Your Career: A Winning Way

October 31, 2014

Choreography competitions gave Gabrielle Lamb’s career a jump start.



Lamb creating a work at the 2014 National Choreographers Initiative. Photo by Ty Parmenter, Courtesy Lamb.


“I walked in terrified,” recalls Gabrielle Lamb of her first day as a professional choreographer. She had recently won Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s 2009 National Choreographic Competition and her prize was the opportunity to create a new work on its second company.


Though she had experience choreographing on her colleagues while dancing with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, the Hubbard Street competition catapulted her into the big leagues. “It’s ironic because as a dancer, I never entered a competition and would have been miserable in one,” she says, laughing. “I did this because I needed to feel like I tried something. I did not think that I would win.”


Lamb has entered several competitions since, including Ballet Austin’s New American Talent/Dance and Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis: International Choreographic Competition. Win or lose, she sees each one as an opportunity to establish invaluable professional connections. “The thing about choreography competitions is that somebody is looking at your work—looking for it.”


That’s what happened at the 2013 Genesis Competition. Lamb submitted her resumé, video samples and a proposal outlining what she would choreograph if selected—standard requirements for most competitions. Out of more than 30 choreographers, artistic director Michael Pink selected her as one of three finalists. Each artist received 90 rehearsal hours to work with eight Milwaukee Ballet dancers, who performed the pieces over three nights of live competition. Judges and audience members voted for their favorites, with a paid commission at stake.


Though she lost the audience vote, Lamb won the commission—and the interest of judge and Ballet Memphis artistic director Dorothy Gunther Pugh, who liked the winning piece so much that she asked Lamb to set it on Ballet Memphis. “I went to that competition feeling like a lot of ballet was looking the same,” says Pugh. “Gabrielle’s piece felt deeply personal and vulnerable.” Lamb is now creating a new work for the company, to premiere in February 2015. It has already garnered a 2014 Princess Grace Choreography Award.


Lamb’s success in competitions has transformed her initial choreographic insecurities into a go-for-it attitude; companies like BalletX and Ballet Austin have since commissioned her. “Don’t worry if you are good enough,” she says. “Let somebody else decide that. The more you choreograph, the more people have confidence in hiring you—and things start happening.”



Smart Strategy: Get It on Tape

“Good work is important,” says Lamb, “but a good video is invaluable.” She makes sure to get a high-quality recording of every piece she choreographs, and creates three-minute clips to use for competition applications, grant proposals and submissions to artistic directors. She also posts them on her website. “People like to be able to go and look at what you do without you knowing that they are doing it.”