonard Bernstein and lyrics of Stephen Sondhein. This work will be danced in the upcoming Kennedy Center engagement.
Balanchine created NYCB as a distinctly American company, forging a new style of movement that shaped 20th-century dance. In honor of this history, the company performs two mixed repertory programs, the first pays tribute to the late masters, Balanchine and Robbins. The second program showcases the company's new directions under the leadership of Peter Martins. Highlights include "Les Carillons," by Christopher Wheeldon and "Russian Seasons," by Alexei Ratmansky — two of the hottest choreographers around.
Balanchine believed "the music is always first," which is why all performances will be danced to live music, this year performed by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.
"I love dancing Balanchine works because your body reacts with the music," Jacobson said, "and I'm especially excited to be dancing in his gorgeous Gershwin ballet. The speed is a fun challenge and the jazziness makes you want to sing the lyrics to the songs."
The New York City Ballet performs at the Kennedy Center's Opera House Tuesday through Sunday, April 3-8. Tickets can be found online as low as $29. Call 800-444-1324 or log onto http://www.kennedy-center.org. As part of the Kennedy Center's ongoing education program, Performance Plus, there will be a free post-performance discussion with members of NYCB following the matinee performance on Saturday, April 7.