A quick motion from a backstage crew member, and Precious Adams didn’t seem to even have a moment to take a breath. A quick glance backward, and it was her time. She walked onto the empty stage. Her body twirled, then stopped in the silence. And then she moved again, rippling, stopping. Moving, stopping. And when the music erupted in a symphonic burst, so did she.
A paradoxical mix of raw energy and controlled grace, her arms flowed with near-liquid fluidity as she danced. A leap into the stage wings signalled her performance was over, and all too soon. It was the Prix de Lausanne, and Precious’ solo would still be well-talked about long after it was over.
She also performed a variation from Sleeping Beauty, executing arabesques and pique turns with an enchanting lightness, successfully making a very difficult solo look so very effortless. They were performances that won her a prized scholarship at the Prix, and plaudits from her peers in the world of classical dance.
The music still played on after Precious’ contemporary solo, mirroring our desire for more from this young dancer. So it was fairly inevitable that we contacted Precious, asking to know more about her. The Bolshoi student graciously agreed. There is a story behind every dance and every dancer, and we couldn’t wait to hear hers.
C&V SESSIONS WITH PRECIOUS ADAMS
What did you have for breakfast?
I had the “kasha” from the academy cafeteria. It is like hot cereal and today it was like hot rice pudding.
What do you wish you had for breakfast instead, if anything?
Some ripe season fruit would have been nice, but I could really go for some Sunday morning American-style pancakes.
After the Prix de Lausanne, a lot of people on the internet were saying, “where did this amazing dancer come from?” So tell us – what was your dance journey? How did a girl from Canton come into the world of classical ballet? Did you always aspire to become a professional dancer?
No. I didn’t always want to be a dancer, not until my mom opened my eyes to the world of dance and signed me up for classes. She kind of always wanted a graceful daughter – I wasn’t particularly graceful, I had like a really raspy voice and I was kind of frumpy and maybe “tomboyish” in my demeanor – nevertheless I would kind-of “dance” around the house. I remember in second grade everyday after school I would turn on Vengaboys and listen to it over and over on repeat.
So I started taking actual classes at a competition jazz studio when I was 7, and then everyone sort of realized that I was better at ballet so then I started going to a ballet studio, the Academy of Russian Classical Ballet. And then the summer I was 10 I did the Bolshoi Summer Intensive. I think this was the ﬁrst year they had the program. The program was held in Massachusetts back then in 2005, and there were 8 girls all together in the whole program, ﬁve advanced girls and three beginner girls (I was a little girl).
Actually one of the girls from that summer in my same graduating class now at Bolshoi – she is Russian but some of her family lives in America. And I had Irina Syrova that summer, who si my same teacher today at Bolshoi! At the end of the program she told my mom and I that I had natural talent and potential and I should go to a ballet academy in Europe.
It was during this program that I really opened my eyes to the world of ballet and the art form, I didn’t really know that one could become a professional ballet dancer. Before the summer program, dance was just fun, not hard work. But I knew right then 100% that I wanted to be ballerina. So then I went somewhere closer to home, the National Ballet School of Canada, and then on to Princess Grace in Monaco when I was 14. And then I started at Bolshoi when I was 16 and I ended up with the same teacher from all those years ago.
You trained at Princess Grace Academy and will be graduating from the Bolshoi Academy this year. Was this a conscious decision on your part to train overseas instead of in America, or did it sort of just pan out that way? Did the prospect of leaving home to train scare you?
Yes and no. I knew I wanted to be good, but as mentioned before I really didn’t know much about ballet and training. I have to thank my mother because she did all the research to ﬁnd good teachers and programs to get me started.
But leaving home never really scared me. I knew what I wanted, I really didn’t see anything but the goals I wanted to accomplish. And as long as knew that my family was doing well, then all I had to do was work hard. So of course I have my mother and father to thank for allowing me to truly go after my passion. I know it wasn’t easy for them.
What have your experiences been like training at these respective schools?
More fulﬁlling than I have words and time to say. I mean, each school was different and increasingly challenging. Each school has prepared me for my professional career; each giving me something different yet equally important. I feel as though I have the tools and knowledge to develop into the artist I want to become and handle what ever is thrown my way.
There was an article in the Moscow Times last year that reported that you had been unfairly discriminated against at the Bolshoi Academy on account of your race. Has your experience training at the Bolshoi been positive overall, or has it been very difficult for you?
My experience was a lot of things, but I came for the training and experience to grow as an artist.
I can’t say that article truly speaks to my full experience over the past three years. Besides quoting me directly a journalist can include or not include what they want in a second parties retelling of someone’s story, and in telling my story to a journalist it then became subject to their interpretation. The journalist wanted to focus on the negative. I prefer to focus on the positive and I am nothing but grateful for the knowledge that I am getting from the academy, all that I have learned and the immense growth that I have made is thanks to the faculty of the Bolshoi academy.
Anywhere I go, whatever I do, I think there will always be ups and downs and all those up and downs feed my soul, and fuel my art.
Do you remember the first Russian word or phrase you learnt?
Of course I do, it was this word that you say as like a greeting or just out of respect, kind of like ‘hello’ or ‘be healthy’, but it’s a mouthful: “zdra-v-st-vuite”.
Of course we must talk about the Prix! Was this your first time participating in the finals? Who helped you prepare for this competition?
Yes it was my ﬁrst time at Prix de Lausanne! Participating in Prix was actually a big dream of mine since I was 12 years old. I had to do a lot of the preparation on my own actually. For the classical variation my teacher, Irina Syrova, could only help me as much as her schedule allowed. I had to work on the contemporary variation completely by myself, often times in the hallway or in my bedroom.
During the competition, you are constantly being scrutinized by the judges. How did you stay focused and keep your nerves in check? Did you feel any pressure to perform well during the classes, or did you treat it as just another chance to learn?
I can say that I wasn’t nervous in ballet class with judges watching me. I feel comfortable with ballet so I would just try and get lost in the music and the movement. I felt like I was in a normal ballet class, not a competition where had to be better than anyone.
The contemporary class on the other hand – totally diﬀerent ball park for me. I felt really lost and the steps where harder to pick up. That was a challenge and I felt really nervous and stressed about showing the contemporary class in front of the judges. I deﬁnitely learned a lot.
Your classical performance was a variation from Sleeping Beauty and your contemporary piece was from First Flash, which you executed very gracefully. Why did you, and presumably your teachers, decide on these pieces?
I choose both of those pieces myself actually, mostly to show my diversity as a dancer. I chose Aurora because I don’t think anyone would expect me to pick that variation and I wanted to bring an element of surprise. I choose the First Flash Solo, again because I think people would have expected me to do the Rite of Spring piece but I wanted to show that could pull oﬀ two unexpected and very different variations.
I have many different sides, and I wanted everyone to see that I can bring many different qualities to my work.
What was going through your head just before you stepped on the stage at the finals?
I was telling myself to calm down and to stop thinking that I was competing and just performing, doing what I love.
Your contemporary solo was especially captivating, and you won a well- deserved special prize for it! What was your interpretation of this piece, and how did you connect to it, given that there is less backstory and plot with contemporary pieces versus classical dances?
It’s all in the music and the choreography.
My “interpretation” of this particular piece was more of a feeling and quality that the music provoked from within me and that was then put into the movement. I think my energy was different each time I did it.
Precious rocks out her solo variation at the Prix
Were you worried that the music wouldn’t start when it was supposed to?
Not at all, the stage manager was so great. He really knew what he was doing and he made sure that everything ran smoothly.
Are our eyes deceiving us, because it looked like you weren’t wearing any tights during your classical variation! Did you just have on a really good pair?
I was wearing sheer pantyhose.
How do you, personally, feel about your performances at the Prix? Do you enjoy competing?
It was okay. I felt really nervous and outside my body, and less in control with that competitive stress on my shoulder. I deﬁnitely don’t like the feeling of competing to be number 1.
Your little sister, Portia, is a ballet dancer as well. Tell us a bit about her! Where is she training now?
She’s great, everyone says that we look alike, but we really don’t. She is way taller and way prettier! Right now she is at San Francisco Ballet School.
Will you both be competing in the YAGP finals this April?
Unfortunately we won’t be, not this year.
On your Facebook page, you list Gabby Douglas as a favourite athlete of yours. So tell us, what do ballet dancers think of gymnasts? Do the ‘stiff gymnast fingers’ and ‘gymnast dance technique’ bother you, or is the tumbling too awesome for you to notice such things?
Well, I don’t think I can necessarily compare the two. They are so different. Ballet steps can have a lot of meaning and art is open to interpretation. So of course it doesn’t bother me when I watch any amazing sport, particularly in the Olympics. I am simply amazed at what the human body can do.
Gabby is a favourite of mine because she is a woman my age whose is not only a success but a very current role model. Exactly what I want to be for girls everywhere.
What do you enjoy doing during your downtime from ballet?
I really enjoy ﬁlms, along with reading modern literature, singing – only when I’m alone, I could crack glass! cooking, travelling, and doing almost anything new.
You graduate from the Bolshoi soon. You must be excited. What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Well, after graduation I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it since I am so invested in exam season right now.
Although I told Prix de Lausanne of my decision on a company for the fall on the 6th of March.
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