Program addresses lack of women ballet choreographers
VAIL» Lauren Lovette, in a hoodie, sweat shorts and starsand-stripes socks, stood in the gym of Vail Mountain School silently feeling out the steps that would turn a poem into a dance.
“Could you run in a little here?” Lovette asked Miriam Miller, one of the three dancers she is working with in creating a new ballet that is to debut at the Vail Dance Festival.
At 25, Lovette is an accomplished ballerina, a principal with the New York City Ballet. Now she is venturing onto a stage where few women flourish — ballet choreography.
Why aren’t there more female ballet choreographers? It is question that is increasingly being asked, along with a greater push to get women into the choreographic ranks.
The Vail festival is doing its part with a program Aug. 7, Celebrating Women Choreographers, which will give the stage to Lovette and another emerging ballet choreographer, 30-yearold Claudia Schreier.
Lovette and Schreier can, from experience, answer that question.
“It is so difficult to be a ballerina, you can’t take your eye off that ball. It takes all your focus because there is so much competition,” Lovette said. “It is different for a guy. There are so few in ballet classes — you are already important, not easily replaced.”
Schreier said that time is opportunity, and male ballet dancers have more of it. “There are fewer men, with greater opportunities and more time on their hands. There is less pressure to focus on your performance
24/7,” she said.
Lovette’s experience underscores the point. She made her debut as a choreographer at the New York City Ballet last fall with “For Clara,” a 15-minute dance to music by Robert Schumann. But while she was choreographing, she was also learning the lead in George Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” a demanding dance with tricky steps.
“It is a balancing act,” Lovette said. “In one studio, you are the clay, and then in another studio, you are the sculptor.”
And it is more than just the work in the studio. “It isn’t just the steps. It’s the lighting, the costumes, the voice behind the piece,” Lovette said. “There is a lot of pressure.”
One of the brightest new choreographers, Justin Peck, is also a dancer with New York City Ballet, a soloist. He doubles as the company’s resident choreographer and has time to fly off to create ballets for a dozen other companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet.
In some ways, Schreier’s path has been more challenging. She trained as a ballet dancer until she decided to go to college rather than seeking an apprenticeship in a professional company.
At Harvard, she majored in sociology, but her home was in the university’s dance department. “There were college classes during the day, ballet classes in the evening, late-night rehearsals,” Schreier said.
After graduation, she got a job in the Alvin Ailey Dance American Dance Theater’s marketing department. “Choreographically, I didn’t know what the path would be,” she said. “All I knew is that I wanted to make dances.”
And so in her spare time, she embarked on a career as a freelance choreographer. “I gave every project my all as if it were my last,” she said. In 2014, Schreier won a grant in the Breaking Glass Project choreographic competition and this year received a Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship for Women Choreographers at New York University.
One thing that Schreier and Lovette share is a feeling that they have been supported and encouraged. Peter Martins, the New York City Ballet’s artistic director, urged Lovette to try her hand and gave her one of the biggest stages in the ballet world. “Dive in, sink or swim,” Lovette said. “It is the New York City Ballet way.”
The Harvard dance department was a place that women were choreographing and was “a really warm environment,” Schreier said. It was there she met Damian Woetzel, the festival director, and his wife, Heather Watts, a former New York City Ballet principal dancer and ballet teacher.
That led to her working as a rehearsal assistant to Woetzel at Vail and, last year, to a commission to choreograph a new ballet for the festival. “When I see how many doors were open to me, I just feel a lack of barriers,” she said.
For her second ballet at Vail, Schreier has chosen Leonard Bernstein’s first published composition, his 1942 “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano,” which ends she said in “a wild ride.”
Lovette is working with poet Andrea Gibson on a dance to her poem “Angels of the Get Through.”
“Words are another path to dance,” she said.
In Vail, Lovette and Schreier will be joined by two female choreographers who are established, but not in ballet — Pam Tanowitz in modern dance and Michelle Dorrance in tap.
“It is an evolution,” Woetzel said. “These women are here, they are powerful and need to be heard for the art form.”
Lauren Lovette, left, rehearses with Miriam Miller, center, and Devin Teuscher for Lovette’s new ballet for the Vail Dance Festival.
Lauren Lovette, center, Devin Teuscher, left, and Miriam Miller rehearse. Lovette is trying her hand at ballet choreography.