On the Rise: Lauren King
“Slow and steady wins the race,” wrote Aesop in his fable about a hare and a tortoise. Lauren King, a striking member of the New York City Ballet corps since 2004, has a quality onstage that is simultaneously understated and powerful. Her delightfully stretched line, well-rounded technique, strawberry-blonde beauty, versatility, and charming stage presence make her a special treat in whatever she is dancing: the airy Dawn divertissement in Coppélia, the turning variation in Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina, or the fleet second theme from The Four Temperaments, where her partner spins her like a bass fiddle. But hers has not been a stratospheric rise. Slowly and steadily through hard work she has earned well-deserved soloist roles.
“When she first came into the company, she was very pretty, petite, with a good body and nice line,” says Rosemary Dunleavy, long-time ballet mistress with NYCB. “Then suddenly she’d catch my eye. She’s dedicated, she concentrates completely in rehearsal, and she’s quick to pick things up.”
Born in Massapequa Park, New York, King gave up playing soccer for ballet when she was 10. She began her dance studies at the American Theater Dance Workshop, the school of the Eglevsky Ballet, where she was exposed to a wide range of training—Russian, Balanchine and theater dance. Lynn Glauber-Mandel, now co-chair of the ballet department at The Ailey School, taught King as a child at American Theater Dance. “As soon as I saw her, I knew she had something special,” says Glauber-Mandel. “She has a warm, embracing quality onstage.”
After her third summer on scholarship at SAB, she was asked to stay for the winter session. For the SAB workshop, she danced the waltz girl in Fokine’s Chopiniana with meticulous flair. As for professional aspirations, NYCB was always her top choice. “I love the repertory, I love the busy schedule—the intense rehearsals and performing. And I love the city,” says King. The company’s style, she feels, suits her. “It’s very perfection-oriented,” she says. “Having something so definite makes it easier to work towards.”
Dancing in the corps wasn’t a problem for her. “I like the group energy and the awareness of dancing around others,” says King, now 25. What was challenging was realizing that a corps job has its flip side. “Everyone brings something different. But the company needs to get the show onstage. In the beginning, it’s often hard to grasp that even though you are replaceable, you are needed.”
One of King’s most appealing qualities is her ability to retain her alluring femininity while infusing movement with energy. Call it the strength of lyricism. Recent roles—a seductive demi-soloist in Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet, one of the mysterious women waltzing vertiginously in La Valse, or Riff’s streetwise girlfriend in Robbins’ West Side Story Suite—demonstrate her surprising range.
“She has a chameleon-like effect where she can adapt to different kinds of roles and dancing,” says Dunleavy. “She can be lyrical but also bring strength and power to contemporary ballets that don’t have a story line.”
All dancers have roles they fantasize about, and King is no exception. She would love one day to perform the ballerina role in Scotch Symphony. Both the lush quality of the Balanchine choreography and its ephemeral feel appeal to her. She would also like a shot at working with the choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, who has created works with a very dramatic tone such as Oltremare for NYCB.
Ultimately it all comes back to her work ethic. King is known for always being prepared, going beyond merely absorbing corrections to making the movement her own. Even with the recent downsizing at NYCB when 11 corps members were let go, King has maintained her focus and composure. “Dancing requires a certain attitude,” she says. “You have to reconcile the business aspect of it with the personal aspect.”
For the future, she’s on the right track. “If she keeps applying herself and getting stronger,”â€ˆsays Dunleavy, “and listening to Peter Martins and watching the dancers she admires, there is no telling what she can do. She has the talent.”
Joseph Carman is a
Dance Magazine senior advising editor.
Photo of Lauren King in
Sleeping Beauty by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB