Interview by: Amanda McAlpine
Over the past two weeks, The Joffrey Ballet has had the pleasure of working with world-renowned choreographer, Lar Lubovitch and his assistant, Ginger Thatcher, whose impressive background includes choreographing for theatre productions, film, TV, dance and opera, and working as Associate Choreographer for many Broadway shows. In speaking with Ginger, it was evident that her warm personality, passion for dance, and fondness for choreography have all been contributors of her success. In this interview, Ginger provides a unique perspective to working with Lar and shares her experience rehearsing with The Joffrey Ballet.
AM: How did you become involved with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company? With an amazing reputation and internationally recognized, was it an easy decision to make to join the company?
GT: It was a natural progression for me and I was ready to make a move after I had been withCleveland Ballet for 10 years. I had danced in a work by Lar, while in Cleveland Ballet, and had kept in touch with him over the years, so I was absolutely thrilled when he asked me to join his company. I have always been attracted to companies who perform diverse works, both classical and contemporary. When I was dancing professionally, Cleveland Ballet was closest to The Joffrey in terms of repertoire and I was able to dance principal roles there. The training was also fantastic- we got to take José Limon workshops and then perform a Limon piece. It was rare to be able to have that in-depth training for a specific piece. The workshops were extremely helpful because they enriched the movement. What attracts me to companies like the Joffrey, is the diverse repertoire, and the company’s ability to execute such a wide range of styles so effortlessly.
AM: What’s it like working with Lar- First being a dancer in his company and now his assistant?
GT: I have always enjoyed working with Lar because he is not only highly respectful of his dancers, but he allows us to be a part of the creative process. As this is not common practice in classical ballet, I was speechless when he first asked for input on how best to execute one of his steps [laughs]. That was the first time anyone had ever asked me that, and I had not been exposed to the idea of actually contributing to a work with the choreographer. In classical ballet, you are given the steps, and you generally have to execute them as you are directed. The idea of collaboration is much more common in contemporary dance.
AM: Who inspires you to choreograph?
GT: I really appreciate Lar’s choreographic style- his movements are so unique and beautiful. I really admire both Lar and Jiří Kylián as choreographers. They are extraordinary. Lar produces genius work, so it makes it difficult to choreograph [smiles] it’s hard to find a new lift that he hasn’t already thought of. I find that my voice comes out from working with him, but I can take from my Broadway background and classical background to find my own voice.
AM: You have quite a diverse background: Broadway, modern dance and classical ballet. What was your training like?
GT: Growing up as a navy “junior” I traveled everywhere, receiving very diverse training, even within the classical technique. From RAD training, to Vaganova training, and I quickly had to adapt. In the end, I think my diverse training helped me to become stronger, more adaptable, and well-rounded in my dancing. I was also strong in contemporary dance- which made dancing with Lar’s Company a great transition from Cleveland Ballet. I always had an interest in Musical Theater growing up, so I took acting classes, voice lessons and tap lessons. I loved it all.
AM: How were you able to become a choreographer and work on so many different projects? How did these opportunities arise?
GT: I was lucky to have had some great opportunities to become involved with choreographing. Ben Stevenson inspired me and allowed me to work on projects as an apprentice with the Houston Ballet. Additionally, I was the founding director of a choreography project called “New Steps” while in Cleveland, with two other dancers, Margaret Carlson, and David Shimotakahara, which garnered an “Achievement in the Arts” nomination. Lar was always very generous when I joined his company, and allowed me to use his studio space for free- and I am grateful for that.
I’ve also had the pleasure of performing in musicals such as West Side Story, Carousel, Phantom, Peter Pan, Showboat, Evita, etc. I was fortunate that Lar asked me to be his assistant on The Red Shoes for Broadway. One thing led to another and that show opened up the doors for me to work again on Broadway with Carousel, Big with Susan Stroman, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, A Year with Frog and Toad, and Oklahoma! , again with Susan Stroman. I will be her Associate for a new musical in 2014.
AM: How is working on Othello different than some of the other works you have done? (I.e. The Red Shoes) What is special about Othello?
The movement speaks the story- not the other way around. Othello is unique because it is a dance in 3 acts, which follows the typical format of a classical ballet, but there is hardly any pantomime. The story is told through dance alone. It’s also special because it was Lar’s first 3 act production he ever created. I was especially honored when he asked me to be his assistant in this process because it was new for him. Lar’s choreography works so well with Othello because of his contemporary style and overall design of movement. I like to think of Lar’s choreography as “designing in space.” There are a lot of circular sweeping movements, (which is challenging for classically trained dancers to move in this way) – you can get very sore! The music is also a difficult score for the dancers to move to. The counts are not in typical eight-counts, if it’s counted at all. It’s beautiful but very challenging. However, The Joffrey is the best company to receive Lar’s work because of their diverse movement abilities. They are able to execute anything they are given and it’s also rewarding to see the principal dancers growing from the last time they performed Othello in 2009. This version of Othello is going to be the best yet; Lar is continuing to perfect the movements from all of the versions of Othello he has set on other companies including ABT, so this work continues to evolve with each version. There is a layer of richness that is brought to this production that will make it truly special. It’s also motivating for the dancers to work with Lar because of the “kinetic intelligence” that one finds in his movement. Lar’s choreography is never just steps. The dancers are challenged because of the way they need to execute the shapes and flow of movement, and through the movement comes the emotional story. Dancing this work is very fulfilling.
The Joffrey Ballet’s Othello will be performed at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., 800-982-2787, April 24 – May 5, 2013. Tickets ($31-152) are available at the box office or on Ticketmaster.com. This will be the last time to see The Joffrey performOthello in Chicago, as it will be retired from active repertory. http://www.joffrey.org/othello