Former NYCB Soloist Savannah Lowery Proves You Really Can Have it All
Savannah Lowery in George Balanchine's "Rubies." Photo by Paul Kolnik
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
Now after 17 years with NYCB, returning to the familiar halls of a hospital just feels right.
On June 3, Lowery graced the Lincoln Center stage one last time with her strength and fluidity in George Balanchine's Agon. Her next chapter will take her to Los Angeles, where she's enrolled in a pre-medical post-baccalaureate program at Loyola Marymount University. After she completes the year-long program she'll take the MCAT and apply to medical school to follow in her parents' footsteps.
Although she had settled on the decision to retire last summer, it didn't make her final bow any less bittersweet. "I'll dance again, but never like that, and that was weird and almost incomprehensible," she says. "This ballet career is so crazy. Those people, you really rely on them, and so to leave that was scary and sad."
She officially announced her retirement in February, which came as a shock to many of her colleagues. "Some people think it's too soon. Some people asked if I wanted to wait and see with all that's happening at City Ballet right now," she says. "I made the decision before all the drama and that was just a weird coincidence that happened at the same time."
Despite her colleagues' skepticism, Lowery knew if she was going to make the leap into medicine, it was now or never. "It got to the point where I was like, 'Well if I'm going to do it, I need to do it now,' and all of a sudden it felt right," she says.
On Monday, Lowery starts her classes at Loyola Marymount, and she's been road-tripping across the country in a rented RV to get there. Lowery knows that medical school will be rigorous, but she's never let uncharted territory intimidate her before. "It's a long road ahead of me for medical school but it was a long road when I left home to go to SAB," she says. "It feels very similar to that 14-year-old move I did way back when."
While some medical school students may have spent the last few years studying biology or shadowing doctors, navigating the difficulties of a professional ballet career gave her experience that is just as valuable.
"Ballet life is hard. You have to find ways to stay positive," she says. "You have to keep yourself going, and I think I'm going to need that a lot in medical school. I think those skills are going to help me when I want to cry and crumble and can't stand the pressure of studying."
On Whether She'll Keep Dancing
Of course, everyone wants to know if we'll ever see her onstage again, and while she can't promise she'll be headlining any ballets, she's certain that dance will still be a part of her life somehow. "I think it'll happen naturally," she says. "I love dancing. Class has always been probably one of my favorite parts of that job. I know, in some capacity, I will do that. I just don't know what it's going to look like yet."
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.