Tuesday, 6 October 2009

From Student to Star : Jonathan Hanks

From Student to Star is a series of interviews featuring Graduates as they begin their professional careers, and will be following them regularly.

I am delighted to show another specially commissioned drawing by Sarah, a naturally gifted artist, to introduce this latest interview series. Sarah’s brief was to depict the dancers’ progression from student to professional, and the resulting sketch perfectly represents that transition.

Hanks graduated from The Royal Ballet School this summer and has joined The Estonian National Ballet. His performance as Bottom in The Dream, at The Royal Ballet School Annual Matinee this summer, was the best I've ever seen in that role.  It's not often that you see a male dancer having to manage pointe work, but this is one role where the dancer has to master something quite alien, as Hanks talks about later.  And master it, he did.

What are you most looking forward to about joining the Company ?

After training at The Royal Ballet School for five years, I am now looking forward to meeting a new range of dancers and different ways of training. It is such a great honour for me to be accepting a contract by Thomas Edur at The Estonian National Ballet. I’m very much looking forward to working with him and performing on stage more regularly.

How do you think Company life will differ from your student days ?

Hopefully dancing more professionally. As a student, I think I have prepared myself to be the best dancer I could possibly be and hopefully I have experienced enough to look after myself and be responsible. Also I'll be working for myself now and will not have that self discipline that I always had at school. Sometimes it would be very difficult to push yourself in the morning, especially if you were tired and you felt your muscles couldn't work as well as they should.

Being on tour with the school has helped me a lot to give me a good idea what it's going to be like in the 'real world!'

What are your best achievements as a student ?

The Pamela Self Award. During my time at White Lodge, I was chosen with a few other classmates to perform in front of Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace. It was such a magical moment for me to perform in front of The Royal Family. Also performing on The Royal Opera House stage was like a dream come true, it gave me such a great feeling to dance on a stage so big!

It was such a great opportunity to have worked with Wayne McGregor in 2nd year. He made you work to the limit where you’d feel like you were going to collapse. His work was completely different to classical ballet as you had use your body in a different way to pure classical. It was a very demanding piece physically and mentally. We used to feel so good after a hard day's work with him!

Which professional dancer/s do you most admire and why ?

I remember from a very young age, I watched The Royal Ballet's Cinderella on the BBC at Christmas. The Principals were Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg. I watched it over and over again because I was so inspired by their outstanding dancing, and their partnership was truly breathtaking. They always make things look so easy, which is always the trick in ballet, that you never want to show the audience how hard it really is. I always wished that one day I would be able to be just as good as them and to allow that to happen and I promised myself to work 100% everyday and work to the limit.

Since being at Upper School I have been very fortunate to watch most of their performances. The first time I saw The Royal Ballet live on stage was The Sleeping Beauty. I watched every single performance as the students would be allowed to watch for free backstage. I would never get bored of watching it as I was so drawn to the Company. I was even lucky enough to get the opportunity to perform with them in my Graduate year including; The Firebird, Giselle, Isadora, La Bayadere, Manon, The Nutcracker, Ondine and Swan Lake. This gave me a very good start exploring company life.

What do you think you will bring to the Company ?

I would like to think that I’ve always been a very hard worker and I’ve always been up for a good challenge in my dancing, so I hope that one day I will be able to fulfil my dreams at The Estonian National Ballet. Hopefully I'll be able to learn some good roles that I deserve from my hard work in these past years. Hopefully I'll make just as amazing friends as I did at school!

How do you imagine your first day going ?

I received an email from The Estonian Ballet informing me that I start on the 5th August. I'd imagine the first day to be not too stressful and very relaxing as it will give me the chance to get to know the company and the staff.

I'll be very nervous for the first class and it will be very strange dancing in a completely different county, new studios and new teachers. I don't know what to expect from the dancers, but I’m sure they will all be very talented. I hope I make a good impression of myself as a dancer after coming back from a very relaxing summer holiday! I imagine the company to be of a very high standard.

Which role would you most like to dance ?

I would never turn down the role of Bottom in Ashton's The Dream. I think this role suited my personality very much and I could express myself naturally. I enjoyed it very much and the response I received from the audience was just incredible. It's technically a very demanding role to do as you wouldn't often see a male dancing on pointe (except for the Trocks!) It was such a fantastic experience for me and it's definately a role I will never forget.

What would you say to those students entering their Graduate year now ?

Keep your chin up and never give up! You will get days where you are not happy and having a bad day but stay focussed and keep doing what you are good at. Most importantly, enjoy your final year at school with your friends and make them memorable for the future.

Where would you like to be this time next year ?

It depends on how things are going at Estonian Ballet and whether they extend my contract. I think it is important to give it time even if my first impression of the company isn’t what I expected. I think it would be good if I had at least a couple of years work here. I would definately try to make the most of it even if I was thinking of not staying here for another year. I hope to be happy within The Estonian National Ballet.

Jonathan was reacently featured on Estonian TV - scroll down for the excellent video footage.


  1. Thanks for coming to my blog, Elise.. What a wonderful career you have. I can tell that you love it. It's so interesting.

    Thanks again for visiting --and come back anytime.

  2. fantastic interview! congratulations, hanks, on your graduation....i wish you all the best! and sarah, your drawing is magnificent! :))

  3. Elise,
    This was a wonderful interview and photographs that really show this young man's talent. I loved the link to Sarah, and her paintings are lovely.

  4. Great interview! I wish I could do ballet :(

  5. thanks for visiting me at "things i love.
    i will be posting updates on abbey as a garden fairy in the nashville nutcracker.
    happy autumn.

  6. I just came across your blog and have to say this chap is incredible and Sarah's Sketches are just perfect. Lovely to meet you. Catherine x

  7. Thank you for visiting, Elise. From Student to Star, quite the honor ... (certainly not me back in my old dancin' days :)!

  8. Love your blog! Thanks for visiting me!


    Have a FANTASTIC day!

  9. Saw your comment on The Shades of Pink Wifey Wednesday post and hopped(not literally LOL!) on over for a visit. The flexibility of ballet dancers amazes me.

    Have a wonderful day.

  10. Thankyou for visiting my journaling blog - and I am delighted to find yours. It takes me back over 50 years to my time as a student of theatre at the Royal Academy of Music, meeting my husband-to-be who played on tour with the Carl Rosa, and his best man who was principal clarinet at Covent Garden until he retired just recently. Small world!

  11. I just tried to post a reply to your kind comment on my blog - but something went haywire, so you may not receive it.

  12. Elise, How fun that you visited my blog! I am not sure how you came upon me, but it was a joy taking a peek into your writing and interviews. You are a journalist, and my daughter is in college right now for journalism, so that touched my heart a bit! :0)
    It is wonderful that you enjoy what your skill of writing and have a passion for the subject matter! Very fun!

  13. Hi there-that's a great interview my dear and the sketch is just wonderful! Have a great weekend!

  14. Wonderful interview. Very unique blog.

    Thanks so much for the sweet comment. I enjoy your blog very much. All the best on your writing and adventures in ballet.

  15. Fabulous post ~ love the pics and interviews, especially the advice at the end about keeping your chin up and never giving up!


  16. Elise-
    I want to do an interview with you, you always have such inspiring posts for dancers. It is so important to keep your chin up, regardless of whatever your professions is!
    Wonderful and admirable young man!

  17. Thank you for stopping by my blog, I hope you'll be back again soon!

  18. Wonderful drawing and the interview. Chin up advice is lovely.

    I like how the professional dancer is at the fore in the picture, great simple execution.

  19. You open the world of dancers to us!

    Aloha, Friend!

    Comfort Spiral

  20. Oh I wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog and commenting and I'm so glad you did because now I've discovered your blog! I absolutely love Ballet! I attempted to take classes when I was younger but I never had the grace of a dancer haha.
    I really like your blog! I think it's amazing!

  21. Your interview gives great insight into the life of a dancer. The sketches are lovely.

  22. great interview, and wow such a talented young individual he is. the photographs are beautiful. already makes me want to see him perform!

  23. Thanks for commenting on my blog,

    I love your blog,
    I used to do ballet, I did it for about 9 years.
    I'm glad I came across your blog,
    get me back into the ballet spirit!

    love annie, xx

  24. Betsy - thank you & welcome

    lori vliegen - thanks for your comments. I'm sure Jonathan and Sarah will appreciate your kind words !

    KarenHarveyCox - thank you for your kind words. I admire all the dancers I've interviewed who have accepted contracts abroad; it's certainly no easy task to leave your friends and family behind and concentrate on a whole new life.

    Becca Joy - thank you. You could do adult classes ?! Everyone can do ballet to some extent - it doesn't always have to be a vocation...

    marmee - thank you

    Bumpkin Bears - lovely to meet you too Catherine. Thank you for your encouraging words to Jonathan and to Sarah

    joey - Well, I have no doubt that all the students I've interviewed so far will become stars - that's why I asked them ! Thank you for your comment & welcome

    Diana - thankyou very much

    Fruitful Vine2 - welcome and thank you for your comment.

    Wild Somerset Child - what a lovely story. Glad you are enjoying your visits here - it is indeed a small world ! As you can see, I have received your post so maybe there was a glitch in the system at some point ?!

    Patti G - welcome and thank you !

    Sharon Rose - thank you - you too !

    e.l. - thank you for your kind words - delighted you are enjoying my writing - and welcome !

    Couture Carrie - thank you - great to have an expert here too !

    pve design - thank you for such a lovely comment. And thank you also for your encouraging words to Jonathan

    Willoughby - thank you

    Make Do Style - thank you very much

    Cloudia - Aloha, and thank you ! Good to hear you are enjoying it

    Meg M - thankyou so much and welcome ! So few people make it to the top vocationally, but there are loads of advantages in taking classes, just for fun.

    Basyon - thankyou very much & welcome

    A Spponful of Sugar - thank you - that is always the aim !

    AudreyAllure - thank you - I hope you do see Jonathan dancing - he is exceptional !

    annie - 9 years ! WOW ! I wonder why you stopped ? Good to hear that you are enjoying reading my posts here and welcome


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