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Newtown native Lauren Russo is getting a first taste of her dream after years of hard work.
Ms Russo, 21, was chosen recently to be part of the small student group to perform Alvin Ailey’s classic Memoria. The performance was part of the holiday season engagement by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at New York City Center, an annual five-week engagement that continues until December 31.
The repertory features more than two dozen diverse works, including choreographic debuts, new productions, and returning favorites among the programs, which vary throughout the season.
Memoria was performed December 6, 9 and 10. Ms Russo — a senior at Alvin Ailey/Fordham University — was one of two student dancers on the stage for all three performances.
“There are 26 students that are part of Memoria each year,” she explained, “but the cast that performs includes just 22 dancers. So there are four people who do one performance, and two people who do all three.”
According to Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Memoria was one of the choreographer’s “most affecting” works.
Choreographed and given its world premiere in 1979, the motivation for the deeply personal work was the premature death of his dear friend and colleague, Joyce Trisler.
Memoria has a run time of 26 minutes. Ailey admitted, again according to the dance foundation created in his name, that creating the piece “was a wrenching experience for him.”
The first section, “In Memory,” features a solo female dancer often isolated, even while surrounded by couples and two male attendants. The mood of the second section, “In Celebration,” transcends that sorrow, ending in a joyous emotional crescendo. The work is performed to music by Keith Jarrett. The creation of the piece marked the first time Mr Ailey combined Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with Ailey II and advanced students from The Ailey School.
In a phone call the morning after the third performance of the celebrated piece, Ms Russo explained that the work is performed just three times each year, and it stands out due to the fact that it has always been in the company’s oeuvre.
“I think the only other piece that has always been performed is Revelations,” she said. “It’s a pretty special piece.”
Memoria is also a standout in that only students from the school take part in it. The rest of the company takes part in the holiday engagement, Ms Russo said.
“So many people have continued on performing,” she said December 11. “The people who came before me, I know there are so many company members who did the student role, who went on to be in Ailey II, and so many incredible people who have been a part of this experience.”
She called participating in the work “a great honor.”
“If you get chosen,” she said, “it means so much to be able to perform something that has such a history behind it,” she added.
This was Ms Russo’s second year performing in Memoria. Last year her father, Anthony “Jack” Russo, died in November, in the midst of rehearsals.
“It was really, really hard last year,” Ms Russo said. “I was going back and forth from the hospital, on the train. But everyone was so supportive, including my dad.
“He knew I was part of this, and that it was a big deal for me,” she continued. “It was so, so sweet. I knew he would have loved to have been there.
“It’s kind of a nice memory, to be able to do that again,” she added.
This year the young dancer had “a much more challenging role” than last year’s, she said.
Ms Russo’s mother, Christina, was in attendance for the December 10 performance.
The performances, Ms Russo said, all went “really, really well.
“There is so much that goes into it,” she said. “We have so many rehearsals with the company, and you can get nervous when you’re next to such incredible artists, but the company is very welcoming.
“It’s honestly such an amazing experience,” she said.
A Life Of Dance
Lauren Russo began dancing at the age of 2. Starting her training with the Lakewood Trumbull YMCA and eventually finishing her training at Fine Line Theatre Arts under the direction of Elizabeth Parkinson and Scott Wise.
Before graduating Newtown High School in 2014, Ms Russo performed at the Joyce Theatre at Dancers Responding to AIDS (DRA) “Dancin’ Downtown At The Joyce.” In the summer she enhanced her training at Boston Ballet (2013, 2015), Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (2014), and Alonzo King LINES Ballet (2016).
Ms Russo is on track to graduate from Alvin Ailey/Fordham University in 2018 with a dual major BFA in dance and economics. She hopes to dance in Europe following graduation, she told The Newtown Bee last week. It is her dream to dance in a professional company overseas.
She has worked with numerous choreographers, such as Darrell Grand Moultrie, Matthew Rushing, Ronni Favors, Jermaine Spivey, Kanji Segawa, Jaclyn Buglisi, and Nai Ni Chen, among other artists.
Ms Russo is part of the Ailey Students Ailey Professionals (ASAP) Mentoring Program, which gives students the opportunity to build a mentor-mentee relationship with members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater over the course of three months. The program provides a rare opportunity for students to spend time with their mentors through workshops, professional development sessions, and access to private rehearsals.
Additionally, mentors meet with their students in a multitude of activities outside of Ailey to further strengthen the relationship.
This year, her mentor is company member Matthew Rushing. Mr Rushing has been instrumental throughout her time at Ailey assisting with her applications to dance auditions abroad.