For the next two weeks, we'll be counting down to the Bessie Awards—also known as the New York Dance and Performance Awards—by talking to the 15 performance nominees. This year, the nominators have honored a remarkably diverse group, one that manages to span the spectrum from trance dancers to flamenco performers, from longtime legends to exciting new faces. We'll be posting new interviews nearly every day, so be sure to check back to learn about the best New York dance has to offer—and start getting your fanciest duds together for the Bessie Awards at the Apollo Theater on October 19th.
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Lauren Grant has been nominated for her overall body of work with Mark Morris, New York's seismic force in modern, inter-genre dance. In a Mark Morris Dance Group show, Grant is instantly recognizable—under five feet tall, she's the blonde, electric spark leaping across the space, a kindling flame in works like The Hard Nut, Mozart Dances and L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Morris may keep his work moving among classifications, but he has maintained a serious playfulness throughout his oeuvre, and Grant embodies that spirit of play whenever she's onstage.
How many years have you been dancing with Mark Morris?
The first show was The Hard Nut, and I started in 1996, so now it's approaching 19 years! That's long in dancer years.
What did you expect when you joined the company? Was this the career you expected?
I was hoping for this. I didn't know what this was, exactly, but I wanted to dance, perform, to be guided by someone amazing, to learn new things, to grow and change and be an artist! I didn't know the possibilities, and…I never had to wait tables! Once I was in [MMDG], I could just concentrate on being an artist. I've been so fortunate—and you know, it's sad that this counts for lucky in this world.
As Mark Morris's work has changed, how has your own work changed?
Being around this long, I've had the opportunity to readdress a role, re-approach a role many times over. But I keep coming back to Mark. It really is about him and not about the dancers. We're taught not to focus on ourselves! I almost don't want to talk about myself!
As a mother, though, there were some real physiological changes. For a while, I didn't know if I would dance in this capacity again. I even applied for a masters program—and then I turned it down and kept dancing. People did comment in the years right after my son was born that I had a new freedom. Certainly, I feel a little different. Some of that was hormonal, you're on top of the world. Muscularly, too, your body is different; now I'm back in Pilates, trying to get things back in order! But you have more maturity, a better understanding of your body. And Mark's working on an opera now, and there's character work—and the younger people are struggling with needing to apply their imaginations. But I've done enough, and I'm old enough, that I feel free to bring that right away.
Can you recall a particularly memorable role with MMDG?
There are so many! I love doing the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and I'm so glad that I got to experience Mozart Dances. But Marie [in The Hard Nut] is a special one for me: The Hard Nut was my first project, yes, but also—I come in this package that I'm in. I don't get to have every role partly because of this package. And yet it comes in very handy for that dance! I can fool the audience into believing I really am a child. And also, at a certain point my husband became my co-star, and now we dance together as Marie and the Nutcracker. We got engaged during a Hard Nut run.
Do you have a performance philosophy?
The thing about Mark is that he wants us to always keep changing, to find something new. For a long time, I resisted that idea. So many of our dances are so hard for me, and so I wanted to find the one way, the way to make the jump this high. And he would say, 'Don't decide how it goes.' That's hard! But it's like growing up: as young dancers, we think that we know everything. And you show up and you you become humble enough to say, 'I have to start over at square one.' There's so much work to do. You do the work.
Do you have a preshow ritual?
Boy, you know I've learned not to get bogged down in superstitions! I eat really well; I drink a lot of water. Theaters are often dry, and we'll have been traveling, and I find that lots of water makes my muscles feel better. I also try to step outside and and see the sky—but I don't do anything silly anymore.