Since the age of three, Jessica Novakovich ’17 wanted to be a ballerina. At her insistence, her mother took her to a “mommy-and-me” ballet class as a preschooler. She was hooked.
“It was always my one-track mind of wanting to be a professional dancer. I was determined in what I wanted to be, nothing else,” she recalls.
After years of hard work and training, the Damascus, Maryland, native graduated from a ballet academy, completed an associate’s degree at Montgomery College, and has been dancing with Manassas Ballet Theatre for the past three years. Now, at 23, she has her sights set on Europe.
She took classes for years and decided she wanted to pursue classical Russian ballet. At 16, she found a studio in Silver Spring run by Jacqueline Akhmedova, who trained with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Academy. “She [Akhmedova] spent so much time with me. She was so patient. I am very close to her because she gave me so much,” Novakivich says of her mentor, whose productions she supports between seasons.
Because Damascus High School did not have a dance program, Novakovich and her family reached an agreement with the school that would allow her to leave at 11 a.m., train at her ballet academy until 7:30 p.m., and then finish the rest of her classes online or by correspondence. In order to get into a company, she needed to do research and put together a resume, along with videos and photographs, to get auditions.
Seeking flexibility for college courses as well, she turned to Montgomery College. “I could do everything online. It was important for me and for my parents that I get an associate’s degree. Their online program was amazing for me because I could train with my teacher all day. I could do my school work on my breaks, or at nighttime,” Novakovich says. She is happy with her experience, as the College was accommodating and her professors were readily available for questions. Once she retires from ballet, she says, she can always pursue another academic degree.
After graduating from the Akhmedova Ballet Academy and MC, Novakovich started at Manassas Ballet Theatre during the 2016-17 season. She brought several characters to life during her time with the company: big swan in the pas de trois and princess bride in Swan Lake; military doll, mirliton doll, Russian doll, snow and flowers in The Nutcracker; a friend of Juliet’s in Romeo and Juliet, and a demi-soloist gypsy in Dracula. Her dream role, however, is Nikiya in La Bayadère—“For some reason, I understand the character. I want to portray the heartbreak and everything that she goes through.”
What I love about ballet is that it’s a physical art form but it’s also emotional, and historical
After three seasons, she is ready to move on. “They had really good Russian teachers and ballet masters there. I appreciated the repertoire, but as a dancer, you kind of move around a bit until you find the company that you want to go with. I just decided it was my time to travel and experience other companies,” she says. Her career plan involves Europe, where she will be exploring options over the summer. Companies in Germany, Russia, France, and Austria have piqued her interest.
Her journey has been one of determination and hard work. Her advice to youngsters who are passionate about ballet? “There are going to be so many hardships that we all need to go through, but at the end of the day, you are doing what you love and don’t forget that.”
Novakovich also reminds people of the historical significance the art form offers
“What I love about ballet is that it’s a physical art form but it’s also emotional, and historical. The story, the culture, the history… everything wrapped up in one. I love the movement and the choreography, but in every step is the history of ballet, of the technique that has been built up over years,” she says. “There are the stories that are written through history and I love putting all of that together and creating the story in a character, and then showing it to people so that they can get lost in that story, too.”
Photo credits: Pointfolio Jeri Tidwell Photogroahy and Paolo Galli