Artist Spotlight: Jessica McCann
Hometown: Palmdale, CA (just outside Los Angeles)
Go-to Relaxation Activity: “I think it depends on my mood. Sometimes I like to make myself a cup of tea, read and have complete silence after a hectic day. Some days I like to make a big dinner and watch Netflix, and sometimes I like to unwind by playing video games. We have a PlayStation, but I like Xbox and computer games too. I’ve always been a gamer. If I get off early and it’s still bright outside I really like to be with nature.”
Non-dance Hobbies: “I like doing website coding and computer graphics. I took a couple classes in college, but I’m self-taught from a young age and my father also helped me learn, because he builds his own computers and creates his own websites. I really love coding and creating banners and stuff for websites. You need so much patience and attention to detail for that, and I feel like you also need patience with ballet, so it really works for me in that way. I also love photography. I sort of see everything in moving pictures, and there’s a lot of moments in a day I wish I could capture…I also like to write. It’s a good way to figure out how you’re feeling.”
Family: I have a sister; she’s two years younger. She’s an artist, she draws, sketches and makes pottery. She’s really gifted with her hands in the way that I’m not… We’re both artistic in different ways. My dad is artistic in the way of photography and what he does with computers. My mom also grew up dancing and that’s how I started…She’s danced all her life, and my grandma was a dancer too.”
Years Dancing: Since age 4
Pets: “I don’t have any in Pittsburgh because I find myself too busy at the moment, but back in California I had a lot. My family has a dog, a King Charles mix, and when I was younger my family also had a long- haired Siamese cat. I used to have a ten-gallon fish tank that I would take care of. I miss that. I also used to own a lot of reptiles (including different morphs of western hognose snakes, a ball python, a sand boa, a beautiful giant day gecko from Madagascar and a leopard gecko).”
Favorite Food: I love fruit (and fresh squeezed veggie juices)…berries are my favorite! It just makes me feel so refreshed and they have a lot of antioxidants. Speaking of antioxidants, I also love dark chocolate! I honestly like most ethnic food when it’s done really well, like Indian, Italian, American, or Mexican, but I really love sushi – I can eat Japanese food every day.”
Favorite Pittsburgh Restaurant: “I love going to Bar Marco for their Bar Marco burger on Tuesday. It’s so cheap and that burger is probably one of the best I’ve had in the city. I also really like going to Noodlehead for a quick lunch. It has a great environment and the quality of the food is very good for the price.”
Top-played Song: “Honestly it’s probably the entire soundtrack of In the Upper Room… It means a lot to me, because when I first came here…that was the first thing I saw (PBT) perform and I probably wasn’t breathing the entire time I was in the audience. I went and saw every single performance. It was so amazing and awe-inspiring. That made me realize that I was in the right place…The music kind of penetrates you…Whenever I need inspiration, before a performance or if I’ve had a hard day, I’ll listen to the soundtrack, and it takes me back to that moment I had in the Benedum. It starts a fire inside of me and makes me want to keep pushing.”
Pre-show Good Luck Ritual: “It’s not something I do consciously, I think, but before I go onstage I practice a few of the hardest moves to just feel my balance and feel myself in my shoes and costume. Then I go through a quick check list: I always do one last spray of hairspray to my hair and ribbons, and right before I enter the stage I tap my ribbons with my fingers to make sure they’re secure and then feel my ears to double check I have my earrings in…Then, good to go!
If I wasn’t a professional dancer, I would be… “I love modeling (something she did as a child). I feel like I would want to try my hand at that, but also I think I would probably create myself as a web designer, graphic designer and also a photographer and kind of package myself as that online and have my own business.”
How did you get your start in dancing?
“My mom has been a dancer her whole life. When she had my sister we moved out of the city
(LA) to Palmdale, and there she joined a dance studio. She was teaching there and directing ballets, and when my sister was 2 and I was 4, she had us both start with jazz, tap and ballet classes. My mom said I had a lot of energy so she thought dance would help with that. I don’t ever remember not having dance in my life and I’m so thankful to my mother for that!”
What about dance hooked you from the start?
“I have no idea, because I honestly don’t remember the beginning! I feel like I was always supposed to be a dancer and a mover. I never once questioned it or saw myself and dance not being together. I had so much energy when I was younger. I was crazy. It was the perfect thing for my mom to do….to put me into dance. Every time I learned a new dance style it opened my mind more and more to the world… I never questioned it. I went with it, and it kind of just happened. I feel like I was born to be a dancer.”
Do you have a ballet epiphany moment when you knew that it would be your future?
“I was fortunate enough to be trained in every style of dance at a young age, and I really had the opportunity to grow up not just as a ballet dancer but as a mover. But at a certain point I started to have a big struggle in my teen years where I didn’t know what direction to go or where I belonged in the world of dance. Since I was in the LA area, there were a lot of people I knew going the route of getting an agent. They were auditioning to be dancers in music videos or performing on stage as backup dancers for a singer, and doing a lot of show-y jazz and hip hop stuff. I tried to do that for a while; I actually auditioned to be a dancer in the Oscars and also auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance a few times. I had a moment where I thought that would be my big break. But I realized that it was too shallow for me; they were more interested in a person’s story than talent because it’s television, and all the winners of the TV show didn’t go on to do anything that I thought was particularly amazing. I really ended up not liking it at all.
At one point, my ballet teacher said how it’s much more stable for your life in the long run to get good ballet training and get hired through a ballet company rather than trying to get an agent and going to hundreds of auditions for a paycheck… that really stared to change how I was thinking, because even though I saw becoming a professional ballet dancer being much harder, she was right, it was also a more stable job for the future, and to me, much more interesting artistically. When I went to my summer intensive at ABT I think I was too young to fully realize the potential of what ballet could do for me. I trained in ballet all my life but it was never really serious. (Later) when I went to LINES, I really matured because that was the first time I left home. I learned a lot about myself and about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be as a dancer. I completely feel in love with contemporary and contemporary ballet at that point, and that’s also when I started choreographing too. I had (and still do have) a particular obsession with Nederlands Dans Theater.
When I came back to the LA area…I joined (Antelope Valley Ballet, a small pre-professional company), and I was realizing where I was in my life and that I needed to act fast if I wanted this dream I suddenly found myself craving to become a reality. If I wanted to be a professional ballet dancer, I needed to step up my classical ballet training. I joined the pre-professional company with the intention of getting to the highest rank as fast as possible. I told myself “if I can’t do it in this pre-professional company, I can’t make it in a professional company.” I worked my way up quickly, and I got the opportunity to do a few principal roles, which really awoke something inside of me. The history behind ballet… the appreciation for the art form and the passion and the challenge of making the hardest steps seem effortless… I feel in love. And the fact that it’s the hardest style of dance just drew me in more, and I wanted to obtain it. I wanted the challenge. It was after I came back from LINES and joined AVB where I think I had my major epiphany moment.”
Describe one of your most memorable moments onstage.
“I could say that it was Cinderella (at Antelope Valley Ballet), because that was the first time that I ever did a leading role in a ballet and I grew so much from that experience and that responsibility. But I would have to say that over this past year with PBT, one of my most memorable moments would have to be… performing Sandpaper Ballet. They both are important because they both are really big landmarks for me as a dancer.
With Sandpaper, even just being backstage during PBT Premieres was absolutely insane. I was the only grad student in the entire show. I was sitting backstage watching Petite Mort and I was so inspired and happy at the fact that the company was able to do these types of works – works that I’ve dreamed of doing for years.…In Sandpaper it was really weird, because it was the entire company onstage and then there’s Jessica over there in the corner like, ‘Hi!’ I had my own spot in the grid and it was amazing. I felt so privileged and honored…My standards were so high for myself; I needed to represent myself and PBT… When the curtain rose and I was standing there in the grid with all the other company members…it was probably the proudest I’ve ever been. It was very unreal.”
What are you most looking forward to performing this season?
“I think the first mixed repertory is absolutely outstanding. Jiří Kylián…and William Forsythe…I love and praise them so much. Their work (takes a deep breath). ..It’s so exciting that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is performing these ballets. Petite Mort was such a huge deal last season and the fact that we’re going to be performing another Jiří Kylián piece, Sinfonietta; that’s amazing. I’m really looking forward to that and also In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. Absolutely spellbinding! I love contemporary ballet and that is some of the best… Also, of course Western Symphony, I think the whole Mixed Rep is really huge and it’s a very exciting way to open the season.…because of that huge bill of choreographer names. Those are ballets that every professional dancer would want the opportunity to learn in their life. Also Le Corsaire – that’s exciting. That’s going to be the first time that PBT does a full-length version of the ballet.”
What is your top goal for your first season as a professional dancer?
“The first year is always the hardest, I think everyone knows that. You have to find your place in the corps and the company and prove yourself – prove that you deserve this opportunity and that you deserve to be there…I think my goal is just to work as hard as I can, be smart, enjoy the experience, stay healthy and give all of myself artistically.“