Lauren Lovette and Shoshana Rosenfield discuss Serenade and life as students at the School of American Ballet.
Thu May 28 2009
Have you seen Serenade live?
Shoshana Rosenfield: Yes. I remember seeing Darci Kistler in “waltz girl,” Yvonne Borree in “Russian girl” and, I think, Kaitlyn Gilliland as “the dark angel.” I didn’t want the ballet to end. It was so beautiful.
Lauren Lovette: It’s one of my favorites.
Rosenfield: For sure. When we found out we were doing it for Workshop, I was so happy.
Lovette: I watched a SAB video—that was my introduction. I didn’t know what SAB was about, but there was a video of [former SAB students and current NYCB members] Kaitlyn and Tyler [Peck] performing Serenade, and I was like, Wow, this is amazing, this is beautiful, and I have to dance it someday. So what an honor to be able to do it our Workshop year. I didn’t think that would happen at all. [Whispers] It’s beautiful.
Why is it so beautiful?
Lovette: [Sighs] The patterns are so different from any other ballet I’ve seen. Balanchine doesn’t use the traditional four girls here, four there. He had an odd number of dancers, and it just moves—every step moves with the music perfectly. The music and the dance are like one, and there are times when we feel like we can’t get through it, but the music keeps you going. If the music wasn’t there, it would be impossible.
Rosenfield: And everyone gets to dance in this ballet. It’s not just one person doing it. We each have a part, and even for corps there are special moments.
Lovette: It feels like a sisterhood.
Rosenfield: It feels like we’re all working together toward this one big, beautiful piece. Everyone is lucky to be in the ballet. In the first part of the Russian dance, we start off as four girls holding hands; we’re together, twining, even when we break apart—it feels like you can’t do it without them. You need each other’s support. That part really feels like a sisterhood.
What are your favorite moments so far?
Rosenfield: For me, it’s the Russian dance because we start off together and usually at that point you’ve recovered from the really puffy dancing. You work to a whole new level because it’s also a puffy dance by the end—there’s a lot of jumping and the steps feel very liberating. There’s freedom in the arms—you’re very open, and with the music keeps driving you on. By the end, you just feel so exhilarated. That part for me is about the music. Without it you can’t get through it. [Laughs] I need the music.
Lovette: [Slightly deadpan] We can’t stress that enough.
Rosenfield: It’s all about the music for me.
Lovette: I have a lot of favorite parts. One of them is not really hard; it’s walking. The “waltz girl” walks onstage and everyone’s frozen—she’s late or lost and she is looking for her place. She doesn’t quite fit in, but she’s trying really hard to. She finds where she belongs and you think that everyone’s going to start and then the others all walk away. She still doesn’t fit in. When you finally think that she does, she’s alone. But it doesn’t end sadly; it goes into the waltz with the boy, and I love that part.
Rosenfield: Also, when you raise your arm [like the others] it’s completing that piece because it starts off the same way as the beginning. It’s completing the cycle.
Lovette: I like the end when we get to take our hair out, too, because you’re so tired by that point that you’re like, “I’ve got to get through it,” and then you get to take your hair out and just die. It feels so good. Oh man. And the Elegy is breathtaking. I love doing that. Give me drama and I’m happy.
What is the experience of working with Suki Schorer, who is staging the ballet and is also one of your teachers?
Rosenfield: It really is. She did “Russian girl”; she worked with Mr. Balanchine. She works on everything, I feel, and she looks at the whole picture—footwork, expressing what you want to be feeling in the upper body—
Lovette: Every detail. Pleasing her is the greatest feeling ever because it’s hard to do.
Rosenfield: But when you do, you know you’ve really achieved something.
Lovette: And she doesn’t make you feel bad at the end of the day. She drives you as far as you can go, but she always tells you it’s better in the end.
Rosenfield: And you feel like it’s better too. You can feel the improvement.
What did you improve upon in today’s rehearsal?
Lovette: [Sadly] Well, you picked a really great day to come and watch.
Rosenfield: Stamina was a good one today.
Lovette: She was driving it. She was fixing the placement of my feet a lot. My ankles are just weak. So I have to work on that—that’s my main thing.
Rosenfield: And I’m working on landing my jumps not as loud. Trying to really land toe-ball-heel instead of letting the ball of my foot crash down.
Lovette: Head placement.
Rosenfield: That’s a big one!
Lovette: Today, I was dead-on for some reason; I’m not using my head, but she said it was better. I hope. There was no mirror so I don’t really know.
At the end of rehearsal, Schorer asked if you had been jogging—what do you work on outside of the studio to help with building stamina and strength?
Lovette: Pilates, biking and I’m supposed to be jogging. I’m on pause—or on hold—with that, because the physical therapist said it’s not so good to jog on my foot. I’ll see her again because I really need it.
Rosenfield: There’s also the jumping board on the Pilates machine. That’s helpful.
Lovette: They have good physical therapists here. Andrea [Zujko] helped my ankle by giving me extra exercises to make it stronger. It healed fast. She gives me Thera-Band exercises, and we have a jumping board. There were things in my technique that were a little bit off that she caught. She’s been working with me and I think it’s helping. I still have a long way to go.
Rosenfield: I feel like injuries are kind of like a blessing and a curse. You learn from them and you learn what you’re doing wrong, and chances are—not all the time, but sometimes—when you get injured it’s because you’re doing something wrong, you’re not working properly.
Lovette: It made me work ten times harder. I was like I have to dance this part. I just have to. This is my dream role; I just can’t not dance it. I’m getting better.
You recently sprained your ankle and were almost taken out of Serenade. What happened?
Lovette: I guess I hadn’t rested enough. We had rehearsal on Saturday, and Sunday off, which should have been enough. But I don’t know; I was working and doing extra stuff, and Monday came and I was exhausted. I’ve never had a serious injury so I don’t really know where the line is; sometimes I push myself too far. I was doing some beats and I landed on my ankle wrong. [The diagnosis was a mild sprain.]
Lovette: In rehearsal for Serenade. It was right at the end in the finale and I just remember I was getting sloppy and I could feel it. I knew it. I was like, “Lauren, you’re a mess—just stop.” But I didn’t, and I hurt myself. I couldn’t walk, but it came at a perfect time. Spring break was three days away and I went home to North Carolina for two weeks and didn’t do anything. I didn’t even walk. I got sick, too. That was good because it’s hard for me to just sit and do nothing. It was really an illuminating experience. I had a lot of time to think about Serenade and how badly I wanted to dance it. I came back and my teachers told me that I probably wouldn’t be in Workshop. I was thinking, I lost it—and I was okay with it.
Rosenfield: Now you’re back. Now you’re good.
Lovette: Suki said, “Learn it in the back.” I was like, “Really? Okay, I’ll do the arms!” And she gave me a chance. Hopefully I can live up to it now. Now I have to do it. I have to get the stamina back. It’s irritating. But it’s something I had to learn because I need to figure out where that line is. It’s okay to stop. It’s better to stop for one rehearsal then to be out and not be able to do it at all. It’s not a good feeling. [Laughs]
The sisterhood of Serenade
In honor of the School of American Ballet Workshop Performances, three generationsof dancers discuss their parts in a Balanchine classic.
How did each of you end up at SAB?
Rosenfield: I live five blocks away. [Laughs] I started at Ballet Academy East when I was very young—I think I was two or three when I started taking baby classes. I stayed. It’s a lot of back-and-forth to the East Side; eventually I saw the advertisements for SAB and I auditioned when I was 12. I’ve been grateful ever since. I went to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet for five or six summers. That was most definitely a good experience to have.
Lovette: I went to small studio: Cary Ballet Conservatory in Cary, NC. It was pretty small. I didn’t really know anything at all about SAB. I knew about Pacific Northwest Ballet because my cousin had gone there so I went to audition for PNB and saw a sign for SAB and thought, I guess I should do that one, too. It was my first time auditioning for summer programs. I auditioned at 12 and I didn’t make it. That was the only place that didn’t take me and I really wanted to go there—that kind of drove me. Why didn’t they take me? I need to get better! When I was 13, I reauditioned, and they gave me a scholarship. I loved it right away. I didn’t want to leave; I had a great time. I came back for another summer and at 14 they asked me to stay; my dad didn’t even know there was a year-round program. He was like, “They want you to stay...for another week?” I said, “I don’t know, Dad. I think it’s more permanent than that.” [Rosenfield laughs.] So it took my whole family by surprise. We were like, “Well, if they pay for it, do it.”
And they did?
Yes. It’s so different from being a summer student, but in a good way. There are fewer people. I lived in the dorms and right away I loved everyone here. It was completely different; I wasn’t used to having all of my classes on pointe. In fact, in my old studio we had pointe class maybe twice a week. When I came here I was like, Oh man. I had a lot of blisters the first two or three months. The year-round students were all so talented and disciplined and it was so different from what I was used to. I came from a studio where I wasn’t the top of my class but I was up there, and this was a whole different pond, but I loved that. Everyone’s so nice here, no matter what my studio said. It was like, “Don’t go. SAB—they’ll change you. You’ll become snobbish and you’ll go up to the city and you’ll become a different person,” but I’m still the same person I was. [Laughs] This is my third year and I’m coming back. I could stay here for as many years as they wanted me to. Unfortunately we get old.
Rosenfield: It’s one of those places that you don’t want to leave. I feel like they make you into a professional dancer: It’s the whole picture. They care for you and they help you through auditioning, and if you have questions you can feel free to go to them. It’s very welcoming. I remember [Lovette’s] first day here. [Lovette groans.] No, no, I just remember walking in, looking around and thinking, I don’t know anyone. It was three years ago but it feels like yesterday.
Lovette: At SAB, you don’t lose respect for the teachers, and that’s a huge thing. It’s not that you lose respect at other places, but you get into a day-to-day routine and most teachers will tell you the same things and you can slack off. Here, you don’t want to. It’s just a whole different level.
Rosenfield: Teachers will sometimes try to push you and it will have the opposite effect, but here, when they push you, you’re working toward the same goal. It feels like they’re on your side.
Lovette: There’s a good balance—they aren’t harsh or mean, but they’re firm. They want what’s best for us. And I don’t think anyone’s been like, “Man I can’t believe I went to SAB and wasted those years.” I’ve seen our class grow; every single person has gotten so much better.
Rosenfield: It’s fun to watch.
Lovette: It is. You look at somebody and you’re like, “Wow I remember seeing you for the first time and you couldn’t do a single pirouette and now you’re doing four.”
Rosenfield: You really bond as a class as you go through the years.
Lovette: It’s going to be sad. Practically my whole class is leaving.
And you’re going to stay in the school?
Lovette: And repeat the same level I guess. [SAB teachers wanted Lovette continue her training.] I don’t feel bad about it at all. You just never stop growing here. I don’t feel like I’ve hit a ceiling and there’s nowhere to go. Plus, I get to choreograph again next year if I want, and I had a really great time doing that this year.
What do you mean?
Lovette: They have Student Choreography Workshop in the fall. We get to choreograph on each other, which is awesome. I’m really excited to do that again. My piece wasn’t incredible or really inventive, and the music wasn’t that interesting, but I know I had the most amazing time doing it and I’m excited to try something different and that’s just one of the many things I’m looking forward to.
How many dancers did you use?
Lovette: Five. It was Bach—I put two pieces together. The dancers that I chose weren’t my original choices because we couldn’t double cast. A lot of people wanted Shoshana—everyone was like, “Okay, you want Shoshana and I want Shoshana. Whose going to get Shoshana?” We had a debate. I’m really bad when it comes to, “I want this person and I’m going to take her,” so I basically lost. But it was cool and I don’t regret it at all, but I almost didn’t want to do choreography. Kay Mazzo [SAB’s cochairman of faculty] told me, “You can’t not choreograph—you have to do it, and here are your options.” There were seven dancers to choose from; I chose them with different heights. Everyone was taller than me. It was a ton of fun. There wasn’t a dull moment in my rehearsals.
What did you know about Serenade before you started rehearsing it? Did you do research on your own?
Rosenfield: I went to the library to watch tapes of past performances. I watched arms—they had different takes on that. And some of the choreography was different; I feel, over the years, things have changed slightly. I wanted to take a mesh of everyone and make it my own a little bit. In the bourre back, right before the Russian dance, when you walk through all the girls you have that moment when you get to take a breath—everyone does that slightly differently. It helped me to see versions of that.
Lovette: I have a book by Nancy Goldner: Balanchine Variations. I read it right before Workshop. Our parts were originally split up among more people. I thought, That makes sense! That’s why it’s so hard. Four people were supposed to be doing my part.
Rosenfield: It also had an interesting take on “waltz girl.” She said she goes with “waltz boy” and “Russian boy.”
Lovette: She was supposed to be kind of a player. And then she ends up alone.
Rosenfield: And the “dark angel boy” has pity on her but eventually “the dark angel” is destiny and then she accepts her fate at the end.
Lovette: And I die. But I like to think of it more as being taken up into heaven. That’s a scary moment, but it feels so good, like you’re flying. A force lifts you up and there’s nothing in front of you. I also like hugging my mom after all the failed relationships. But I don’t like to think of the “waltz girl” as being a player. I just think she has fun; she dances with everyone and she gives up. She gets tired and she dies. [She and Rosenfield crack up.] Because that’s what really happens.
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