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Lauren Lovette Isn't Afraid To Send Shock Waves Through The Ballet World
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
She laughs—a frequent sound when spending two minutes or two hours with Lovette. The epitome of sparkling youth, both in person and onstage, she isn't someone that the mind naturally lands on when considering old souls.
But the thoughtful, introspective dancer, who also loves to draw and cook, is banking that with age comes some clarity. At the moment, she's learning how to say no. "I never really had to do that before," she says, "because I didn't have this much on my plate."
Lovette is learning when to say "no." Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB
Along with her dancing life, Lovette has briskly forged a choreographic career: In the course of a little more than a year, she has created two works for NYCB—most recently, Not Our Fate—as well as the delightful program closer Le Jeune, for the ABT Studio Company. Part of the group's current tour, it will be shown at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in April.
"She has a quickness, a brightness to her work and a fleetingness to her steps," says Kate Lydon, the Studio Company's artistic director. And if members of the group, as many do, eventually join American Ballet Theatre, where Alexei Ratmansky is artist in residence, they need speed.
"He is fast," she continues. "I thought that her sensibility would match well with the development of the dancers."
But it was Not Our Fate that placed Lovette at the forefront of the recent debate about same-sex duets that was instigated by a Facebook post by Ratmansky. It featured a Photoshopped image of a woman lifting a man; Ratmansky's entry starts with: "sorry, there is no such thing as equality in ballet."
Not Our Fate features a romantic pas de deux for Preston Chamblee and Taylor Stanley, and on opening night the sight of them dancing together sent a shock wave—the good kind—throughout the David H. Koch Theater.
"I was immediately touched by her vision for the piece," Stanley says. "It was how I've grown up and struggled with my sexuality, and how I've come to accept myself in the end. She said I was this person who was constantly in search of love or someone to give me comfort and make me happy, but that there is rejection each time. So there's this push and pull of 'Do I continue to go for this, or do I retreat and not fully be who I want to be?' I was like, 'Oh, just what I was writing in my journal this morning!' " he says.
But this wasn't Lovette's first attempt at same-sex partnering. Last summer at the Vail Dance Festival, she choreographed a romantic pas de deux for Patricia Delgado and herself featuring spoken word by the genderqueer poet Andrea Gibson. "I feel like we fell in love with each other onstage," Lovette says. "I loved that show."
And she's proud to be a part of the gender conversation. "A lot of times, we talk about things but we don't actually do them," Lovette says. "We'll post on social media, but when you actually make art that represents what you're trying to say, you're a part of the action."
And for Lovette, being part of the action doesn't stop offstage. As a Puma ambassador, she is developing a variety of educational outreach programs. "It's not just about having a dancer come in and teach a class and be like, 'I'm inspiring!' and then leave," she says. "It's putting in a new floor, a new barre. Kids don't have good floors."
She's also passionate about the Black Lives Matter movement; Not Our Fate includes a moment with the African-American dancer Christopher Grant that references racial injustice. "It's not our fate," she explains, "to hate all these people that are different than us."
Preston Chamblee and Taylor Stanley in Lovette's Not Our Fate. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy NYCB
Lovette is trying to figure out, as she puts it, "how to weave the basket of my life." In the future, she hopes to collaborate with more artists outside of the ballet world, like Jon Boogz, the movement artist who created the "Color of Reality" short film with visual artist Alexa Meade and jooker Lil Buck, who is one of Lovette's close friends. Jon Batiste, the jazz musician and bandleader of "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," has also expressed interest in working with her.
"I can't do everything, so I'm trying to figure out what causes mean the most to me," Lovette explains. "What do I really want to say?"
Lovette's nimble choreography, like her dancing, is lushly emotional yet not mannered. Indiana Woodward, the NYCB soloist featured in Lovette's 2016 ballet For Clara, says, "The steps flow out of her like a giant waterfall of choreography."
Lauren Lovette choreographing in the studio. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy NYCB
For Lovette, it's a form of expression, which is what drew her to dance in the first place. "It was the way that I could say everything that I wanted to say without really saying it," she explains. "I have a greater platform to do that through choreography. It's kind of like inflection: If you're relating words with dance, dance would be how you say the word, but the choreography is the actual sentence. Now, I get to actually form the sentence."
And that, for anyone in ballet, but particularly for a woman, is empowering. Yet as one of the few female choreographers working in ballet, she feels some pressure. "How can you not?" she asks. However, she can't wait until it's not a question. "I can't wait until it's normal."
She recognizes that being a woman was what helped her get the opportunity to choreograph in the first place. "I'm going to take it as a positive thing," she says. "Maybe I got my first chance because they needed a female choreographer. Who cares? I'm really happy that it happened."
Lovette wasn't randomly chosen, however; she had already shown promise at the School of American Ballet when she took part in its Student Choreography Workshop. Then, as now, she was able to draw out her dancers' best qualities. Woodward, a close friend, believes that Lovette's sensitive nature is what allows her to read different energies in the room.
"I feel strongly about uncovering how people want to dance," Lovette says. "They show you all the time—you just have to be observant. Taylor Stanley can do anything, but just because somebody can do everything doesn't mean that's what they want to do."
In the coming year, Lovette knows what she wants to do: address personal issues in her choreography. She has struggled with growing up in a poor and sheltered religious environment where she had daily Bible study sessions (she is no longer religious); with anxiety as a dancer; and, last year, with an assault outside of NYCB.
"I want to let out a lot of things that have happened in my life that aren't necessarily sparkly," she says. "I don't want to hide the struggle."
She hopes to pour those emotions into choreography by creating a work about the assault featuring Barton Cowperthwaite, her dancer-actor boyfriend. They met at an audition for Christopher Wheeldon's musical An American in Paris; she was offered the role of Lise, but turned it down to focus on choreography.
As she becomes more established in that realm, do company members treat her differently? "People are a lot nicer to me now, but maybe it's because I'm also being more open," she says. "I've always been very introverted—I'm not usually the one who goes to parties. I think maybe they're getting to know me more because I'm speaking out."
She wavers for a moment and looks up with a wry expression. "But, yeah. People laugh at my jokes when they're not funny."
Photo by Jayme Thornton
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.