Rediscovering “Splendid Isolation”: A Conversation with Maria Jacobs-Yu

Ballet San Jose Principal dancer Maria Jacobs-Yu in rehearsal for Jessica Lang's 'Splendid Isolation III.' Photo by Chris Hardy.

Ballet San Jose Principal dancer Maria Jacobs-Yu in rehearsal for Jessica Lang's 'Splendid Isolation III.' Photo by Chris Hardy.

Choreographer Jessica Lang, a graduate of The Juilliard School and former member of Twyla Tharp’s company, THARP!, has choreographed over 75 works  for ballet companies across the country. Ballet San Jose will perform  the San Francisco Bay Area premiere of Lang’s Splendid Isolation III during Program Two, the Program of Premieres that will run April 13-15.

Jessica Lang describes her pas de deux, Splendid Isolation III, as a romantic duet set to Mahler’s “Adagietto” from his 5th Symphony. The original inspiration for the creation came from the life of Gustav Mahler and his wife Alma. In their story, Mahler asked Alma to give up her career as a composer before he would marry her, so she could devote herself totally to him and support his career instead. Splendid Isolation III explores the intimacies between a man and a woman and examines the idea of giving up part of who you are for a relationship. The work focuses around the woman enveloped in a large skirt that defines the boundary between the lovers. Through the evolution of the piece, the skirt that once separated the couple becomes the object that binds them together in their splendid isolation from the world.

Based on such a rich, incredible story, it is no wonder that BSJ Principal dancer Maria Jacobs-Yu is thrilled to be dancing the principal role in this piece for BSJ’s upcoming Program of Premieres.

“When I first saw that Splendid Isolation was on the program, I never thought I’d be cast in it,” Maria told me during a rehearsal break a couple of weeks ago. “The role seems to be made for a tall girl, which I’m definitely not! But I was cast, and I am so honored to get to dance in the Bay Area premiere.”

Maria, who went out on maternity leave late last year, has only recently returned to rehearsals at Ballet San Jose. Program Two, which premieres a week from today on Friday, April 13, will mark her first time performing on stage since the birth of her daughter Jetta. Maria says that motherhood has so far been an amazing experience—an experience she definitely sees reflected in the story of Splendid Isolation III.

“The title did strike me,” she said. “Motherhood is an amazing and treasured time. It is both isolating and sublime. I spent months alone with a baby who couldn’t talk! But I loved every minute of it.”

When I asked Maria what she had missed the most, she immediately replied that she missed the camaraderie of being with other people.

She added, “And I missed exercising! I really missed sweating every day and being active.”

So what has Maria done to get back into dancing shape?

“I danced through most of my pregnancy, until about 37 weeks, so I think that helped,” she told me. “And breastfeeding, which burns so many calories! I maintained a certain level of fitness, but strength and coordination are always the last things to come back. At first it was tough just to get through rehearsal.”

You wouldn’t know it from watching Maria dance. I was lucky enough to sit in on a rehearsal with Jessica Lang last month, and I watched Maria and Ramon Moreno, along with two other BSJ Principals, Alexsandra Meijer and Maximo Califano, learn the steps and the story of Splendid Isolation III. I asked Maria about her experience working with Jessica Lang to stage the gorgeous pas de deux.

“It was really a dream to work with Jessica for my first piece back,” Maria said. “She is such a talented choreographer. She took each couple as unique and individual and respected what each of us could bring to the piece. It’s so ideal for a dancer.”

Maria and Ramon will dance in Splendid Isolation III on opening night (Friday, April 13). I think I speak for a number of people at Ballet San Jose when I say I am most looking forward to seeing that voluminous dress under the dramatic stage lights. Maria, of course, is also looking forward to her triumphant return to the stage at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

“I was scared,” Maria admitted, “but Jessica gave me the inspiration to push beyond what I thought I could or couldn’t do.”

Program Two runs April 13-15 and will feature the company premiere of George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s unfinished Piano Concerto No. 3 in E flat, Opus 75…the last piece of music Tchaikovsky ever wrote. Jessica Lang’s Splendid Isolation III is also slated for the program along with Clark Tippet’s Bruch Violin Concerto set to Max Bruch’s Concerto No. 1 in G minor for Violin, Op.26. Rounding out the program is Stanton Welch’s Clear, set to concertos from Johann Sebastian Bach. Buy tickets for this Program of Premieres online at Ballet San Jose’s website, or call the Box Office at (408) 288-2800.

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One thought on “Rediscovering “Splendid Isolation”: A Conversation with Maria Jacobs-Yu

  1. Jim Leonard says:

    Here I set in the Mojave Desert out back. Would love to see all this but that’s the way the it goes.

    Jim Leonard aka Saw Jim

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