Lewisville — The image we have of ballet dancers today is changing thanks to professional dancers like Misty Copeland, David Hallberg and Sarah Lane. These dancers have done what many say is impossible and have brought classical ballet into households around the world with their artistic pursuits both on and off the stage. Copeland is the first African-American to reach principal status at American Ballet Theatre (ABT). In 2011, Hallberg became the first American to join the ranks of the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow. And Lane is most recognized for her role as dance double for Natalie Portman in Fox Searchlight Pictures' feature movie Black Swan (2010). But in the last year Lane has also been making some big moves on stage as well, if her promotion to principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in September 2017 is any indication. She also received positive reviews for her debut role in Giselle last spring at the Metropolitan Opera House (MET) in New York City.
Throughout her career with ABT, which started in 2003 as an apprentice, Lane has performed in numerous classical ballets, including Cinderella, Coppélia, Le Corsaire, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and Les Sylphide. She also created the Chinese dance in Alexei Ratmansky's The Nutcracker, the Miettes Qui Tombent (Breadcrumb) in Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty, Miranda in The Tempest, Princess Praline in Whipped Cream and a role in Demis Volpi's Private Light. Lane has also performed in works by notable choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor, George Balanchine, Liam Scarlett, Jorma Elo, Marcelo Gomes, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp.
Lane began her dance training in Memphis, Tenn. under the direction of Pat Gillespie at the Memphis Classical Ballet. When her family moved to Rochester, N.Y., she continued her training with Timothy Draper and Jamey Leverett at the Draper Center for Dance Education. At age 16, Lane received a full scholarship to the Boston Ballet's Summer Program. In 2000 and 2001, she was awarded first place and the Capezio Class Excellence Award at the North American Ballet Festival. In 2002 Lane became a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts.
Lane will be pulling double duty this weekend as she reprises her role in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s Giselle and guest teaches at Dance Planet 22. TheaterJones.com caught up with Lane after she returned from tour last week to discuss her rise through the ranks at ABT, preparing for the role of Giselle and participating in Dance Planet 22.
TheaterJones: Growing up, was becoming a professional ballet dancer with American Ballet Theatre (ABT) your main goal?
Sarah Lane: I have always loved dancing, but I never expected to be in a major ballet company because I just never felt that highly of myself. It wasn’t a goal I felt was obtainable for me until we moved to Rochester, New York, and I started at a more difficult school and was exposed to more teachers and guest teachers in the summers. I loved imagining myself as a professional ballet dancer because of the qualities these teachers brought to their classes and their teaching skills really rubbed off on me. So I kept working, and when I was 16 I came to New York City with a friend and saw ABT perform at the MET for the first time, and it made me think that maybe my dream is to be in ABT.
I always thought that NYC was too big of a city for me and being part of ABT would be too stressful, but then I thought of how beautiful the dancers looked on stage and I really wanted to be a part of that. And I think a lot of this had to do with the ballerina I saw that night, Amanda McKellow, who to this day is one of my favorite ballet dancers. She has such a sensibility when she moves and is so humble and she helped me a little bit with Giselle in the studio, which also happens to be the ballet I saw her perform in when I was 16.
You mentioned that you never saw yourself becoming a professional ballet dancer because you didn’t think that highly of yourself. How did you find the confidence to pursue your goal of joining a professional company?
Well, it’s something that I struggle with to this day. And I guess you can call it my Achilles heel because I have never been incredibly sure of myself. I love what I do and I get lost in it and I get lost in a certain feeling. It’s the feeling and the ideas I bring to what I do that drives me. And also the people that I work with and the processes that just make my performances whole rather than me coming out and thinking ok I can do this, this and this. So, instead of it being about me and myself and what I can do that drives me, it’s more about the artistry and what ideas I am trying to portray. So, in that sense I guess I don’t focus so much on whether I have confidence or not. I would say my confidence has gotten better over the years in that I’ve learned to appreciate the process more, and if I give more to the process then it distracts me when I go onstage so I can focus on the work more.
Looking at your career as a whole what advice do you have for the next generation of ballet dancers?
The most important thing is to have a really good work ethic because if you think you are too good to work or if you have one good show and you don’t think you have to work after that then that’s your downfall. Your whole career is going to be work and it’s not easy for anyone. Humility is also very important and having perspective in life and just keep working. I mean, perfectionism is great because that’s what keeps you working, but another point is you can’t judge yourself so much that you lose your love for what you do.
You were a soloist with ABT for 10 years before being promoted to principal last year. At any point during those years did you just want to throw in the towel?
I felt like I was just bashing my head up against a brick wall for many years. I wanted to go further and I wanted to develop and I wanted to do new and fresh works, but the thing is nothing is ever lined up so you can get what you want all the time. And that is how it was for me. I wasn’t lucky with the timing of how the company was going for a huge chunk of my career. But at the end of the day I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to persevere through that time. I learned how to work for myself and drain as much as I could from a role, which I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was thrown into things faster. I wouldn’t have learned how to keep myself occupied and keep myself entertained with what I had. So, this taught me perseverance and how to motivate myself. I mean if you really love something than you have to keep working toward it. Even when you get discouraged you have to find a way to inspire yourself.
You had your debut in Giselle at the MET last May and received rave reviews. One critic even called you the Giselle for the Millennials. How did you go about making the role your own?
I really enjoy the depth of the story and the ethereal feel of the second half. This wasn’t a role I was thrown into. I have done so many peasant pas’s in my career that playing Giselle just felt like the next step for me. So, for me it wasn’t like all of the sudden I was on that night. It was more of a progression of so many years of continuing to be disciplined and continuing to love what I do. I have such fond memories of doing the ballet with LakeCities Ballet Theatre nine years ago that when I finally did it with ABT I just had such love for it that whatever judgements I had about myself I had to throw out the door because I felt like the ballet didn’t deserve any of that. And even though Giselle is one of the oldest ballets, it still contains emotions and storylines that people can relate with today such as love and betrayal. So, the ballet is still living and breathing the emotions that we have as human beings.
You performed in LakeCities Ballet Theatre’s (LBT) Giselle nine year ago, and you have also been playing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Company’s Nutcracker since 2014. What do you enjoy most about working with these young dancers?
It always helps to having someone older to look up too and learn from so I hope that there is something these dancers can learn from me and that I could be there to give them any tips or offer some encouragement. That’s what I enjoy about having these dancers around and watching and talking to them and just being a part of their productions. It’s really an honor for me to be there and to be a role model for them. LBT has a really good heart and lots of positive energy and they have kind of accepted me into their family and that just means so much to me.
While in Dallas you will also be performing and teaching classes at Dance Planet 22. How would you describe your teaching style?
I think I am a pretty fair type of teacher. I mean if someone doesn’t seem like they are really invested in my class I can be a little tough with them because if you’re not interested now then you are never going to be interested. But if a dancer is working hard, but still struggling with something I am more than happy to be gracious and give everything that I can to help them. The tough love side of me really only comes out when I feel like a student is being lazy or isn’t trying. I love coaching and being with dancers inside the classroom, so teaching is definitely something I see myself doing more of in the future!
You can see Sarah Lane in LBT’s production of Giselle April 6-7 at the Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theatre and Dance Planet 22 April 7-8 at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in the Dallas Arts District.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com