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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It may have been snowing Sunday night in New York City, but that didn’t stop students, parents and teachers from flocking to The School at Steps Pointe Shoe Workshop and Fair, part of the school’s Complete Dancer Series, sponsored by Pointe.

A panel of experts that included podiatrist Dr. John Brummer, pointe shoe fitter Mary Carpenter, and master teacher Lisa Lockwood led a discussion on foot care, injury prevention, pointe training and fitting protocol, while New York City Ballet soloist Savannah Lowery shared her journey towards finding her perfect shoe. At one point, Carpenter had students take off their boots to show how different foot shapes correspond to different shaped pointe shoe boxes. Afterwards, students could take pictures with Lowrey and peruse the latest pointe shoe styles from Capezio, Freed, Chacott and Gaynor Minden.

Next up in the series? An injury prevention workshop on April 6.

With so much information on nutrition out there, deciding on what constitutes a healthy diet can be a little confusing, especially for dancers who need to consume enough food to fuel a day of dancing.

The effect of too little nourishment can become evident early in the day, says Marie Elena Scioscia, a Manhattan nutritionist and former dancer. Energy drops, mood starts to plummet and the ability to make decisions diminishes. “Injury prevention goes right out the window," she says. “The brain and nervous system need a constant supply of energy from blood sugar—which can only come from food. The body will start to break down even over the course of the day."

Long-term results are even more grim, Scioscia warns. “When dancers consistently undereat over the course of their careers, they set themselves up for muscle loss, impaired immunity, thyroid disorder and other hormonal disorders." She recommends sticking to a well-balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates and good-quality fats.

With that in mind, we asked four dancers to tell us what they ate in a day of rehearsing and performing. (Our thanks to the dancers for recording their meals for our readers.) We looked at how each dancer approaches diet. Then, without meeting the dancers and knowing only their heights and weights, Scioscia evaluated the diets and made suggestions that dancers at all levels can use.

SAMUEL POTT
American Repertory Ballet
Age: 28

Breakfast
1 shot espresso
1 large bowl raisin bran cereal with banana
1 fried egg on 1 slice toast with butter
Lunch
2 sandwiches: turkey, swiss, mayo, lettuce
1 yogurt
1 apple
1 grapefruit
Snack
1 large coffee
1 chocolate-chip cookie
Dinner
Tofu with broccoli, soy sauce
Rice

Samuel Pott works at maintaining his weight. “I eat a lot," says Samuel. But “sometimes I have to drink a protein drink at the end of the day to not lose weight." That's when he whips up a 700-calorie concoction he buys at a vitamin shop. He also tries to eat a lot of protein at breakfast, to make his energy last, and avoids fast food and junk food like potato chips, high in saturated fat. A splurge? Coffee and a chocolate-chip cookie.

Samuel would do well to consume his special protein drink every day. He's not eating enough, Scioscia says. He needs approximately 3,000 calories to maintain his energy and body composition, not 2,028. His diet was a little low on dairy, very low on other proteins and low on vegetables. “I would suggest bringing some yogurt to rehearsals, or for a snack, having a protein bar or peanut butter sandwich rather than a cookie. At lunch, I would add a side salad or some vegetable soup."


RACHEL HOLMES
Joffrey Ballet School
Age: 19

Breakfast
1 pumpernickel bagel, toasted with butter
1 Naked “Immunity" juice drink
Snack
1 banana
1 pear
Lunch
2 slices of turkey breast on a roll with lettuce, pickle, mustard and 1 slice of American cheese
Dinner
1 cup pasta with broccoli florets
1 cranberry almond muffin
1 15-ounce can of iced coffee

An active ballet student, Rachel Holmes leaves home at 8 am, takes five hours of classes, and then rehearses with a modern company or works a night job before she returns home at midnight. Rachel often eats on the go but doesn't skip meals. “I don't think I could," she says. “If I had more time, I'd probably eat more, especially at lunch."

Rachel needs approximately 2,300 calories to maintain her weight; her diet shows only about 1,893 calories. In choosing refined starches like a bagel and muffin, which each weigh about 8 ounces, she consumed 15 bread servings, where the average should be 8 to 10. In addition to eating more whole grains, Scioscia advises Rachel to consume at least 5 servings of vegetables a day and increase her protein to 110 grams.

She also missed out on the recommended 1,200 milligrams of calcium. “Dancers should shoot for at least 2 to 3 dairy servings from low-fat sources like skim milk or yogurt. Fortified soy milk is also a good choice, as soy is good for bones."


SAVANNAH LOWERY

New York City Ballet
Age: 20

Breakfast
Light yogurt, orange juice, coffee
Lunch
Chicken salad
Snack
Almonds
Dinner
Soup, chicken, crackers, orange

NYCB corps de ballet member (and part-time college student) Savannah Lowery is the first to admit her seven-shows-a-week schedule can be “pretty grueling." Fitting in nutrition is difficult, so she tries to pack in her nutrition during days off. On a recent day when her mom was visiting, she ate three meals: eggs, chicken and salad, and spaghetti. She also occasionally indulges in M&Ms.

Scioscia says Savannah needs approximately 2,200 calories every day, not the 1,421 shown here. “She is an athlete, and so it is very important for her long-term career that she consume enough each day."

A protein-heavy diet can also lead to sugar cravings. Eating a healthy mix of protein, good-quality fats and carbs will help her feel full. Carbohydrates like oatmeal, sweet potatoes and brown rice give athletes the fuel that is needed to drive muscular endurance and strength, Scioscia explains.“Without carbohydrates, muscle must be broken down for fuel—not good for dancers or anyone long-term."


MELISSA MORRISSEY
Fugate/Bahiri Ballet NY
Age: 29

Breakfast
2 pieces of toast with peanut butter and jelly
1 glass of chocolate soy milk
Snacks
Luna bar, dried fruit or nuts
Lunch
Sandwich with cheese, avocado and tomato
Dinner
Sautéed vegetables with tofu

“I feel really strongly about eating three meals a day," says Melissa Morrissey. With six hours of rehearsal a day, she's also the one with the Luna bars, dried fruit and nuts in her bag. “I need that snack to keep my energy up," she adds.

Melissa likes to read up on nutrition, but admits, “There are so many things out there it's hard to know what to believe. I try to listen to my body." Paying attention doesn't mean she doesn't treat herself. “I will eat dessert sometimes," she says.

Melissa needs at least 1,600 calories a day. Her diet turned out to be about 1,439 calories. Her carbohydrate intake was on the low side, but adequate. She also consumed too little calcium, fruits, vegetables and protein. “Without adequate protein," Scioscia warns, “it is impossible to maintain muscle and keep the immune system going." Melissa, who doesn't eat red meat, chicken or pork, could eat more fish or try a protein shake for an afternoon snack or before performing.

Susan Chitwood, a former apprentice with Virginia Ballet Theater, has an MS in journalism from Columbia University in New York City.

Oh, ballet dancers: We're nothing if not perfectionists. From our first class we're programmed to eliminate flaws--or at least camouflage them.

But what happens when things go truly wrong? Last night at New York City Ballet, soloist Savannah Lowery was blazing through the lead role in the Second Campaign of Stars and Stripes--a part she dances frequently--with her usual brio. Then, during her second entrance, she took a tumble, and appeared to injure herself. How do you "camouflage" the fact that you're sitting on the floor and some part of your body is no longer working?

Savannah couldn't quite--nobody could--but she made a laudably valiant effort. She survived the remaining 30 seconds or so of her solo, performing the port de bras, if not the legwork, full out. She even managed the final relevé in arabesque before exiting with as much grace and dignity as she could muster. (Feel better soon, Savannah!)

That's what I call professionalism. Also earning a gold (or red, white and blue?) star: Gwyneth Muller, who pulled off an impressive quick change and stepped in for Savannah in the coda, making nary a faux pas.

What happens, then, when disaster strikes? At NYCB, cool heads and strong wills save the day.

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