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.