Pro­gram ad­dresses lack of women bal­let chore­og­ra­phers

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - By Mark Jaffe Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

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.”

Erin Ba­iano, pro­vided by Vail Dance Fes­ti­val

Lau­ren Lovette, left, re­hearses with Miriam Miller, cen­ter, and Devin Teuscher for Lovette’s new bal­let for the Vail Dance Fes­ti­val.

Erin Ba­iano, Pro­vided by Vail Dance Fes­ti­val

Lau­ren Lovette, cen­ter, Devin Teuscher, left, and Miriam Miller re­hearse. Lovette is try­ing her hand at bal­let chore­og­ra­phy.

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