In conversation with marvellous, Joy Annabelle Womack, was a unique experience, as was the privilege of watching a fantastic documentary covering an eventful time in both her personal and ballet life. Admitting still without a driver’s license at 27 years old and getting married next week, no stone was unturned as we discussed an eating disorder, dancing, life and my favourite subject of movies with this busy talented ball of energy.
Hello, congratulations on the movie, I feel like I’ve got to know you personally over that period of 90min.
JW – well thank you Shane, it’s so funny because I kind of forgot about it, when the film began screening, I felt I had moved on in my life. Watching certain moments I’m cringing at my youthful naivety, it’s difficult to grow up which may be one point of the movie.
Whose idea or approached you to record a personal documentary.
JW – Dina Burlis, she knew my former husband and was trying to film something with him but then changed direction after meeting me. Dina asked if I minded filming a little bit of me in rehearsals which turned into between 7-10 years. They captured everything, there’s a lot of stuff not in the movie all the way up to arriving back from Korea, then I was going to go to Boston, now I’m actually back in Russia as assistant director at a company. Dian caught me at a time figuring myself out, I can truly now say; I feel Russian and American, in a unique balance, enjoying my career immensely.
Was their footage you forgot about during extended filming.
JW – oh completely Shane, totally forgot she interviewed my Ex, also us together and times getting prepared for competitions at the Kremlin when I didn’t allow myself to look to the right or left at camera. Seeing that little girl stressing I just want to to go back in time and say you’re fine everything will be ok (laughs).
You don’t hold back emotions, I cried along with you in the film.
JW – I’m open-hearted but through the years I’ve learnt to shut out some emotions, the process of becoming a woman understanding that some emotions are precious, not for everyone. Few things make me cry, one is frustration.
Performing, does your mind wander or complete concentration.
JW – I’m grateful to my coach, even though we no longer work together I still hear echoes of her voice of directions, thinking of where to step almost has a calming effect. Knowing where to be staying incredibly focussed on a singular moment. Now I enjoy performing, knowing where my body is going to be before it happens or deciding to take a risk if required. The movie is funny because it’s showing me like a duckling, finding her legs or process.
Was your most treasured principal role Swan Lake, or another that is important to you.
JW – that’s really hard Shane, Swan Lake is such an important role for a ballerina, I’ll never forget when selected for Swan Lake I could call myself a prima-ballerina now. It’s changed over the years, I love Giselle, a formative ballet to me as it’s opposite to Swan Lake. You have to really let-go of your technique to find your genuine person, it’s really about your soul, so I broke down aspects of myself to release naivety again. The second act becomes technical again. It became an interesting transition the first time I danced that ballet my coach at the time was hands off the first time someone had treated me as a mature ballerina. Giselle, is still quite a challenge for me., it’s also the best role to get one back in shape (laughs).
You’re an athlete, I’m a surfer, can you surf.
JW – yes, being born in Santa Monica, California, when you learn to walk you learn to surf (laughs) I love the ocean, now working in a company on the Russian coast so I’m happy to see the sea and smell the salt water.
There’s a scene where you kept dancing with a broken ankle, is that the worst injury you have suffered or another one topping that.
JW – my struggle with eating disorder trying to be perfect was tough. A lot of dancers take it for granted the toll it takes on the body, I think a lot of my stress fractures occurred by not-good habits and not understanding pressure on the lower body. If I could go back in time I would say, just eat, don’t panic. I’m now grateful for those injuries allowing me to study the body system of professional training and effects of cross training.
No more injuries for you then.
JW – I have a bulging disc right now but couldn’t feel it whilst still dancing. Went to doctor who said you shouldn’t be able to walk with that. So, I took two weeks off now I feel great.
What would you suggest to someone suffering through an eating disorder after your own experiences.
JW – It’s so hard. I’ve heard many say it’s just a rarity, I want to call BS on that. Sadly, I mostly don’t think you get into this industry without some kind of eating disorder, simply rampart, especially in the Russian aesthetic often they pretend it isn’t real, pushing people and changing their bodies. There’s a reward for being very, very, very thin. What I would say to dancers, think about yourself as a whole person, not just yourself as a dancer but as a individual unique person, you cannot be your full self if you’re starving. It helps if you take your mindset out of that current status and look at the bigger picture, it will really help your perspective and longevity.
Does ballet evolve or stay the same, traditional to contemporary.
JW – ballet is constantly evolving, I do enjoy dancing contemporary and the process of working with a choreographer something new.
I find when I go back to classical from contemporary, I’m a different classical dancer, evolving new interpretation into classical roles. I really believe transition for a dancer to classical to contemporary helps them proceed deeper into understanding and technique.
You advise stretching is important, what is the hardest exercise procedure or most beneficial to you.
JW – I find most transformative my floor bar, also master stretch work. If you observe from the side it looks extreme as if I’m using torture devices on my body. Hardest thing is to STAY concentrated.
Dancing is a form of acting, have you thought about auditioning for a movie or television series.
JW – Hmmm I don’t know. I believe there have been quite a few offers but my first love is ballet, however, if something like that would happen at the right time, I wouldn’t say no. My favourite part of ballet is that you can act finding a different person within yourself. Not actively pursuing acting but keen one day to attempt.
Do you admire any ballet themed films, The Company (2003) Black Swan (2010) The Red Shoes (1948) are my picks.
JW – I know a lot of dancers who performed in The Company, Black Swan; they said it was such a fun experience doing them. Now, I can’t say too much Shane, but I’m preparing some really interesting things involving choreography. I’m excited to see how ballet translate to film my way. I’m keen to see more ballet films in the industry. My view is many people have a mysterious idea about it, I want it to become more popular through movie studios and make ballet more interesting to audiences whom otherwise might not have a chance to experience.
I want to see an epic feature film about you.
JW – funny you should say that. A condensed version of my life is looming called, Joika. I’m happy Thomasin McKenzie is playing me, she’s one of the great actors on board, preparing choreography is an amazing experience. It may take a couple of years to release.
Musicals and dance have resurged as major releases so good luck.
JW – I’m so happy and excited to present what I’ve got in the works. I do have a personal favourite it’s quite cliche, Centre Stage (2000) kind of campy, so much overdone fun. If you want to understand the ballet world a little bit, that is the movie to watch.
Tell me a habit or something nobody knows about you.
JW – this is already known from the documentary; I appreciate time by myself to warm up, entering the company two or three hours early when nobody is around, or I’ll stay way after the shows to reflect, I love my alone time. I always think I’m an extrovert, but actually I’m an introvert (laughs). Reading a book or quiet time away from bustle of the day is extremely important to me Shane.
You’re following your dreams, that is one of the morals to your story, will we see a sequel to this story, further adventures of Joy.
JW – good question I don’t know, I’ll ask Dina (laughs). She is potentially doing a big reality series on life in rural Russia.
There’s a big project I can’t talk about now coming up, also writing a book to coincide with that potentially and set the record straight. I’m getting secondary Russian citizenship, working with their government doing some fun performing events. I’m getting married next week which I never thought would happen! I’m really happy (me; Congratulations by the way) thank you Shane. I would be happy to share more of my life into the future in second film.
Now part of your life will be shown as a documentary, why should people choose to watch it. Inspiration, comes to my mind.
JW – Not just a story of ballet, it is empowerment, the power of resilience, getting back up when knocked down to keep going. There’s integrity to that and value finding strength within yourself. It’s really easy to let go and move on. It peels back another layer of not just ballet world, but an interesting, fascinating Russian ballet world At a level which is a living breathing government funded organism September-July annually covering multiple performances and people involved. Their community basically never stops.
JOY WOMACK; THE WHITE SWAN streaming on digital platforms
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