Precious Adams on balancing ballet and computer science: ‘you don’t want to be 45 with zero credentials’

PRecious Adams likens being a dancer to having fiber optic cables running through her body. “Our connection to body and mind is on another level,” she says. “Even after all these years, you’ll suddenly become aware of some new muscle and fire it up, like I didn’t know I could engage my deep rotators so intensely!” A few years ago, a trainer told Adams to think about pressing her big toe nail down to the floor for stability, “And suddenly it gave me the most control over my whole body; the magical answer. Was I completely unaware of my big toe the whole time?! “

Adams, originally from Detroit, first danced around the living room to a Vengaboys CD, but went on to train in Canada, Monaco and Moscow before joining English National Ballet in 2014. She has regularly been singled out by critics, whether for her Russian-schooled lyricism, charismatic American zing or getting under the skin of contemporary choreography, and she’s about to appear in a triple bill including Mats Ek’s new Rite of Spring and a William Forsythe piece set to James Blake’s electronic music.

Precious Adams.
“My career is in the studio every day” … Precious Adams. Photo: Karolina Kuras

Recently promoted to soloist, Adam’s rise at ENB has been steady rather than a sprint, but she’s happy about it. “I can’t let casting be what defines my happiness and satisfaction, because you know, I still haven’t been cast as Odette/Odile [in Swan Lake] — it’s the same kind of unhealthy attachment to getting your satisfaction from Instagram.” Now 27, “I feel like the healthiest, strongest dancer I’ve been in my career,” she says. “I’ve never been happier just taking a class and there’s something really liberating about it.” She sees the years between 25 and 35 as a female dancer’s prime, in technique, artistry and emotional maturity. “And there’s something beautiful about just enjoying it and not worrying about things that aren’t in my hands.”

One of the things that Adams hasn’t had is that ENB is losing its director, Tamara Rojo, an inspiring dancer herself, who has transformed the company. Rojo leaves for the San Francisco Ballet at the end of the month, and her successor, Aaron Watkin, doesn’t officially start until August 2023. Some of the dancers have panicked about being in limbo. “You know, ‘Who’s going to see the work we’re doing?’ Who’s going to hand out promotions?’” says Adams. “I’m like my career is in the studio every day. It’s not determined by the promotion I’ve had that year.”

Precious Adams and Aaron Robison in Approximate Sonata 2016 by William Forsythe.
Precious Adams and Aaron Robison in Approximate Sonata 2016 by William Forsythe. Photo: Laurent Liotardo

While Adams is as passionate about ballet as she’s ever been, perhaps her sense of perspective comes from the fact that she’s also looking beyond her ballet career and just finished the first year of a computer science degree (she might be the ballerina whose next job is actually in cyber). How does she manage her schedule? “You just fit it in when you can,” she says, in a “no big deal” way. She does it part-time, mostly remotely, and there are other dancers in the company who also study. “You don’t want to wake up at 45 with zero credentials.”

The university has provided a nice contrast to her dance job. “I get a lot of relief and joy when I come into the studio after studying,” she says. “And I find that my brain is a little quicker at picking up choreography, more cue.” The last few years have changed. “You become a ballet dancer and it’s your whole life, to an almost unhealthy perspective,” she says, “and the pandemic was a big wake-up call for me. I thought I might never be on stage again.”

Precious Adams as Sister Clemence in Tamara Rojo's Raymonda by English National Ballet.
Precious Adams as Sister Clemence in Tamara Rojo’s Raymonda by English National Ballet. Photo: Johan Persson

Adams credits the time spent training in lockdown with giving her technique more clarity — “I think of my body as this geometric puzzle; the physics of dance makes a lot more sense to me now” — and says the pandemic humanized the world of ballet. “It blew the lid of all the facades that ballet had around glamor and glitz.” Rojo taught daily ballet classes online from her kitchen. “Seeing the inside of your boss’s home, it just humbled everyone, made everyone more down to earth. In art, there is a lot of creative energy, a lot of ego, and a lot of that has been wiped out, says Adams. “There’s a lot more awareness around being sensitive to people’s well-being. The diva thing — nobody really accepts that anymore.”

When we speak, Adams is fresh out of the studio with Mats Ek. This isn’t the first rite of spring Adams has danced: she was cast as the Chosen One in Pina Bausch’s thrilling version and calls the dance to Stravinsky’s totemic score “powerful,” “moving” and “frightening.” But Ek’s interpretation of ritual sacrifice is not the Wicker Man scenes of some rites, but the story of an arranged marriage. Adams plays the mother of the bride, a complex role. “There are a lot of internal conflicts,” she says. “She has to sacrifice her daughter, but she’s in her own arranged marriage so that was her plight as well.” The process of creating a new role with a choreographer is the most rewarding thing for a dancer to do, says Adams. “You can bring your whole self into the room,” she says, which for Adams means fiber optic body, computer brain and magical big toes.

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