a ruby anniversary

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with Alan Alberto in George Balanchine’s Rubies, photo by Zaire Kacz Photography, choreography c. The Balanchine Trust.

DISCLAIMER: There are a lot of exclamation points in the post. I do try to use them sparingly, but sometimes there is just a lot to exclaim. Here goes.

In just a few short weeks, Festival Ballet Providence’s 40th year kicks off, celebrating our “Ruby Anniversary” with a packed season. The full schedule is on the website, but a few things I’m looking forward to…

The return of Viktor Plotnikov’s The Widow’s Brooma gorgeous production based on the work of an author who is near and dear to my heart, Chris Van Allsburg.

The 40th year (and my 18th!) of The Nutcracker at PPAC. My FBP Nutcracker experience is a legal adult. She’s graduating highschool and registering to vote. This is BIG, you guys.

The Director’s Choice mixed bill in February (on the weekend of my 26th birthday) featuring Christopher Wheeldon’s The American, George Balanchine’s Rubies, and a world premiere by Viktor Plotnikov set to Igor Stravinsky’s iconic The Soldier’s Tale (with live music and narration!).

A little tour (!) to the University of New Hampshire in April.

The Little Mermaid in the spring! My niece will flip.

I would also like to formally announce that for the 2017/2018 season, I will be joining the staff at FBP as Assistant to the Communications Director!(!!!) Look out for a whole new angle of behind-the-scenes peeks from what I predict will be a very busy Keeks!

Okay, now I am done.

Will I see you at the theatre?

behind-the-scenes

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Ah, Vail Dance Festival. A beautiful whirlwind of art and connection, effervescing with life. When I wasn’t fangirling world class dancers (or holding light reflectors in their faces), I found myself wrapped up in the serenity of Vail’s mountain air. What a completely magical place for a celebration of movement and music. I feel honored and humbled by this entire experience. Some behind-the-scenes photos, if you’d like to see…

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for more #bts from the Vail Dance Festival, check out @settingthebarre on Instagram.

CLOSING EVENING: BALLET X

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Damian Woetzel, Artistic Director of Vail Dance Festival, photo by Erin Baiano.

On the last day of the Vail Dance Festival, I decide it’s high time I did a little dancing myself. Ballet X Artistic Director, Christine Cox, graciously welcomes me into the company class at the amphitheater. It’s been…a while since I’ve taken classes regularly (#summerslacking), but Christine’s class is exactly what I need. When Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” comes on for frappés- I know for sure I am in the right place.

Cox emphasizes the importance of dancing as a conversation with your body. The impetus on freedom of movement feels liberating compared to the strict ballet classes I am used to. Not only is taking class with Ballet X refreshing for my body, but it also makes me even more excited for their performance that evening. Closing the Vail Dance Festival is an ambitious task, but this Philadelphia-based contemporary ballet company delivers.

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Chloe Perkes and Zachary Kapeluck in Jodie Gates’ Beautiful Once, photo by Erin Baiano.

While the opening piece, Jodie GatesBeautiful Once missed the mark (slightly dated costumes and choreography, and a surprisingly sloppy execution), the next ballet absolutely redeemed the evening. Cayetano Soto‘s Schachmatt, was creative and original. Meaning “checkmate” in German, Schachmatt, proves that dance need not be heavy and emotional to be powerful. The dancers are like chess pieces, unified in black and grey jockey attire, moving in unison to fun mid-century music that sounds like it could soundtrack an exotic vacation for James Bond. The movements are provocative in a light hearted way, which is entirely refreshing in the world of drama-focused 21st century choreographers. Soto’s choreography is distinguished without taking itself too seriously, a rare combination that highlights this company so well.

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Ballet X in Cayetano Soto’s Schachmatt, photo by Erin Baiano.

Act II presents Matthew Neenan‘s The Last Glass, an indulgent ballet set to the cinematic music of Beirut. I get such fuzzy feelings when I listen to Beirut; It’s as if I’m standing in the middle of a colorful circus- feathers and sequins and laughing faces whirling by- but at the center, where I stand, it is actually quite lonely. Neenan’s choreography reflects the generous use of horns with carnival-like characters, but also the sorrow of Beirut’s vocals. It’s an impressive layering of tone, and the dancers of Ballet X  are exceptional in their ability to illustrate this intricacy.

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Richard Villacerde and Ballet X in Matthew Neenan’s The Last Glass, photo by Erin Baiano.

The closing evening of the Vail Dance Festival is made even more poignant in its marking of Richard Villaverde‘s last performance with Ballet X. The audience received his final bows with the company (he is on to pursue dancing in New York City) with warm, riotous applause. It was a small demonstration of our appreciation for every evening of brilliant art brought to this stage in the past 2 weeks, if such gratitude can even be measured in applause.

a word with james whiteside

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James Whiteside and Devon Teuscher in White Swan Pas de Deux, photo by Erin Baiano.

Last week I caught up with American Ballet Theater (ABT) principal, James Whiteside, between rehearsals at the Vail Dance Festival. James filled me in on his longtime love of ABT, his tap background, and his upcoming travels to Tokyo.

Kirsten: How long have you been at American Ballet Theater now?

James: This will be my fifth season with ABT.

K: How did you come to your decision to leave Boston Ballet?

J: Well I had always had my eye on ABT, ever since I was a teenager. It was the first big ballet company I saw and I was immediately obsessed.

After being in Boston for 10 years, I wanted to be inspired by new dancers, new work, new challenges, and New York City itself. So I auditioned on a day off during Nutcracker season in Boston, which is insane. Sometimes we do over 40 performances of Nutcracker, so I took the red-eye Fung Wah bus, back when that was still a thing, and I took ballet class with ABT. They offered me a soloist contract.

K: What was your transition into ABT like?

J: It was foreign and familiar all at once. The ballet world is very small, so I knew a lot of the dancers from- this, that, and the other- from guest performances, from summer programs, and stuff. But the rep at ABT is completely different from the rep at Boston. We did a lot of Balanchine, a lot of neoclassical work, a lot of contemporary work [at Boston Ballet]. ABT does big classics. Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, etc. So I had to learn all of ABT’s rep in an extremely short time, and I did an obscene amount of debuts that first year. Then I was promoted to Principal in the Fall. 

K: Do you feel like you’ve adjusted to New York life?

J: I’m from Fairfield, Connecticut, so I spent a lot of time in the city as a kid, going to Broadway Dance Center, seeing Broadway shows with my dance teachers. I’ve had my heart close to New York City for a long time. So it feels more like a homecoming.

K: So now your address just matches your…

J: ...my soul. 

K: [Laughs] Now, this isn’t your first time in Vail.

J: This is my third year in Vail. My first year I only did one ballet. Last year I did a lot, this year I’m doing a lot, and I’m coming back next year.

K: So it just progresses more and more as you keep coming back?

J: Yeah, they make you work! Damn! It’s really, really ambitious. Incredibly ambitious. In a way, it feels like our New York season: putting together a large amount of things in a short amount of time. It’s crazy, this festival has gained so much visibility in the dance world. It’s become the dance festival. 

K: What keeps you coming back to the Vail Dance Festival?

J: My favorite thing about this festival is the location, the setting, the nature. 

K: It really is beautiful. Has the altitude been an adjustment?

J: Oh, of course. Everything is harder here, without a doubt. 

K: So what are you performing in Vail this year?

J: I have danced the White Swan Pas de Deux with fellow ABT Principal Devon Teuscher. I have also danced Michelle Dorrance’s 1-2-3-4-5-6, where I had to do a lot of tapping, so that was fun. I tapped as a teenager, so it was nice to revisit it. I did a new ballet [Farewell] by Matthew Neenan on Saturday night. I danced with an old colleague of mine, Misa Kuranaga. We danced together a lot in Boston. It was so nice to dance with her again, she’s an extraordinary dancer. 

I’ll be dancing in the new Michelle Dorrance ballet- I keep calling it a ballet, but it’s a dance. [Laughs] I don’t know what it’s called, but it is epic, and ambitious and daring and I just can’t believe we’re doing it tonight. I’m a little stressed out.

K: [Laughs] That’s kind what the festival is about though, right?

J: Amen to that! It all will come together, I know it will.

K: Definitely will. So that’s a big piece…

J: Yeah, it’s about 30 minutes long. It’s a big cast from all different backgrounds. We’re tapping, we’re…not tapping. 

K: [Laughs] All of the in between…

J: Yes. [Laughs]

K: So what’s up next after Vail?

J: My summer has been completely booked with festivals and galas. It’s been exceptionally fun. It’s been like a tour- I feel like I’m on a rock concert tour. I’ve been a lot of places, I’m going a lot of places.

The next stops on my “summer gig tour” are Sun Valley, Idaho, which has a similar beauty to this, actually. And Tokyo.

K: No big deal. “Oh yeah, Toyko.”

J: Oh yeah, Toyko. [Laughs]

K: Have you been before?

J: I’ve been to Toyko before, yeah. It’s just so strange and wonderful. Just so different.

K: Dream destination for me.

J: And then I have my Fall season with American Ballet Theater. I have some personal projects in the works, which if you follow me on my various socials, you’ll learn of. 

K: So back up for a second, though, what are you going to be doing in Tokyo?

J: In Tokyo, I am choreographing and dancing in a Disney ballet DVD release of Beauty and the Beast.

K: What? Stop! That’s awesome.

J: Yeah, it’ll be Misa and me.

K: That’s really exciting. And what are you doing in Sun Valley?

J: In Sun Valley I’m dancing [George] Balanchine’s Rubies Pas de Deux with Tiler Peck. I’m also doing a solo I created to Louis Armstrong’s You Rascal You, which I made a short film for years ago that people really liked. The premise is that I have killed my wife’s lover. I’m really excited about it, I’m dancing around in the streets. You can view it on Youtube.* 

K: Great! Are you looking forward to getting back to New York after that?

J: Yes. But I actually haven’t had a day off since June, so next week from Wednesday to Wednesday, I’ll be in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

K: Ah, I love Provincetown! So beautiful.

Thank you for chatting with me, James! Enjoy some well deserved rest in P-town.

*Editor’s note: I watched James’ You Rascal You video immediately after transcribing this interview and- oh my goodness- go watch it right now. Please.

martha graham dance company

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Martha Graham Dance Company in Pontus Lidberg’s “Woodland.” Photo by Brigid Pierce. Courtesy of Martha Graham Dance Company.

Even in its focus on the future, the Vail Dance Festival is not without a warm respect for the past. The Martha Graham Dance Company embodies this notion so eloquently, it seems pretty perfect to dedicate an evening of the festival entirely to this historic company.

The evening opens with Dark Meadow Suite, a meditation on Graham’s fascination with the American Southwest. An abridged arrangement of Graham’s Dark Meadows, this iconic piece reflects the eternal venture of seeking and exploring both the land around us and the urges within us. It is at once both organic and erotic. One particularly moving section features 4 couples creating scenes in unison, balancing body weights to express the changing dynamics of their relationships. At one point, they appear to be rowing a boat, the women tipped forward into masts, the men grounded paddles against the current. A few times I let my focus soften, allowing the company to bleed together into one congruent picture. Everything they do comes with significant weight, like gravity pulling paint down a canvas.

I was especially excited to see the famous Lamentation, in equal parts for its fame and for the dancer who performed it last night, the beautiful Carla Körbes. The solo is strange and angular, full of oppressed shapes and fidgety movements. Graham’s choreography and staging convey the anxiousness of true lamentation, that feeling of wanting to crawl out of one’s own skin when in mourning. Körbes is deliciously restless.

Always looking ahead, the program continues with a series of new interpretations of Lamentation. Lil Buck presents his first commission for a major company, paying tribute to Graham’s distinct bladed hands in the context of his signature smooth style. Bravo to the festival for branching out; I would love to see where Lil Buck’s choreography can take him. The next variation is an eerie duet by Aszure Barton, danced with haunting subtlety by Anne Souder and Xin Ying. My favorite of the three, this variation includes startling moments of stillness, the girls expressing exquisite distress, screaming without sound. The final variation features the entire company in a composition by Larry Keigwin. This is perhaps the closest interpretation, cupped hands caging in faces like mourning clothes, nervous energy expressed in tilting and twitching. The piece ends with the fragmented falling of the cast in an effectively grim requiem.

Act II opens with a sumptuous study of shapes. Ekstasis, danced with poise by Anne Souder, explores Graham’s discovery of the elongated hip thrust. The solo feels like its dancer is inside a cave, the hollow sound of rattling xylophone bones and mist falling around Souder.

Next up is Michelle Dorrance‘s take on the famous Satyric Festival Song, a parody piece made by  Graham in reaction to criticism of the seriousness of her work. Graham’s solo makes fun of itself, a skill Dorrance seems to have in spades. Her tap-ified version of Satyric Festival Song– which she learned in the official Martha Graham style before adapting- is upbeat, playful, and funny.

The final piece is a excellent presentation of the full company, Pontus Lidberg‘s  Woodland. A bit more contemporary, Woodland showcases Graham Dance Company’s strengths both in movement and in acting. It paints a beautifully theatrical picture, the classy neutral-toned costumes keeping masked dancers from creating a forest scene that is anything but cliché. A stunning solo from Xin Ying blends into a full company creation. After a long festival featuring exciting pairings of dancers who may be unfamiliar with each other’s dancing styles, it is actually a bit refreshing to see the well-oiled machine that is the Martha Graham Dance Company. The familiarity of these dancers can be sensed from the back form of the amphitheater and it is a quite welcomed kinship.

a(nother) word with lauren lovette

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In the second half of our chat, Lauren Lovette discusses choreographing for New York City Ballet and the Vail Dance Festival, the pitfalls and triumphs of honing new skills, and how she felt before her big premiere that evening. She tells us all about her favorite kind of dancer to work with, collaborating with designers, and what’s up next. If you are listening, please excuse the lawn mower and sounds of children playing- we were on a park bench!

If you are reading, right this way…

Kirsten: So, would this be your third time choreographing?

Lauren: Well, I made a lot of things in school, but technically this is my second big commission. Here in Vail.

K: So at New York City [Ballet] would’ve been your first.

L: It was, it was my first big thing…on a really big stage…with a lot of pressure…

K: …a lot of people watching you!

L: Yup! It’s so typical “New York City Ballet” to be like, “Oh, you’re an apprentice, let’s give you a principal role,” or, “Oh, you’re brand new as a principal- it hasn’t been done maybe ever- but, make a ballet! On New York City Ballet!” So the pressure was a lot, but I really had fun. It happened really fast. At the moment I don’t think I was terribly proud of what I made, I think it felt unfinished to me. But the second time it came around I made some changes and it felt more like a ballet and more cohesive and I was proud of it.

K: How long did you have to make it the first time?

L: I think about three weeks? I had a cast of 17 dancers, which I don’t know why I did that to myself. I picked the music, I picked the amount of people, everything…

K: That’s so funny, I was just talking to Jeff [Cirio] about his project [Cirio Collective], and he was like, “The first time I did it I gave myself 4 days to choreograph- I don’t know why I did that to myself!”

L: [Laughs] Yeah, like why?! I think we’re just ambitious, I don’t know. But it happened, I did it. I ended up finishing the piece the day of or the day before in the stage rehearsal. It was definitely a lot of pressure.

K: Where did your inspiration come from for that?

L: I’ve been watching and being a part of new works with the company for a while, and I have a lot of friends that support and have supported the company since Balanchine’s time, so I get a lot of feedback from people who say they’re tired of the minimal music. They miss classical music, something beautiful to really listen to and to get lost in. Kind of old ballet, how it was. Less of the new, modern, contemporary stuff and more of a classical ballet. I hadn’t seen that in a while either, just dancing in the company, so I thought that would be kind of a good place to start. 

I had a timeline, which was my only restriction, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll look for classical music that’s like 15 minutes long.” That turned out to be harder than I thought. I did a lot of searching and in Spotify I found this really great Schumann piece- but it was so big. And I thought, “There’s so many instruments, this is orchestral. I can’t just have like three people onstage, it doesn’t make sense!” So, that’s where the 17 people came in.

Then I found a beautiful design that Narciso Rodriguez did and I thought, “That’s clean and classic and I feel like a lot of the costumes nowadays are getting really loud distracting.” I really wanted to do just clean ballet.

K: Beautiful.

L: So it all just kinda happened that way. I didn’t have an idea of what it would look like until the end. [Laughs] And it definitely came with a lot of bumps. Learning how to lead people is hard, balancing dancing and choreography is really hard. That was probably the hardest part was learning [George Balanchine’s] Stravinsky Violin Concerto and I don’t know what else I learned that season, couple of other things- [George Balanchine’s] Liebeslieder [Walzer], I think, but I was just dancing quite a bit, less than usual, but still dancing a lot, and then putting the choreography in. It was a lot.

K: How did you manage that, time-wise, energy-wise?

L: I think it’s just a muscle. I’m used to the physical muscle being exercised, but the mental one is a different game, and it takes endurance just like anything else. Being in charge of the energy of a room is difficult for me sometimes, because I’m easy to read.

K: Not a good poker face?

L: Yeah, I’m not a good poker face, at all. [Laughs] It can be a great thing because your vulnerable with the people that are in the room and that can create beautiful art, but at the same time, if you’re having a bad day, or if you’re unsure or you’re scared or if you don’t believe in yourself that day, everybody knows. That was more of the exhausting part for me. That and speaking up- trying to understand where somebody else is coming from, explaining to them what’s in your head is really hard.

K: Putting it into words…

L: Putting it into words [laughs]. The partnering was not easy. That’s a whole nother skill that I hadn’t really thought much of up until, “Oh, make a pas de deux. What is the guy doing back there? I don’t know, I haven’t thought much about it.” [Laughs] It was only good for me, but also yeah, very stressful.

K: So how are you approaching [choreographing] coming into it again?

L: Well I’m finally ready now! At least I know what to expect. I feel like that’s half of it is I just didn’t know. Now this year I know how the Fall Fashion Gala goes, I kind of know how much time it takes me to create movement to music and how much time I need depending how large the piece is. Kind of know my mental state that I need to be in before even entering the room? I know now how much I need prepared and how much I can just do on the spot. So that’s good! [Laughs]

K: That’s always a good first step! [Laughs]

L: It’s a start! 

K: Would you say that you have a style of choreography that’s your own?

L: No, I don’t think I want one yet. I feel like on purpose I kinda wanted to do something very different here in Vail than what I did in the Fall for New York City Ballet, and then what I’m gonna do this Fall with New York City Ballet is gonna be even different than that. I wanna study all of the sides of myself. To do that, I try to pick different music and different concepts. Also, it’s easier to work on multiple things at the same time if they’re different.

So this piece [for the Vail Dance Festival] was flat shoes, and poetry, and more contemporary style dancing, floor work, stuff like that- which I never do. Last Fall was classical and I think this fall will be more contemporary ballet. A little edgier, a little bit braver. I wanna experiment more with partnering and with lighting. It’s just nobody teaches you how to do that stuff! Suddenly you have to make all of these decisions and you don’t know how. You’re like, “Okay, I guess I get to decide what everybody looks like!” That’s difficult, but it’s also really fun when it’s all put together at the end and you get to watch. It feels really good.

K: Do you get nervous watching?

L: Oh yeah! [Laughs]

K: Like more nervous than dancing?

L: Yes. I’m so scared for tonight because I’m in my own work now for this summer and I don’t know how to do that really. I gave all the hardest things to myself, because I didn’t want to put them on everybody else, but now I feel like I’m in charge of making it look good. It’s not a good place to be. [Laughs]

K: No, it’ll be fine! But it’s nerve-racking.

L: It’s nerve-racking!

K: But maybe it’s better that way, because you don’t have to sit in the audience and like…

L: …just sweat. [Laughs] It does feel really connected. I’m also realizing how important it is that I pick good energies to work with instead of just talented people. It really matters in a creative process who wants to be there, who’s willing to work. That brings a positive spin to your day. At least for me it’s really important, because I’m sensitive to energy in a room. That’s been really cool this summer, just working with a lot of talented women, but also just passionate and positive women. I’ve loved that. It creates a whole other layer of creativity.

K: And it’s more fun.

L: Yeah! It’s more fun.

K: So, were you able to just pick [the dancers] you wanted?

L: Actually, no. Damian [Woetzel] chose, because there was no way I would know who was dancing here. So Damian kinda told me who was available, and I told him my concept and told him kind of what I wanted. He said I have these women available and asked if I could dance in my own. [Laughs] I was like, “Okay!” I think he wanted me to be a part of this evening, but it would’ve been too much if I was in another, there would have been no way to do the scheduling. So I got put in my own work.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in that department, I think it’s been good.

K: Yeah, a good learning experience before you move on and keep doing more choreography.

L: I don’t think I’ll keep doing that. I think I like choreographing on other people more than myself, but at least I know I can do it. [Laughs]

K: And where else to experiment but here?

L: Exactly, in Vail. And we’ll see how I feel after tonight. Maybe it’ll be the most freeing feeling ever. People say that’s the case.

K: I guess we’ll find out!

L: Yeah, who knows, the sky is the limit. I can change it in the moment if I want to, I guess! I’m the choreographer, I can do whatever I want. [Laughs]

K: That’s kinda nice! So, about tonight [Now Premieres: Celebrating Women Choreographers], what’s your take on all of that? Like I don’t want to ask you like, [pretentious reporter voice] “Why do you feel it’s important that women choreograph…”

L: I know…I never know what to say to that…

K: …because of course it’s important, but it’s not any more important than…

L: Yeah, it just needs to be normalized somehow, and I don’t think having a bunch all-female choreography evenings is normalizing it. It’s still segregating it a little bit. It’s great, I think it’s better than not having women involved at all…I don’t know. I don’t htink we should be treated any differently.

K: Yeah, I agree.

L: And I definitely don’t want to be hired because I’m a girl. I want to be hired because somebody saw my work and thought it was good or they believe in what I do. 

But it’s also, you know, if that’s why people are hiring me to do work, because I’m a girl, well, I’ll take it and run with it then! [Laughs] That’s fine!

K: [Laughs]

L: I’ll still make it good, I’ll make it count.

K: And you’re still getting your name out there.

L: Yeah, I’m still getting my name out there and I’m still learning a lot. I think even if I didn’t get a lot of commissions for choreography, if there’s a quiet spell after all of this hype leaves, I’ll still make stuff for myself. But I try not to think about it too much. I just do what I’m told. You want me make a ballet? Sure! I’ll make a ballet. [Laughs] And I’ll do it the way I like it and I’ll have fun in the process.

I like using different people every time. Highlighting what’s special about people is the best part. Especially my coworkers because I see them all the time.

K: Right, so you know.

L: I know, we’re a huge company- almost 100 people- so it’s easy to get lost. And I feel like a lot of dancers do, and they have these amazing gifts that never get seen. You can see them sometimes in class, but if you don’t get the role, then you don’t get challenged and you don’t get seen. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means that you haven’t had the opportunity yet. So if I can offer opportunities to those who don’t get them…

K: Even better!

L: It’s just a win for me. I like to focus there more than I focus on, “Oh, what are the dance critics gonna think?” I think about the audience- you have to think about your audience- I wanted to cater to them, too. We are in show business. [Laughs]

K: So do you think you’ll go for another big cast in the Fall [at New York City Ballet]?

L: I’m gonna go with 10 people. A little less, but still pretty big. I found that last year my work got a little too busy because I wanted to showcase all of these things that I loved about the different corps de ballet dancers and everybody. You can’t highlight people as easily in a short amount of time if the cast is too big. I still have big music, so I needed at least 10 [dancers]. I feel like it’ll be a good amount. I’m excited.

K: That seems like a good amount.

L: I’m using a great designer, Monse, their new. A man and woman duo team. Their stuff is just spectacular. It’s gonna be really cool, edgy…it definitely has its own voice. All of their shots are moving, that’s what first drew me to them. Their clothes have life through movement. There’s nothing better than to put dance in that capacity. They have feminine clothing, but it still has an edge to it that’s like, “Don’t mess with me.” [Laughs] So I think it’s gonna be really beautiful. I have my initial designs and we’re tweaking it right now.

K: Do you get to pick [whatever designer] you wanna work with?

L: Mhm. Well, out of  [a list of] names. It’s so crazy, it feels like fate; I knew about Monse before they ever gave us a list of people, and I had designs of their up on my phone for a few months that I was showing everyone like, “This new designer is so cool, look at their stuff, I love this dress,” and then I had no idea what names were going to be given to me to choose from. There were five or six names on there, and Monse was the last one. 

K: Wow.

L: And I thought, “That’s insane!” I don’t know how that manifested itself into my life, but it did! Tears almost came into my eyes. I got them immediately. So that’s that plan.

The same thing kind of happened with this piece in Vail, with my poet. I knew I wanted to do spoken word but I didn’t know how it was gonna come about. Listening to a bunch of different poets on Spotify, I found Andrea [Gibson] deep through the grapevine…

K: [Laughs] In the interwebs.

L: Yeah, in the interwebs of Spotify. Their stuff was just so danceable to me, and all the words hit home. So I asked Damian, “Would this be okay? Is this an artist I can use?”, and they happen to live in Boulder…

K: No way! That’s crazy!

L: …which is two hours away from Vail! I feel like you can put things out into the universe and then you know you’re doing the right thing when that window or door opens up. 

So it’s sorta the same thing with my designer in the Fall. And I have some other commissions coming up after that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s continuing on.

K: Good, there’s more on the horizon.

L: Yeah, there’s more. I wanna keep trying different things, testing myself in different ways. I think my next piece after the Fall will be more mathematical and angular, because I don’t usually do that. I usually do a lot of free arms and romantic movements. I put a lot of human elements in, so there’s a lot of drama. I don’t know if there will be in my next one, I wanna test myself in another way.

K: Cool. That’s exciting.

L: I don’t know. There not all gonna be successful, but I gotta keep exercising the cogs.

K: Yeah, put it all out there! See how it goes, why not?

L: Exactly.

K: What’s up next after Vail?

L: New York City Ballet. The Fall Fashion, then we have our season, then I go into my next project immediately.

K: So do you have time off after this?

L: [Laughs] No, I go to Mexico. Sorry I forgot to mention that! I’m going to Mexico to dance [George Balanchine’s] Rubies with Jeff Cirio. That’ll be fun. After that I have about a week before I start back [at New York City Ballet]. I’ll probably be preparing since I’ve been so busy here in Vail, I haven’t had a lot of time to think about the Fall and because I know how fast it goes I wanna be ready this year. 

It’ll be half rest, half mental preparations…

K: That’s good!

L: Yeah! Maybe I’ll rest my body and exercise my mind. [Laughs]

K: And stay sane somehow. So how are you feeling before [the premiere of your new piece, Angels of the Get-Through] tonight?

L: I feel good.

K: Do you feel relaxed?

L: I feel as relaxed as I ever feel before anything big? I’m not a very relaxed person, if you know me. Um, I’m kinda always- I’m high strung I guess you could say. I’m anxious a lot, especially before shows. 

K: How do you calm yourself down?

L: Man, I really wish I knew! [Laughs] I’m still figuring it out. I feel like some shows are better than others. What I have loved about this summer here in Vail is the coaching has been so good, with Heather Watts and Damian Woetzel. I feel like I’ve really climbed this mountain, or crossed this barrier that’s been building up for a long time. Yeah, it felt good to just go for it. I don’t even really care what it looks like to the audience, as long as I know that I went for it.

It’s more of a personal thing for me, being on stage. Rehearsal I always give like a performance for some reason [laughs], it just feels like it. As soon as it’s show time, I usually hold back, because I want it to be perfect or I just doubt myself in the moment. When the lights go on or I know people are watching me it just takes me out of that element where I can just give the art. I had a bunch of “Aha!” moments here in Vail where I just did it. And it felt really good to just do it! And I want to carry that over into my performing back in New York City.

I don’t know how I got into the performing arts. [Laughs] I don’t know how my personality ended up here, but it did. And when I do it- when I just do it- I don’t know a greater feeling. I think that’s what keeps me in the game.

K: You just gotta keep doing that more.

L: Yeah! It’s the facing of the fear that’s kind of what I’m addicted to now. And for choreography I love it so much more because they do it, and I enjoy it. And I’m like, so supportive. I’m like, “You’re all beautiful!” I like that side of the game, but for now, I’m in the game. And I don’t wanna waste that time.

K: You have to enjoy it. Life is too short- not even the career’s too short- but life is too short.

L: Mhm, exactly. I’m lucky! I feel lucky that I am forced out of my shell all the time. It’s very uncomfortable and I feel tired a lot. [Laughs]

K: [Laughs] It’s exhausting!

L: It’s exhausting! But I’m happy about it because, I mean, home-schooled me, who’s afraid of swimming, and climbing, and any game that they don’t know, and reading in public, and talking to people in public- I talked for a baby voice for a while [laughs]– I don’t know. I just feel like I was born into this world afraid of most things and I’m lucky that this is what I do and it forces me out there. Because now I can do podcasts and interviews and I feel okay.

K: Yeah! You sound great.

L: I can go in front of a camera, and I hated that my whole life. Now it’s fine, you know, I do a lot of photoshoots. I don’t know, being on stage…comes and goes. [Laughs] Still figuring it out! But more wins than losses now. And it’s just good. I don’t know of any other way that I would get those growths as a person, other than ballet. So, I’m very grateful.

From here, Lauren and I launched into a long discussion about her recent decision to adopt a vegan diet. She has so much to share, but I think I will let you tune in to The Whole Dancer‘s upcoming workshop with Lauren for the inside scoop ;) A huge thank you to Lauren Lovette for taking the time to talk with me.

ETM: DOUBLE DOWN

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Michelle Dorrance in ETM: Double Down, photo by Tristam Kenton.

What happens when dancers take control of the music? Or rather, when musicians can’t control their bodies’ urge to dance? A collection of artists whose hearts must beats in staccato  rhythms in whole body percussive movement, synchronized and not, creating patterns that satisfy the path your mind is on before your brain has the chance to reach them.

An upright bass sits center stage. Drums bounce around from their home in a set stage left. Shakers, chains, using instruments both external and bodily, Dorrance Dance‘s ETM: Double Down is a hypnotizing display of a genre entirely its own.

Developed through residencies at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Yard Offshore, and The Joyce Theater, Double Down is the brainchild of Vail Dance Festival Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance, and dancer/musician Nicholas Van Young. Using small electrified drum pads as trigger boards, this unique performance explores “the range of possibilities inherent in being both dancers and musicians”, according to Dorrance. It certainly brings America’s first street form to the 21st century, and perhaps even beyond, electrifying a historically acoustic auditory-visual art form.

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Dorrance Dance Artists in ETM: Double Down, photo by Tristam Kenton

Everyone on stage is a dancer, and everyone on stage in a musician. Act II begins with hauntingly beautiful improvisational riffs sung by Aaron Marcellus, who uses a small device to record and layer his own voice again and again, creating breathtakingly deep harmonies. It sets the tone for what is to come: a stacking and stripping of layers. A symphony of sounds.

The versatility is astounding. Futuristic reverberations echo, hollow and impending. Quick taps tickle, joyful and bright. Conversational choreography emotes, proving tap can be narrative, too. Like the board mixing sound, Double Down blends contemporary with breakdancing, hip hop with tap dancing, music with movement.

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photo by Christopher Duggan.

At one point the entire cast of dancers arranges their soundboard squares into a row downstage, creating a gigantic keyboard. Dorrance’s cheeky attitude peeks through as the lights go out and the dancers mount their “keys” in the dark, producing a cacophonous burst followed by an audience chuckle. The lights reveal the cast once more and together they tap across their keys, essentially becoming a human piano. The teamwork, talent, and remarkable freshness of this group cannot be overstated. Their bodies like soundwaves, a visual representation of the auditory vibrations they are producing, they never stop dancing. The focus is never entirely dancing nor music producing. It is ceaselessly split between the two, begging the audience to wonder why the two have been separated so long.

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Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down, photo by Hayin Heron