“I never have to do anything special to them. I just get my shoes, sew them, then dance my heart away. Plus I never get blisters! I can just focus on my dancing, which I believe is the way it should be.”
Janessa Touchet, a principal dancer at Cincinnati Ballet, is known for her exuberance onstage. Critics have often called attention to her virtuosity, describing her as “vigorous,” “energetic,” and “fast on her feet.” She’s been featured in Dance Spirit, Pointe Magazine, and in 2006, she was a finalist at the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MS. Perhaps most impressive, that same year (while still a soloist) she and a fellow dancer from Cincinnati Ballet were nominated for the prestigious Benois de la Danse prize — the only Americans to receive the honor.
Gaining such international attention as a dancer at a regional American company is no small feat, but Janessa takes it all in stride. She credits much of her success to sound training in her hometown of Metairie, LA, a suburb of New Orleans. She started dancing at Giacobbe Academy of Dance at age three, and remained there for 15 years. The school, run by brother and sister team Joseph and Maria Giacobbe, incorporated a broad range of styles and a nurturing philosophy. Janessa says Joseph “wanted to teach the way he wanted to be taught — and was taught — by people who cared deeply about the students, and their progress and development.” The teachers had studied Cecchetti, Vaganova, and Bournonville methods, and incorporated elements of those styles without adhering to a strict syllabus. “Joseph always said he wanted the dancer to think Italian and move Russian, meaning he wanted the strict placement the Cecchetti method insisted on, but he also loved the broad, open sweeping, way of moving which the Russian school produced.” The school brought in guest faculty like former Ballets Russes soloist Rochelle Zide and Perm Ballet School instructor Alla Lisina, a personal favorite of Janessa’s. Training at Giacobbe’s demanded grueling hours; Janessa danced for three hours every evening after school, then all day Saturday and Sunday, but she quickly acknowledges that she loved every minute.
She supplemented her Louisiana training with summer intensives at the Hartford Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet, then spent a year at Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division, before embarking on her professional career. Janessa remembers that last year at PNB as feeling tedious, but is grateful now to have such comfort with the Balanchine technique. “Now when I do his work, it feels natural,” she says.
At 19, Janessa joined Cincinnati Ballet as an apprentice, beginning her steady rise to the top of the company’s ranks. Her first soloist role was as Tinkerbell in Septime Weber’s Peter Pan. Now she dances principal parts in ballets ranging from The Sleeping Beauty to Jorma Elo’s quirky Plan to B. “The contemporary ballets I feel are more of a challenge,” she admits, because with her ballet training, “if I move my body off my center, I fall. I love it, though.”
While Janessa likes the range of Cincinnati Ballet’s repertoire — it compliments her own versatile background — she holds a special place in her heart for Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is “the one role I couldn’t pull myself away from. I like to usually leave my work in the studio but this role required me to be Juliet all the time.”
While continuing to focus on her dancing career, Janessa is getting more involved with coaching. She’s loved working closely with her own coaches — notably Kirk Peterson for The Sleeping Beauty and master teacher and former Kirov Ballet principal dancer Eldar Aliev for Swan Lake (Janessa gushes that he is BRILLIANT). Recently, she started teaching variation classes, and found that she enjoys being on the other side of the exchange, as well.
Throughout the years, Janessa’s been wearing Gaynor Mindens. She first tried them as a teenager, twelve years ago, after seeing another dancer at a summer intensive using them. “I’ve been hooked since!” she says. “They are the quietest shoes ever — which I know being a ballerina you don’t want to sound heavy. Also, I never have to do anything special to them once I get them. I see all these girls get their pointe shoes, sew them, then start hammering away, then the best part, put jet glue in them…. I get my shoes, sew them, then dance my little heart away in them. Plus I never get blisters!” Another benefit of wearing Gaynor Mindens? Janessa doesn’t pin excuses on her footwear, facing her weaknesses squarely. “I can just focus on my dancing, which I believe is the way it should be,” she says. “I can’t blame it on my shoes, that’s for sure!”
By Mary Hodges
Cinderella photo by Rene Micheo, Don Quixote photo by Christopher Jean-Richard