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
I have a commitment, a romance, a love affair with dance, with the feeling that happens when the music and the steps so perfectly align and I can't help but get chills. That feeling when my partner and I are dancing as one, when everyone onstage feels the same heartbeat, when it's just me alone in my bedroom.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
You can see them in "Fosse/Verdon" episode one. Michelle Williams, playing Gwen Verdon, wears them with a cool, retro, forest-green jumpsuit. Tucked beneath a mop top of tousled Gwen Verdon locks, Williams sports a pair of discreet and tasteful onyx drop-earrings—the dancer's favorites. Verdon wore them all her adult life, according to her daughter Nicole Fosse, a co-executive producer of the FX series that puts a spotlight on a great woman of American dance.
"I have very little memory of my mother wearing other earrings. They were her Gwen Verdon earrings," says Fosse, speaking by phone from her home in Vermont. "She's wearing them in 99 percent of the pictures of her performing."
Four years of lectures, exams and classes can feel like a lifetime for college dancers who have their sights set on performing. So when a professional opportunity comes knocking, it can be tempting to step away from your academics. But there are a few things to consider before putting your education on hold.
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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We've all been there: You see the craziest/most beautiful/oddest/wildest clip of a dance on Facebook and you simply have to see more.
But do you actually get yourself to the theater and sit through a 90-minute performance? The consensus, at this point, typically seems to be: No.
There is no clear correlation between a company's social media campaigns and how many seats they fill in the theater. That doesn't mean social media isn't, of course, vital. It simply means that "social media campaigns operating without other marketing campaigns don't cut it," says Rob Bailis, associate director of Cal Performances at UC Berkeley. "But campaigns without social media are far worse off."
Since the project was first announced toward the end of 2017, we've been extremely curious about Yuli. The film, based on Carlos Acosta's memoir No Way Home, promised as much dancing as biography, with Acosta appearing as himself and dance sequences featuring his eponymous Cuba-based company Acosta Danza. Add in filmmaking power couple Icíar Bollaín (director) and Paul Laverty (screenwriter), and you have a recipe for a dance film unlike anything else we've seen recently.
One of the country's top arbitrators has decided to reinstate Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro to New York City Ballet. The former principals were fired last fall for "inappropriate communications," namely graphic text messages.
The dancers' union, American Guild of Musical Artists, fought the termination, arguing that the firings were unjust since they related entirely to non-work activity. After a careful review of the facts, an independent arbitrator determined that while the company was justified in disciplining the two men, suspension was the appropriate action and termination took it too far.
A woman passes three men in the street. The men pursue her. They thrust their pelvises at her. They continue to pursue her after she slaps one's hand and walks away. They surround her. She glances around at them in alarm. One snatches her purse (to review the Freudian significance of purses, click here) and saunters off with it, mocking her. She tries to take the purse back, and the three men toss it over her head among each other. They make her dance with them. Each time she indicates "No," the men try harder to force her submission to their advances.
This is all within the first 10 minutes of Jerome Robbins's Fancy Free, a 1944 ballet about three sailors frolicking on shore leave during World War II, beloved by many and still regularly performed (especially during the last year, since 2018 was the centennial celebration of Robbins's birth). Critic Edwin Denby, after the premiere with Ballet Theatre, called it "a remarkable comedy piece" and "a direct, manly piece."
When you're bouncing between hotel rooms without access to a kitchen, eating a pescatarian diet can be challenging. Stephanie Mincone, who most recently traveled the globe with Taylor Swift's Reputation Stadium Tour, told Dance Magazine how she does it—while fueling herself with enough energy to perform for thousands of Taylor fans.
Choosing music for your first-ever choreography commission can feel daunting enough. But when you're asked to create a ballet using the vast discography of the Rolling Stones—and you happen to be dating Stones frontman Mick Jagger—the stakes are even higher.
So it's understandable that as of Monday, American Ballet Theatre corps de ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whose Port Rouge will have its U.S. premiere tonight at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, was still torn about which songs to include.
What is an acceptable request from a choreographer in terms of nudity? On the first day of shooting All That Jazz in the 1970s, Bob Fosse asked us men to remove everything but our jock straps and the women to remove their tops. His rationale was to shock us in order to build character, and it felt disloyal to refuse. Would this behavior be considered okay today?
As much as audiences might flock to Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, ballet can't only rely on old war horses if it wants to remain relevant. But building new full-lengths from scratch isn't exactly cheap.
So where can companies find the money?
The entrancing power of Instagram can't be denied. I've lost hours of my life scrolling the platform looking at other people documenting theirs. What starts as a "quick" fill-the-moment check-in can easily lead to a good 10-15 minute session, especially if I enter the nebulous realm of "suggested videos."
My algorithm usually shows me professional ballet dancers in performances, rehearsals, class, backstage and on tour, which I quite enjoy. But there are the other dance feeds that I find myself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by: the hyper-elastic, hyper-extended, gumby-footed girls always at the barre doing developpés to six o'clock. There are the multiple turners, the avid stretchers and we can't forget the endless balancers.
This parade of tricksters always makes me wonder, What else can they do? Can they actually dance?
When American Ballet Theatre announced yesterday that it would be adding Jane Eyre to its stable of narrative full-lengths, the English nerds in the DM offices (read: most of us) got pretty excited. Cathy Marston's adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic novel was created for England's Northern Ballet in 2016, and, based on the clips that have made their way online, it seems like a perfect fit for ABT's Met Opera season.
It also got us thinking about what other classic novels we'd love to see adapted into ballets—but then we realized just how many there already are. From Russian epics to beloved children's books, here are 10 of our favorites that have already made the leap from page to stage. (Special shoutout to Northern Ballet, the undisputed MVP of turning literature into live performance.)
The pleasure of watching prodigies perform technical feats on Instagram can be tinged with a sense of trepidation. Impressive tricks, you think, but do they have what it takes for an actual career?
Just look at 18-year-old Maria Khoreva, who has more followers than most seasoned principals; in videos, her lines and attention to detail suggested a precocious talent, and led to a Nike ambassador contract before she even graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy. Still, when she joined the Mariinsky Ballet last summer, there was no guarantee any of it would translate to stage prowess.
Today—April 16, 2019—marks what would have been Merce Cunningham's 100th birthday. As dancers from Los Angeles to New York City to London gear up for Night of 100 Solos (the marathon performance event being livestreamed today), and as companies and presenters worldwide continue to celebrate the Cunningham Centennial through their programming, we searched through the Dance Magazine Archives to unearth our favorite images of the groundbreaking dancemaker.
A bright disposition with a dab of astringent charm is how I remember Brock Hayhoe, a National Ballet School of Canada schoolmate. Because we were a couple years apart, we barely brushed shoulders, except at the odd Toronto dance party where we could dance all night with mutual friends letting our inhibitions subside through the music. Dancing always allows a deeper look.
But, as my late great ballet teacher Pyotr Pestov told me when I interviewed him for Dance Magazine in 2009, "You never know what a flower is going to look like until it opens up."
One night. Three cities. Seventy-five dancers. And three unique sets of 100 solos, all choreographed by Merce Cunningham.
This incredible evening of dance will honor Cunningham's 100th birthday on April 16. The Merce Cunningham Trust has teamed up with The Barbican in London, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City and the Center for the Art of Performance in Los Angeles for a tri-city celebration.
The best part? You don't have to be in those cities to watch—Night of 100 Solos is being live-streamed in its entirety for free.
When George Balanchine's full-length Don Quixote premiered in 1965, critics and audiences alike viewed the ballet as a failure. Elaborate scenery and costumes framed mawkish mime passages, like one in which the ballerina washed the Don's feet and dried them with her hair. Its revival in 2005 by Suzanne Farrell, the ballerina on whom it was made and to whom Balanchine left the work, did little to alter its reputation.
Yet at New York City Center's Balanchine festival last fall, some regretted its absence.
"I'd want to see Balanchine's Don Quixote," says Apollinaire Scherr, dance critic for the Financial Times. "It was a labor of love on his part, and a love letter as well. And you want to know what that looks like in his work."
Even great choreographers make mistakes. Sometimes they fail on a grand scale, like Don Quixote; other times it may be a minor misstep. Experiment and risk help choreographers grow, but what happens when a choreographer of stature misfires? Should the work remain in the repertory? And what about a work that fails on some levels but not others?
After the horrific March 15 terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques, the music and arts community sprang into action to plan a way to help victims and their families. A series of resulting concerts, titled "You Are Us/Aroha Nui," will take place in New Zealand (April 13 and 17), Jersey City, New Jersey (April 17) and Los Angeles (April 18). Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Our People, Our City Fund, which was established by the Christchurch Foundation to aid those affected by the attacks.
Throughout 2019, the Merce Cunningham Trust continues a global celebration that will be one of the largest tributes to a dance artist ever. Under the umbrella of the Merce Cunningham Centennial are classes and workshops, film screenings and festivals, art exhibitions and symposia, and revivals and premieres of original works inspired by the dancemaker's ideas. The fever peaks on April 16, which would have been the pioneering choreographer's 100th birthday, with Night of 100 Solos: A Centennial Event, featuring a total of 75 dancers in three performances live-streamed from London, Los Angeles and New York City.