As cultural organizations inch toward reopening, Segerstrom Center for the Arts (SCFTA) and American Ballet Theatre have partnered for an original dance project, “Uniting in Movement.” Venturing out only to rehearse in the Center’s studios, some 18 dancers, ABT artistic staff, and a trio of choreographers — Jessica Lang, Darrell Grand Moultrie, and Lauren Lovette — isolated themselves at a hotel across the street from the Center. The five-week residency in this safe “bubble” began March 22, with its efforts recorded on April 23 and 24, culminating in a live performance at Segerstrom Hall on April 25. In addition, digital on-demand viewing will be available May 12–26.
Not new to collaborations, The Center and ABT have a long history of producing world-class dance projects, including new productions and world premieres, part of their commitment to supporting and advancing the development of new works. In an email, Judy Morr, executive vice president of SCFTA wrote about the genesis of the project: “During the pandemic, ABT found effective ways to continue to provide dance experiences, most often through their virtual performances. As they developed live ‘bubble’ projects in secured, isolated environments, the Center immediately began discussions about how we could do something very special together here for our audiences.”
Part of that special experience is evident in the work of Lovette, 29, a New York City Ballet principal dancer who has also been garnering rave reviews for her choreography. Indeed, The New York Times’ Gia Kourlas described her 2019 work, The Shaded Line, as having an urgent “desire to turn ballet inside out. In essence, she has crossed a line from prettiness to power.” And since joining the company in 2009, the ballerina has earned the Clive Barnes Award for Dance (2012) and the Janice Levin Award (2012–2013).
Last year before the lockdown, Lovette, who was born in Thousand Oaks, California, began creating La Follia Variations on ABT’s Studio Company, completing the work on the day that ABT studios closed because of the pandemic. For this project, ABT Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie had asked Lovette to stage Follia on ABT’s main company. Setting the 13-minute work on eight dancers — four women and four men — to music by Baroque composer Francesco Geminiani, Lovette recruited violinist/composer Michi Wiancko to arrange it. The choreographer noted: “I wanted to refine things, change things, make it more unique, and pick it up a notch. I had 11 days to teach all of the existing steps to new dancers,” adding, “the pace is relentless and the music is always changing, taking unexpected turns.”
And like City Ballet’s founder, George Balanchine, music, for Lovette, also comes before the steps. “I love this piece and think it’s perfect for dance. There are underlying rhythms that lay on top of melodies and you can see the dancing as you listen to the music. I was saving this for the perfect time.”
The dancers were excited to perform Follia, as well. “When you get to make a work on dancers, you tailor it to them — it’s not a copy and paste version of themselves,” pointed out Lovette, who is stepping down from City Ballet in the fall but plans to continue dancing and choreographing as a freelancer. “And if it doesn’t work, I change it.”
Ultimately, the dancemaker thinks of this ballet, which will be an ABT premiere when it debuts in front of an audience of 300 (Segerstrom normally seats 3,000) as a “celebration of hope. I want the work to uplift people and I’m grateful that [in spite of COVID-19] this is happening at all — that we’re taking a step towards live art. The piece has a triumphant ending. At least that’s how it feels to me.”
Ticket and more information at the SCFTA website.