Philadelphia Ballet’s first black male director hangs up his shoes | Arts


It’s not every day that people stay at the same job for two decades. It is something that stands out, due to its rarity. This is why Philadelphia Ballet principal dancer Jermel Johnson is celebrated.

After 19 seasons with the Philadelphia Ballet, Johnson is ready to hang up her dancing shoes. He dedicated his life to his passion and inspired viewers with some of ballet’s most iconic roles. His physical grace and technical mastery made him a fan favorite and a trailblazer, becoming the Philadelphia Ballet’s first black male principal.

“I’m excited. The rehearsal process is tough. It’s time. I’m thrilled to be able to acknowledge my final moments in the building as a dancer. I’m ready to put it all on stage and let it go.” flourish,” Johnson said of his next final performance with the company on May 15, 2022. His final salute will be on Hans van Manen’s production of Humankind.

Johnson began her dance career at the Baltimore School of Dance. The dance department is very rigorous and physically demanding. He then studied at the School of American Ballet in New York on a scholarship. In 2003, he began what was to be a 19-year career with the Philadelphia Ballet.

He was inspired to pursue a career in ballet when he was just a little boy: “I first saw dance when I was eight or nine. I saw The Nutcracker on TV. It was Balanchine’s Nutcracker, the one with Macaulay Culkin. It was awesome and my first time seeing ballet. I knew that was what I wanted to do. »

His love for ballet guided Johnson to Philadelphia, where he graced people with his fine performances for nineteen seasons. “I loved being in Philadelphia. I loved the audience. I loved the company and what we were doing. I loved the founder, Barbara Weisberger. I met her early on and she shared a lot of her story and her love of dance with me,” Johnson said.

He couldn’t see himself dancing that long, but fate had other plans.

Johnson has performed a variety of roles, including Robert Weiss’ Messiah, Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake (Prince Siegfried), Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun, and George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker (Horseman). His favorite is Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“It was so much fun, one of the hardest roles I’ve ever danced. The choreography for that opening number is probably one of the hardest variations I’ve had to do. is really fast, but so much fun at the same time,” Johnson said.

In her more than nineteen years in dance, Johnson has seen a lot of change in diversity, but it hasn’t always been that way. “I’m not afraid to be the first. You have to start somewhere. There are a lot of people who have paved the way and really opened the doors. I’ve never been deterred from not seeing enough diversity. If I can participate in the diversification, I’m all for it,” said Johnson, who is the company’s first black male principal.

He said that over the years corporate values ​​have changed. Representing the demographic makeup of the city in which the company is located and organizing performances that include different communities have become more important. Dancers are also more vocal about things that are offensive.

Ballet is very physically demanding. It requires hours and hours of rehearsals and training, and then hours and hours of performances. Johnson has been involved in pain management and physical conditioning his entire career.

He explained: “There were times when my body hurt so much I thought I was going to have to end it, which is part of why I ended up turning to massage therapy. I feel like I spent more time trying to manage my body and making sure I could perform than dancing.

Johnson says dancing is a very athletic activity. Dancers train like any other athlete. Dancers constantly monitor what they eat and how they treat their bodies. Conditioning and training are also all involved. Dancers should also practice and study in their free time. He is currently a licensed massage therapist and uses this knowledge to help other dancers. He hopes to continue to help the Philadelphia Ballet on its wellness team.


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