On the Rise: Sarah Lane

July 31, 2007
Sarah Lane could be the smallest girl American Ballet Theatre has ever hired into the corps. Yet neither height nor technique are the first thing you notice about this vibrant 20-year-old. Instead your eye goes to her open upper body, breathtaking line, and strong, solid center. Even in corps roles—like the peasants in
Swan Lake
or the wilis in Giselle—her intensity, stage presence, full ports de bras, and uplift make her stand out.
Lane leapt from the corps to featured roles during ABT’s City Center season last fall when she danced Anne Boleyn in Christopher Wheeldon’s
. Critics took notice, and with the company’s spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House pending, a breakthrough might be just around the corner. “To judge from her Anne Boleyn, Lane is a real talent,” wrote critic Robert Gottlieb in the New York Observer. “Lane’s Boleyn works both as a performance in itself and as a reflection of the Anne Boleyn we think we know.”
Lane’s love of dance began early, taking classes with Pat Gillespie at the Memphis Classical Ballet. Then her father, a motorcycle racer and sound engineer, moved the family to Rochester, New York. There, Lane, who was home-schooled, enrolled in the Draper Center for Dance Education where she studied with the late Timothy Draper, winner of the Dance Magazine Outstanding Teacher Award at the Youth American Grand Prix competition in 2002. Draper pushed Lane to refine her technique and urged her to compete.
In 2000 Lane won the Capezio Class Excellence Award at the North American Ballet Festival, then won it again the following year. In 2002 she went on to win the silver medal in the Junior Division at the Jackson International Ballet Competition and the bronze medal at the YAGP (see “Turning a Nightmare Into a Dream,” DM, October 2002).
That same year, Lane, who says she is 5’2”, auditioned for ABT’s Studio Company. “When I was little I never imagined myself dancing at ABT. I never thought I would get in,” she says. “I auditioned for the heck of it.” In fact Lane planned to join another company earlier that year, but the contract fell through. The timing for the Studio Company audition was perfect.
Within two years, Lane entered ABT’s corps de ballet, and quickly caught the eye of visiting choreographers. “Sarah has within her the ability to transform herself, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the making of a really great artist,” says Wheeldon, who first spotted Lane in a performance of
La Bayadère
as one of the 32 Shades in Act II. “She wasn’t the first one out of the wing. I picked her out because of the purity of her line and the way she was investing herself in the part.”
In rehearsal with Wheeldon, ABT ballet mistress Susan Jones noted how Lane absorbed all of Wheeldon’s corrections and information about the character of Anne. “Sarah is a very intense young lady,” she says. “She has to really hash through the learning process in order to get a new role in her body. But once she does, she’s amazing. She just goes from the first stage to mega-100.”
As Anne Boleyn, Lane had the opportunity to combine technique with acting ability, something ABT’s repertoire frequently demands. “I can’t go out there and just bash through the steps,” she says. Unlike some dancers, the stage feels like home to Lane. “I am standing totally vulnerable in front of the audience and I can’t hide anything,” she says. “Yet afterwards I feel absolutely content and liberated, like this is why I am doing what I’m doing.” When she has a night off from performing, she says it’s the opposite. “I go home thinking ‘What did I do today?’—I feel trapped.”
Jirí Kylián is high on the list of choreographers Lane dreams of working with. “I danced his ballet
Return to a Strange Land
in the Studio Company,” says Lane. “His is very intense and in-depth choreography.” Lane also dreams of dancing Juliet. “I love dramatic roles,” she says.
The littlest details tell a lot about Lane. In company class her makeup is just right, and her hair is slicked back in a bun, with not a strand out of place. Her black tights are not hidden by legwarmers or shorts. She dances center exercises with almost every group, striving to make each turn and extension just a little bit smoother, cleaner.
Wheeldon says, “A really great artist finds a way to interpret a situation or emotion even if they have not experienced it themselves and are not able to draw on their life experience.” That could be Lane. If her commitment is channeled in the right way, she is more than capable of taking the audience to Verona. Until then they can relish watching her settle into ABT and evolve step by bold step towards a tantalizing future.

Kate Lydon danced with San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. She is now an editor for
Dance Magazine.