Lisa de Ribere: from New York City Ballet, to American Ballet Theatre, to Choreographer
May 17, 2017
BAE Pre-Professional Division Level 9 student, Chloe Harper, recently interviewed choreographer and former New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre dancer, Lisa de Ribere about her experiences as both a dancer and a choreographer. We hope you enjoy reading these highlights of the interview.
You can see Lisa de Ribere’s newest ballet at the BAE Studio Showing Winter Performances, February 19-21 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater (55th Street and Ninth Avenue). Tickets are available through www.TicketCentral.com.
Chloe Harper: How did you first become involved with ballet?
Lisa de Ribere:When I was born, my left leg was turned in—pronated inward—and the doctor gave my mother exercises to do with my leg, and then he said “when she’s old enough, put her in a ballet class.” So, when I was four, my mother put me in a ballet class. My mother had always wanted to take ballet, but never had the opportunity. So, that’s literally how I got into ballet.
CH:What interested you about choreography, and what was your inspiration for becoming a choreographer?
LdR:Even before I was taking ballet lessons, I was dancing around the house like a lot of little girls do, but I always wanted to make up dances. My idea at ages four, five, six, was not about “I’m going to be on the stage.” It was about making dances. Even then. And then, at a certain point—I don’t know how old I was—I realized that I probably should be learning how to dance really specifically. I had already been in ballet, but the ballet that I took was fifteen minutes of that, fifteen minutes of tap, fifteen minutes of gymnastics, and baton, which I detested. Eventually, I just said “I want to go to that, I don’t want to go to that,” and we narrowed it down to ballet, so by the time I was six, I was in ballet class every day.
CH: What specific characteristics do you look for when choosing dancers for a ballet?
LdR:Well, I come in, and I look at everyone. And it just depends. It’s more instinctual than anything. I can’t even tell you exactly what it is. It’ll be a look in the eyes; it’ll be the way a dancer holds his or herself. I mean, yes, I would like nice feet and strength and good pliés and all that stuff, but I guess I’m looking for somebody who’s really interesting because I’m making something, and it has to be collaborative—so the people you work with are very important. It’s just a matter of seeing someone with interesting qualities, and knowing that it could be difficult, but worth it. Once in a while I’m wrong, though!
CH: What was the main difference when you switched from New York City Ballet to American Ballet Theatre?
LdR:Big difference! So, at New York City Ballet, because I was there when Balanchine was there, everything was very fast. It still is. A lot of speed—you don’t show your preparations. One minute you’re on the floor running, the next minute, you’re up in the air, and you don’t see how the New York City Ballet dancer gets there, so it’s a very specific technique. At American Ballet Theatre, at the time I came in it was very Russian, which meant very heavy, so you did gigantic preparations to hoist yourself into the air, and it could be very bravura, but it was totally different. So, the first six weeks I was there, I spent a lot of it falling on the floor. I was in a great deal of pain. I could barely walk upstairs because my calves were killing me. It was just like opposite ends of the spectrum. Now, it would be different—a crossover like that wouldn’t be so difficult.
CH: What are some of your best memories from your career? Do you have any specific moments?
LdR:Well, I think one of the best experiences and one of the most amazing experiences was performing in New York City Ballet’s Stravinsky Festival. It was a week where Balanchine, Robbins, and a bunch of other choreographers too, came in. There were thirty-two ballets performed during that one week. Some of them were restagings of ballets like Agon, but a lot of new works too. To do that many ballets six days a week for months and months, it was monumental. It was a total immersion, but that, I would say, at New York City Ballet was probably the standout for me. Working with Jerome Robbins was extremely difficult. I had a very hard time with him. He was very, very tough on me, and then he stopped using me in his ballets for a couple of years. And then, I grew up a little bit, and I matured, and then he started using me again, and I was like “why is he using me?” It was very strange, and it was uncomfortable, but you know, sometimes, in order to grow and change and whatever, you have to go through some painful stuff unfortunately.
CH:Where are some of the places that you have choreographed?
LdR:I’ve choreographed for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet and Judith Fugate and Medhi Bahiri’s company, Ballet NY. Of course, I’ve choreographed at BAE. This is my second piece for BAE—Autumn was my first. It was the first ballet I ever created, and originally I choreographed it for CPYB many years ago. Darla, who was a student at the time, started out as a soloist in that ballet, and then she went into the lead. Darla wanted to have the ballet done at BAE because she liked it, and she has since staged it twice for BAE. I’ve also choreographed The Nutcracker for Milwaukee Ballet. It was a major production, which was really fun to do. At Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre I’ve now created five or six ballets—it was really a terrific place to work.
CH:How do you typically find a piece of music to work with?
LdR: I listen to music all the time. When I was at SAB and thinking about choreographing, I would go to the library and take out albums, LPs, ten at a time, take them home, listen to them. If I liked them, I would use my little cassette recorder and record the music, take the ten back, and get another ten. I did that continually, so I was listening to music constantly. Now I’ll hear something on the radio—that’s usually the way I get my music—and then I go on iTunes and find it. I keep a list of the music that I might sometime want to use. Now, this piece that I am choreographing for BAE has been on my list for years.
CH:What is one of the biggest challenges of being a choreographer?
LdR:It can be a challenge to find your own voice and not be too directly influenced by choreographers you’ve worked closely with as a dancer. In the end you just have to learn to trust your instincts.