Virginia Johnson, DTH, and the Question of Race

Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.
Virginia Johnson with her DTH dancers. Photo by Andrea Mohin for the Times.

This summer, I spoke with Virginia Johnson, the longtime star of Dance Theatre of Harlem, who is now the troupe’s Artistic Director. You can see the interview, on DanceTabs, here.

Under Johnson’s tutelage, the company has returned from the brink for a successful first season. This fall, her dancers will perform at Fall for Dance in New York. In our interview, we talked about her life in dance, the rise, fall, and rise of Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the very real challenge of diversity in ballet. Here’s an  excerpt: “I look at these dancers and I see that they’re not being corrected. There are some very basic things going on that reveal that they’re being ignored. And we see changes in them so quickly because they are finally getting corrections. The schools need to not only embrace the fact that ballet doesn’t have a color but actually work with the material in the room.”

The question of diversity in ballet is finally coming to people’s attention. Benjamin Millepied mentioned it in an interview related to his upcoming directorship of the Paris Opera Ballet, in comments that pissed off the French media. (He said, “I can’t run a ballet company now, today, and not have it be a company where people in the house can relate to, and recognize themselves in some ways.” Shocking.) ABT has just announced a new initiative whose mission is to reach out to minority communities through Boys and Girls Clubs across the us. (ABT’s Misty Copeland will be the ambassador for the program, which is called Project Plié.) Meanwhile, DTH will be there.

Jeune Fille en Fleur: The Blossoming of Lauren Lovette

Lauren Lovette became a member of the corps de ballet at New York City Ballet only two years ago, but her star has been steadily rising ever since. With her sparkling eyes, delicate sensuality, and the quiet sense of joy that suffuses  her dancing, it’s hard to miss her, even when she’s at the rear of the stage, which happens less and less frequently. On Monday, she received the Clive Barnes (dance) Award, a prize that singles out young performers who reveal extraordinary promise.  (Rob McClure won the award for best young actor.) The timing seems just right; Lovette will début in the role of Sugarplum on Dec. 23, an event not to be missed (she’ll dance it again at the matinée of the 28th). She’s only twenty, and I’ll wager we’ll be seeing more and more of her. Over the past few seasons, she has illuminated the stage in various roles, from the introspective solo in Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia to the sensual, playful pas de deux in Balanchine’s Rubies, and even a throwaway part in Susan Stroman’s For the Love of Duke. Here are a few photos of her, all by Paul Kolnik.

With Anthony Huxley in Rubies. (All photos by Paul Kolnik.)
With Anthony Huxley in Rubies. (All photos by Paul Kolnik.)
In the quiet solo in Wheeldon's Polyphonia, where she drew us into her world.
In the mesmerizing solo in Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, where she drew us into her world.

At the time of her début in Polyphonia, I wrote: “A few days ago, when Sara Mearns performed the role, she seemed to expand, radiating energy outward; Lovette, instead, pulled us into her private world. She repeated a phrase, rising quietly on pointe and raising her leg, and then began to add gestures, a scooping up of the hands, a turn with the arms held aloft and then lowered into a kind of prayerful gesture. She accelerated slightly, she slowed down. Her fingers sparkled with life. She drew attention to every detail of the choreography and made us see it anew. In other words, she not only danced it beautifully, but made it her own.”

With Chase Finlay, again in Polyphonia.
With Chase Finlay, again in Polyphonia.
Here she is in Stroman's For the Love of Duke.
Here she is in Stroman’s For the Love of Duke.
And here, in Balanchine's Serenade, when she was still at the School of American Ballet.
And here, in Balanchine’s Serenade, when she was still at the School of American Ballet.

There’s a video of her in Peter Martins’ Mes Oiseaux here. She’s the one with the bangs.

At the awards ceremony on Monday Lovette, who seemed slightly overwhelmed by her nervous excitement, spoke touchingly of her colleagues, the art of dance, and her sense of wonder at her own good fortune. The event was organized by Barnes’ widow, Valerie Taylor-Barnes, whom I recently interviewed for DanceTabs. She first met the critic when she was a dancer with the Royal Ballet. Fifty (!) years—and various wives—later, they married. Ms. Barnes has quite an eye; recent award-winners include Isabella Boylston (of ABT) and Chase Finlay (of NYCB).

For  updates, feel free to check out @MarinaHarss on Twitter. And I’m eager for your comments!

Interview with Valerie Barnes (for DanceTabs)

I recently sat down with Valerie Taylor Barnes, wife of the late critic Clive Barnes and founder of the Clive Barnes Foundation, rewarding what she calls “that mysterious thing called artistry.” She is incredibly gracious, funny, and full of stories. You can read the interview here.

Here she is, talking about Frederick Ashton:

“I loved all his work. He was a wonderful, wonderful man, absolutely lovely. He was very, very sensitive. I never knew him to lose his temper, with all the trials and tribulations; he was always just terrific, with a great sense of humor. I learned, well, I suppose everything I knew about the theatre from him. He was very open and generous with everything. His way of choreographing was wonderful because he would ask us to join in. He would say: ‘Just do a step to that,’ and even if he didn’t use it, you felt like you were partaking in what was going on. It kept everybody interested. I think everybody loved him. He was an amazing man.”