NYCB's Savannah Lowery on Touring with Twyla Tharp

From left: Ramona Kelley, Savannah Lowery (jumping) and Daniel Baker in rehearsal for Tharp's 50-anniversary tour. Photo by Kyle Froman for Dance Magazine.

This fall, New York City Ballet soloist Savannah Lowery took a major risk and chose not to perform in her company’s fall season. Instead, she hit the road for an opportunity of a lifetime: Twyla Tharp’s 50th-annivesary cross-country tour. Lowery traded pointe shoes for slippers and a large troupe of dancers for a more intimate group. She spoke with Pointe about life on tour and the lessons she’s learned from Tharp.

The group is currently performing a program of two premieres at its last stop on tour, the David H. Koch Theater in New York City, now through Sunday, November 22.

How did you become involved with Twyla Tharp’s 50th-anniversary tour?

I’ve known Twyla for several years now, and whenever I was free or available, she’d bring me into a studio. We’d fool around and work together, never knowing where anything would lead. She’s always tried to get me to perform for her, and this was just the perfect timing.

What’s it been like working with Tharp and her dancers in the studio?

I keep saying this: It’s one of the healthiest dance environments I’ve ever been a part of. The dancers are amazing. We all get along really well, and I think that’s a testament to Twyla. She’s very picky and has a good eye for personalities and talents and balancing the two.

And Twyla, gosh. There’s no one else like her. Working with her has been unbelievable—challenging and difficult in one aspect and just so pleasant and inspiring in another.

What do you think makes this such a healthy atmosphere?

You know, with dancing there can be so many egos. But for some reason, this group checks all of that at the door. When we’re in the rehearsal room, it’s time to work. It’s time to create something together. It feels much more like a team sport instead of looking out for yourself.

What has the creative process been like?

I feel the most creative when I’m working with Twyla. She gives you movement and steps and then she lets it cook a little bit. Obviously, if she doesn’t like a choice you’re making or a direction you’re going in, she’ll let you know. Sometimes she is more specific about certain things than others. So for me, it’s been challenging to always be on and be more creative. And since it’s new work, it’s a little more daunting. At the ballet, I’m used to stepping into something that’s already been made.

How is Tharp’s work technically different from the rep you’re used to at NYCB?

Well, I’m not in pointe shoes, so that’s been the most difficult thing. Balancing is much easier, but my feet are so sore because different muscles are being used. Also turning, just from a technique point of view. I haven’t turned in flat shoes in forever, so it took me awhile to get used to that.

Since you’re not used to touring with NYCB, I wanted to ask about life on the road. How’s that been?

I was terrified actually to do 10 weeks of touring, but I’ve liked it a lot more than I thought I would. Boulder, Colorado, was a very big surprise. Loved it. Austin, Texas, was great. I thought I would love New Orleans, and it was way too crazy for me.

I’ve had to find different ways to take care of my body on tour. My neck’s probably been out since the last five cities, and I think that’s attributed to hotel beds. It’s about trying to get enough sleep. Trying to wind down and sleep in a place you aren’t comfortable with yet. And the minute you get comfortable, you’re up and moving on to the next city.

When do you return to New York City Ballet?

Next week! [laughs] We finish touring on Sunday and the following week is the opening of Nutcracker. But it all comes full circle, which I think is kind of brilliant, ending at the Koch Theater where I’ve danced with NYCB for so long.

Is there anything from this experience that you’d like to take with you to NYCB?

I’ve learned so much from Twyla. She demands so much from me, but she does it in a way that you don’t feel like you’re being reprimanded or not good enough. She lets you know that she expects things of you because she knows you’re capable of them. And there’s a confidence that comes with that.

I’ve learned how to approach things from a completely different perspective with her, and I hope to bring that back. To not be so wavering in my opinions. She really lets you have your own opinions and asks about them. I’ve never talked so much about dance or a role in my entire life. That was tedious at first, but looking back now, I’m like, Oh, this is very helpful. It helps me learn how I’m approaching something, where I am in approaching it and how to get it to where she’s happy—and where I’m happy and confident. So I’m hoping to bring that approach back to the studio and stage.

As the tour winds down, do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to offer?

I think anything worth trying is always risky and nerve-wracking, and that’s what this experience was from the beginning. And I’m so happy I did it.

 

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