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|A ballerina takes a leap of faith, this time in herself|
From left, Megan Fairchild, Georgina Pazcoguin, Lauren Lovette and Sara Mearns in Alexei Ratmanskys Voices, at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York, Jan. 30, 2019. Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, is retiring from the company but not from dance. Andrea Mohin/The New York Times.
by Gia Kourlas
NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- In November, on her 29th birthday, Lauren Lovette cut off her hair and posted about it on Instagram. Last week, this New York City Ballet principal, who brings a singular breath of fresh air to her dancing, announced that she would be retiring from the company. That haircut was more than a haircut.
Every voice that was in my ear liked my hair long or felt that it needed to be long for me to get modeling gigs or for me to be able to dance definitely dance ballet and all the roles that I do, she said in an interview. As I left that hair salon, I knew that from that moment on I was going to say yes to what I felt was right.
Why would a dancer so young, with so much still to give, leave such a prestigious position? (Her final performance with the company is slated for this fall.) As it has for many dancers, the past year has taken a toll on Lovette emotionally. She basically stopped dancing; instead, she and her partner, Matthew Tolstoy, a doctor of Chinese medicine who works with dancers at City Ballet on strength and conditioning, spent time fixing up a house they bought in southern New Jersey.
Ive been thinking about it for a very long time, she said about leaving. Its not that Ive been unsure of my job. Ive just been searching for the right way to do it and where my heart is. And especially after last year, there was just so much internal work internal thoughts and feelings and time to process things and to think.
Lovette didnt give up on dance completely during this performance pause. As a rising choreographer who has contributed three impressive works for City Ballet each, importantly, has a point of view she found opportunities to continue that facet of her creativity; coming projects include dances for American Ballet Theatre and the Paul Taylor Dance Company. But the idea of continuing as a City Ballet principal while fitting in her choreographic career was not appealing.
When Jonathan Stafford, City Ballets artistic director, asked whether she would take part in a Kaatsbaan residency in February in Tivoli, New York, she agreed: Not only would she get to perform in a new work by Kyle Abraham, a contemporary choreographer she had always wanted to work with, but she could also see where she stood with ballet itself.
I wanted to make sure that I wasnt running from something, she said, that I wasnt leaving because I felt I couldnt dance anymore.
One night she had a conversation with the other dancers, including Taylor Stanley and India Bradley.
I spent a lot of last year feeling like I didnt make a difference, she said. They were saying some sweet things to me about different ways that I impacted their lives and how I could never leave. I sat there and I felt so embraced and comforted by everything that I was hearing, and loved really, genuinely loved.
She felt at peace. That night, she slept amazingly. I woke up the next day, and I sent my letter of resignation, she said with a laugh. That was it.
Stafford said he wasnt surprised he and Lovette had been talking throughout the shutdown though its bittersweet.
I knew she was thinking about this type of move and about what she wanted from the rest of her career, he said. But I have moments where Im sad that were not going to have her energy around anymore. Shes just a bright light.
With an airy and alluring lushness, Lovette has always been a sparkling presence at City Ballet. Shes versatile. Humor comes naturally, yet she is also capable of unleashing deep melancholy from the inside out. Her characters, even when they arent actual characters, have an interior life.
As she rose through the companys ranks, becoming a principal in 2015, what made her performances all the more commanding was her depth and drama; she was completely herself a ballerina, of course, but also a young woman whose dancing was full of poetry and simmering with a kind of restlessness and vulnerability.
The radiance of her dancing also has to do with her overflowing imagination, and that turns up in her choreography. Stafford said he first noticed Lovette at the school where students get an early start making dances because of her choreography.
Shes not just going to do a piece thats maybe pretty and nice and fun to watch, he said. You just dont know what youre going to get. You sit there on the edge of your seat waiting to see what shes going to say. How great is that?
In a world in which dancers, particularly women, play by the rules, Lovette makes and lives by her own. In an interview, she spoke about her bold move to leave the security of a being in a company to seek out her next dancing life. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: What has made it so difficult for you to balance your career as a choreographer with being a dancer at City Ballet?
A: Ive had to turn a lot of jobs down. Ive been squeezing everything into my layoff weeks, which are few and far between. I dont take vacations. I think its burned me out. Thats something COVID taught me. And to be honest too, the backdrop of life thats been a factor as well.
Q: In what way?
A: If my life was a stage, Ive had the same set in place for my whole adult life. Ive been with New York City Ballet since 2009. And before that was SAB. (the School of American Ballet, which is affiliated with the company). Ive been going to the same restaurants, walking the same plaza; I know that theres going to be a fall season, a Nutcracker season, a winter season and a spring. Theres going to be a Saratoga (season, in summer).
Q: And you needed to shake that up?
A: Im terrified to go out into the unknown, but Im also really excited because it means its going to be different. And I am sure I will learn some hard lessons, but Ill learn some good ones, too. Im just looking forward to how thats going to influence what I make and how I move. Who would I choose to work with if I got to choose who I wanted to work with?
Q: Was the decision to retire spontaneous?
A: I have a lot of people I trust in my life that give me beautiful advice and who Ive bounced things off of for years. This was one of the first times and it had to be this way that it had to come from me only. I couldnt even have Matt there.
Q: You didnt tell Matt that you were writing your resignation letter?
Q: Oh, geez, Lauren! Thats so brave.
A: (Laughs) I just did it! I like to take ownership of my successes and my failures, but mostly my failures, and this is a risky thing. It had to come from me.
Q: Why is that so important?
A: Because its too big of a decision. I know that it would be more strategic to stay with City Ballet for five more years with one foot in the door and the other foot out. I cant do it.
© 2021 The New York Times Company
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