COVID hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows for anyone, really, and Lauren Lovette has certainly had her own deep difficulties through it all. Following some challenging organizational reshuffling at New York City Ballet (NYCB), COVID hit. Lovette, a former principal at the company, took time away for self-reflection and making sense of things, through lockdown. She describes it as an incredibly challenging time but one that also led her to meaningful insights.
When she was ready, she began dancing again – and then realized where she needed to take her life and career. She took the leap into freelancing, and hasn’t looked back. She’s making work and performing with various artists, choosing the projects that inspire and move her. Lovette has also recently been named the first Resident Choreographer at Paul Taylor Dance Company – building on a relationship that she’d already been building with the company.
Dance Informa spoke with Lovette about self-reflecting on her life and career during COVID, shifting from a performing to a freelance performing and choreographic career, what she’s working on and how she’s giving back to the field, and more. She’s been finding for herself why dance matters, and truly choosing the path of moving and creating.
You’ve had quite a journey lately, shifting from full-time performing to performing and choreographing as a freelancer. What’s that been like for you, creatively, mentally, emotionally and spiritually?
“I’m not special in that way; I know everybody has gone through it with COVID. When COVID hit, I had just come off a busy season at NYCB. I did Odile/Odette. Tiler Peck was coming back from a neck injury, and I was filling in for many of her typical roles. I was going through a lot personally, and there was also a lot going on at NYCB. I was trying to sit with that within myself, and also see what the new administration thought of me and my work.
If anything, I was feeling a lot of confusion – but I was so busy, I didn’t really have time to think about it all. Full steam ahead. It was like being on a stationary bike with the resistance at max, and if you keep going, the momentum keeps going; COVID, for me, was when the bike stopped and I finally felt the whole resistance. I had so much to work through.
I did have some people helping me at the time, and I was trying to listen to their guidance. I was trying to deal with the stark focus of my life along with the anxiety of the pandemic. And at some point, I just completely froze. My team helped me to keep my presence out there and make sure everyone knew that I was okay! I took months to figure it all out, to figure out how I felt. I went to therapy. I wrote a lot. And because we weren’t able to dance, I realized how much we use dance to process!
After 11 months away from dance, I wanted to see how it felt to be back in action, so I did the NYCB bubble residency at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park with Kyle Abraham. I felt scared, out of shape and incapable. (I didn’t have the space where I was living to get back in shape!) But when we got into it, it was amazing. It brought so much into focus for me, on a personal level. My emotions broke, and I was able to feel that joy of dancing. And to know that I truly love it! I could finally think straight. And it came to me there – I needed to leave NYCB, which was everything I had always known. I wrote my letter of resignation there at Kaatsbaan.
My life changed from there, and it all got better. I put a part of myself to rest, and then the person that I had always wanted to be began to emerge. I didn’t know where it would go from there, but I surrounded myself with people who would allow me to grow with them. I took big leaps of faith — put my name out there for things, started a non-profit and produced a show. I traveled a lot. It’s all been nonstop, and all inspiring work. There’s a huge part of me that misses the family that a company becomes. But my self-respect has grown, and I’m a lot more courageous.”
You’ve described the ‘fearlessness, agility, diversity of feeling and absolute abandon’ of Paul Taylor’s work and that of the company. What do you feel you, as a choreographer, bring to that? What are you working on in terms of your craft, and how are you doing so?
“I’ve always been a fan of his work. The dancers are so honest in their movement; they’re so truly themselves. The way they can balance and go off-balance, and the way they tumble and weightshare, in space – it’s so brave. At times, they can be a building block, and at other times, they can truly be a soul. They have it all. And that’s a great thing to work with. They can be in the background, but when you ask them to step forward, there’s so much there.
I can’t meet Taylor’s level, but what I think we have in common is reinventing ourselves and the work – I don’t like doing the same piece twice. When I look at other choreographers that I admire, he was the most like that – you never know what you’re going to get! I never want to get settled in myself in that way. I hope to offer that to the company.”
What was it like to be asked to be the first Taylor Choreographer in Residence? What were you thinking and feeling in that moment?
“I’ve probably never been so honored. I immediately said yes, although I also very much didn’t want to let them down. It’s not something that I asked for at all or would have expected, at all, but I was wildly excited – especially as I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do in this field. It’s one steady commission a year. They’re a busy company, they tour a lot, and work with many other choreographers. It’s great to work with dancers who have so many other influences.
The company can grow in that way, but they – and I – have something steady to depend on. I’m super excited! The next premiere is in November of this year. I always have an idea for them! It’s a dream job for me and keeps me in NYC, which I love. I don’t take it lightly. I want to see that company thrive. Without putting too much pressure on myself!”
Pentimento, your work that the Paul Taylor Dance Company just premiered – that title makes me think of the root ‘penser,’ to think, of the reflectiveness of this pandemic time for many people. I’d love to hear how the concept and process emerged for you and what it means to you.
“In that crazy season before COVID, I took Mondays and spent time with the Taylor company. I had a concept in mind that I loved. Then COVID shut everything down. The premiere was supposed to be in November of 2020, which didn’t happen because of lockdowns. My first dipping my toe back into a studio setting was Taylor’s NYC-based bubble residency.
I got to work with the dancers in a more intimate way, with six out of the 16 dancers in the Taylor company. Everyone was trying to figure out how to talk to one another – we were all pretty socially awkward, with masks on, et cetera. But it was such a balm, like medicine for exactly what I needed. I almost finished the piece, but when I returned to New York a few months later, it all changed, and I just had to re-work it.
The piece is about mental health, in a sense, of how you have different parts of you, with different dancers representing those different parts. When back in the city again, I had to reinvent the concept. NYC was opening back up, and we added the whole company of 16 dancers. With all of that happening, I thought about distinct personalities co-mingling. It felt like a painting was being revealed underneath another one. It felt like things were being stripped away, even with adding more dancers. And with the name, the more layers I found there, the more there was revealed.
But it was just so much fun, a total blast, and just a really well-timed creative process. Everytime you see the piece, it’s different. At the same time, I was trying to move back into the city and imagine what my future without NYCB would be like. It was a very vulnerable time. But that’s also when I was doing a lot of other things that I enjoyed, and it was all in all a lot of fun.”
What next? What else do you want to explore?
“When it comes to my dancing, that’s still a big question mark for me. I take daily class, and am also training with someone who kicks my butt every day. I love to find release within form, but I also want to learn and improve in super classical technique. I love working with so many different artists. After I left City Ballet, I thought about the moments that I loved most – and it was that cross-pollinating with other artists. It brings out the entrepreneurial and creative sides of me.
I’m also working on my non-profit, Lauren Lovette Studio, which, overall, asks the question of why ballet matters. We get different dancers together and to travel, allow young choreographers to get their work seen, and provide scholarships for young dancers.
Otherwise, right now, I’m just organizing myself, as a leader and someone with choreographic vision. Organizing everything because life comes at you fast. I’ve been thinking about that quote, ‘Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity.’ That quote has meant a lot to me, from the time I was a teenager, because it’s just so true.
The dance world is being bathed in change right now. The show that I produced in New York was called Why It Matters. With what I was going through during COVID, all of those questions in myself, that’s what I was wondering – why does ballet matter? But now I’ve chosen this path of dance. And I love it.”
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.