Isabella Boylston Dishes on JLaw, Sergei Polunin and the Long Process Behind Red Sparrow's Ballet Sequence
Isabella Boylston admits to being both intimidated and impressed by Jennifer Lawrence. Photo by Jayme Thornton
Big Hollywood movies featuring dance are few and far between, so curiosity about the thriller Red Sparrow, opening Friday and starring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-spy, is understandably at a high pitch. The production, which also stars Jeremy Irons, includes not one but four familiar dance names: Sergei Polunin, the enfant terrible of the ballet world, plays Lawrence's ballet partner; Justin Peck choreographed all the dance sequences; Kurt Froman, former New York City Ballet dancer, trained Lawrence; and American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston performs as Lawrence's dance double.
How'd you get involved in Red Sparrow?
Justin Peck, who choreographed the movie, reached out to me. I've never done anything like that. And any chance to work with Justin...
Where did you work out the choreography?
We started in the fall of 2016 in New York. We would send the videos to Sergei Polunin so he could learn the choreography on his own. Meanwhile, Kurt Froman was working with Jennifer Lawrence in L.A., teaching her some ballet basics.
When did you do the filming?
We shot in Budapest in January of 2017. We had a couple of weeks of rehearsal, just me and Sergei with Justin. Francis Lawrence, the director, would film it on his iPhone to figure out what he wanted to do with the camerawork. He really wanted to maek the dance sequences authentic. He would ask me to show how I used the rosin box and what I would do in the wings before going out. Just to make it true.
Was Jennifer Lawrence intimidated to be dancing next to a real ballerina?
Well, I was definitely a little intimidated! [Laughs] I think she really appreciated what we were doing and wanted to learn about it. She would film our rehearsals on her iPhone, just to try to capture the feeling.
What was working with Sergei Polunin like? He has a bit of a bad-boy reputation.
He's actually really nice and more quiet than I expected. I was impressed by what a good partner he was. He was very professional. He would shoot all day with no breaks. I'd be like, "I'm hungry, I need to stop." And he'd say, "Let's just keep going."
Boylston and Polunin at work in Budapest. Photo via Instagram
What did the filming process entail?
We shot really long days. My call time would be like 4 am. Sergei and I would do a few takes of one sequence, and Jennifer would repeat that sequence with Kurt coaching her, just for the head and upper-body stuff.
What were your impressions of Lawrence?
I was impressed by how she was going for it even though it was so out of her comfort zone. It was so interesting to see how when the camera started she could instantly switch on the intensity.
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.