Ballet choreographers

Few women are ballet choreographers. A program at the Vail Dance Festival addresses this.

VAIL — Lauren Lovette, in a star-and-stripe hoodie, track shorts and socks, stood in the Vail Mountain School gymnasium, silently feeling footsteps that would turn a poem into a dance.

“Could you run a little here?” Lovette asked Miriam Miller, one of three dancers she works with, to create a new ballet that will debut at the Vail Dance Festival.

At 25, Lovette is an accomplished ballerina, premiering with New York City Ballet. Now she ventures into a scene where few women thrive: ballet choreography.

Why aren’t there more female ballet choreographers? This is a question that is being asked more and more, with a stronger push to bring women into the choreographic ranks.

The Vail Festival is doing its part with a program on August 7, Celebrating Women Choreographers, which will feature Lovette and another up-and-coming ballet choreographer, 30-year-old Claudia Schreier, on stage.

Erin Baiano, Vail Dance Festival

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

Lovette and Schreier can, from experience, answer this question.

“It’s so hard to be a ballerina, you can’t take your eyes off that ball. It takes all your focus because there’s so much competition,” Lovette said. “It’s different for a guy. There are so few of them in ballet classes – you are already important, not easily replaced.

Schreier said time is opportunity and male ballet dancers have more of it. “There are fewer men, with more opportunities and more free time. There’s less pressure to focus on your performance 24/7,” she said.

Lovette’s experience underscores this point. She made her debut as a choreographer with 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 role in George Balanchine’s “Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto,” a demanding dance with delicate steps.

“It’s a balancing act,” Lovette said. “In one workshop you are the clay, then in another workshop you are the sculptor.”

And it’s more than studio work. “It’s not 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 the New York City Ballet, a soloist. He is also the company’s resident choreographer and has time off to create ballets for a dozen other companies including the Paris Opera Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet.

In some ways, Schreier’s journey has been more difficult. She trained as a ballet dancer until she decided to go to college rather than seek 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, rehearsals late at night,” Schreier said.

Lauren Lovette speaks with violinist Johnny Gandelsman for her new ballet for the Vail Dance Festival.

Erin Baiano, provided by Vail Dance Festival

Lauren Lovette speaks with violinist Johnny Gandelsman for her new ballet for the Vail Dance Festival.

After graduating, she got a job in the marketing department of the Alvin Ailey Dance American Dance Theater. “Choreographically, I didn’t know what the path would be,” she said. “All I knew was that I wanted to do dances.”

This is how, in her spare time, she embarked on a career as an independent choreographer. “I gave my all to each project as if it was the last,” she said. In 2014, Schreier won a fellowship in the Breaking Glass Project choreography competition and this year received a Virginia B. Toulmin Fellowship for Women Choreographers at New York University.

One thing Schreier and Lovette share is the feeling that they have been supported and encouraged. Peter Martins, Artistic Director of New York City Ballet, urged Lovette to try her hand and gave her one of the biggest stages in the world of ballet. “Dive, sink or swim,” Lovette said. “That’s the New York City Ballet way.”

Harvard’s dance department was a place where women choreographed and was “a really warm environment,” Schreier said. It was there that she met Damian Woetzel, the director of the festival, and his wife, Heather Watts, former principal dancer and ballet teacher of New York City Ballet.

This led to her working as a rehearsal assistant for Woetzel in Vail and, last year, 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 his second ballet in Vail, Schreier chose Leonard Bernstein’s first published composition, his 1942 “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano” which ends with “a mad ride”.

Lovette is working with poet Andrea Gibson on a dance to her poem “Angels of the Get Through.”

“Words are another way to dance,” she said.

In Vail, Lovette and Schreier will be joined by two established female choreographers, but not in ballet – Pam Tanowitz in modern dance and Michelle Dorrance in tap.

“It’s an evolution,” Woetzel said. “These women are out there, they are powerful and need to be heard for the art form.”


Now Premieres: A Tribute to Women Choreographers at the Vail Dance Festival. 7:30 p.m. Aug. 7. Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, 530 S. Frontage Road East. Tickets to http://vaildance.org/event/now-premieres/.