Jessica Lang on "Make a Ballet"

Since 1997, American Ballet Theatre's "Make a Ballet" program has offered NYC schoolchildren the opportunity to design and produce original performance pieces. This year, renowned choreographer Jessica Lang helped students from the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts create a ballet inspired by Central Park's Bethesda Fountain, which the students performed at their spring dance concert and will dance again at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 26. We talked to Lang about her work with "Make a Ballet."

 

How did you first become involved with "Make a Ballet"?
John Meehan, the former director of ABT Studio Company, approached me about working with the program after I had choreographed three works on his company. He said he wanted to expose the students to a professional choreographer. Because of my schedule with commissions from companies throughout the year, we decided to set up a co-teaching situation with my husband, Kanji Segawa. The two of us have been choreographing for the program together since 2003.

Why is this project unique and important?
"Make a Ballet" is such a wonderful program because it educates through hands-on experience. The students get the opportunity to work with top professionals in dance, design, administration and production. These valuable experiences allow them to understand what it takes to literally make a ballet come to life on stage.  

Tell us about the piece you worked on with the Frank Sinatra students this year.
Every year the program has a central theme for all of the schools to work from. This year, the theme is Frederick Law Olmsted, who was famous for co-designing many well-known urban parks. Each school was assigned a park around NYC, and Frank Sinatra got Central Park. We had a field trip to explore the park and we decided the theme of our dance would revolve around the Bethesda Fountain and the images of water.

How has working with the students inspired you?

I really enjoy working with the "Make a Ballet" students every year. They are honest and excited by the process we give them and it is always one of the most rewarding moments to witness them perform their dance for the final time at the Metropolitan Opera. The enormous growth every student makes is inspiring and their efforts, as well as Kanji's and my own, pay off in that moment. We are proud of them and they are proud of themselves. I work with professional dancers every day, but making myself available for these students is something that I find really important. I believe education is part of my responsibility as an artist. 

Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

2020 Stars of the Corps: American Ballet Theatre's Wanyue Qiao

When the curtain opens on Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room, there are two women onstage, wearing striped pants and tops, and sneakers. By the end, after almost 40 minutes of high-intensity dancing, they've stripped down to red leotards, their fists lifted victoriously. Wanyue Qiao danced one of these athletic superwomen last year during American Ballet Theatre's spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House. It was her first major role, after three years in the corps, and she couldn't have been more fierce. "To be honest, I had never done this kind of dance before, and I wasn't sure if it was my style," she says. Tharp encouraged her, and helped her to find her warrior side. "She showed not just her strength, coordination and ability, but courage," says ballet master Susan Jones, who assisted Tharp in the staging.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Butternut Squash Takes Center Stage This Fall—Plus, 2 Easy Recipes

Whether it's cubed and roasted or puréed into a comforting soup, butternut squash takes center stage this fall. The flavorful seasonal favorite is an excellent nutritional choice for dancers. Here's what's packed into one serving:

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks