Dancing, American Ballet Theatre soloist Sarah Lane stands out for her clear lines, strength, and sincere and charismatic stage presence. In conversation she creates a similar impression-honest, focused, and totally charming. Lane recently danced the part of the Shakespearean heroine Miranda, a role created on her, in Alexei Ratmansky’s latest ballet, The Tempest. In this Q&A, Lane talks about her involvement in the creation of a new ballet, pursuing artistic growth, and tips for aspiring dancers.
What was it like getting to be the first Miranda?
It was the first time in my life being cast as one of the principals in one of Ratmansky's ballets and having a ballet actually set on me. I was so honored to be given that opportunity and to be involved in the creation of a role, especially one that has such an in-depth character.
What is the creative process like working with Alexei Ratmansky? What are some of the challenges of learning and contributing to a work-in-progress, and what are some of the rewards?
You have to keep a totally open mind. Alexei likes to try a lot of different ideas and you have to be ready for change all the time. He might decide to scrap something entirely that you’d be working really hard on and do something totally new. You have to be willing and able to learn constantly. You put yourself into the process too, though, with your own nuances here and there. If he likes it he’ll keep it, and if not he’ll tell you. He’s very straightforward.
The Sibelius music was beautiful. It really said something to me and inspired my movement. Alexei’s a very musical choreographer. He hears little notes in music that others might miss. It can be challenging-he choreographs a step to every little note so there’s a lot there to take in, coordinate, and have flow through your body and feel natural-but it’s a great experience. It teaches you to really listen and makes you more musically sensitive and responsive as a dancer.
The Tempest, a condensed version of the play, relies heavily on the dancers’ dramatic abilities to convey the story. How do you hone those skills and work on bringing your character to life?
Ballet really isn’t just steps. You have to have motivation behind your movements and to know where the steps come from. I love Miranda. All of the Shakespeare-based roles are great characters. There’s so much to work with in the play itself, and you can bring your own experiences to bear to really delve in. When my character feels a certain way or when she’s reacting to a certain impetus, those feelings are something any of us have felt in life. I try to find examples of those feelings or responses from my life and that helps make it sincere.
You’ve also performed some amazing roles outside of ABT, for example Odette/Odile with Angel Corella’s Ballet de Barcelona and Giselle with LakeCities Ballet Theatre in Dallas. What have you gotten out of these experiences?
Honestly, everyone knows professional dance is a difficult career. It’s short and we all want to make the most of it. In a lot of companies, there simply aren’t enough shows in any season to really fulfill all of the dancers’ desires for performance opportunities. You get something here and there, but to feel really comfortable on stage you need time on stage. It’s been huge for me to get to work with other artists and companies and try ballets and roles I may not get the chance to do at ABT. It helps you develop as a dancer and it keeps you happy and sane.
Do you have any tips for finding guest performance opportunities or side projects?
There are a lot of projects that can offer you interesting opportunities to grow as an artist and that you can help in turn by participating. You have to put a little time and effort into it and be creative, but making those connections is something you can do almost for free and for yourself. This is something I think even many large companies don’t seem to understand. Social media is so influential. You can send out materials and stay in touch with a broad arts community without traveling or spending a lot of money. Reach out and make yourself available. Make yourself a website. Post videos. It’s really easy to make them yourself or with a friend. Share a lot of pictures and open up your Facebook page to your fans. It turns out there are lot of people out there who are happy to help you.
What advice would you offer younger dancers?
Keep working hard. It’s more important than how much talent you have. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t work hard you might as well throw it in the garbage. Nobody wants to watch somebody who doesn’t care about what they do.