BWW Interviews: Cherylyn Lavagnino
Cherylyn Lavagnino has an MFA in Dance from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, as well as a BA in Philosophy from USC. Lavagnino toured nationally as a soloist with the Pennsylvania Ballet. She has performed a range of classical repertoire and contemporary work by choreographers including Balanchine, John Butler, Hans Van Manen, and Tere O'Connor, and the diversity of these experiences has informed the dialogue between classical and contemporary in her work with Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance. Ms. Lavagnino has created over forty works in the past fifteen years, and since 2000 the platform for her choreography has been Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance. Many of those works were created in collaboration with composers Scott Killian and Jane Chung. CLD continues to support a Live Music and Dance incentive their performances. Lavagnino's choreography has been presented in New York City: by Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, Dance Theater Workshop, Symphony Space, DanceNow/NYC, Kaatsban International Dance Center and The Joyce Theatre's "Evening Stars" series. Ms. Lavagnino is an Alpert Award nominee for choreography and recipient of a space grant residency from the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Her choreography has been supported by the American Music Center's, Live Music for Dance grant and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Manhattan Creative Communities Fund.
Lavagnino was Chair of the Dance Department at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts for 81/2 years, from 2005-2014. She has been a full-time member of the NYU faculty since 1987. She teaches professional ballet locally in NYC and internationally; she is developing a creative exchange with the Beijing Dance Academy and the Conservatory and Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. In recognition of her superior work, Lavagnino won New York University's prestigious David Payne Carter Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003.
Lavagnino will be presenting her New York season, "Darkness, Shadows, Silence," June 26 through June 28 at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church as part of the DANCE: Access incentive. The program, featuring three different works, will include the world premiere of RU, a new, contemporary ballet conceived and directed by Cherylyn Lavagnino in collaboration with composer Scott Killian.
Broadwayworld Dance recently sat down to interview Cherylyn Lavagnino.
Q. When did you first begin to dance?
A. I began to study dance when I was 7 years of age with Roselle Frey. During this time I had my first performance experience with David Lachine, who chose me to be one of the little girls for his ballet, Graduation Ball
Q. Which teachers influenced you in your career path?
A. Shortly after studying with Roselle my mom took me to study with Carmelita Maracci. What an experience that was! She began to shape my understanding of what an artist should be; I was around 9 at the time, and she wanted me to explore many things. She requested that I play the flute, take painting classes, go to the museum, understand politics and read and study in- depth. I later met Lupe Serano when I joined Pennsylvania Ballet - she was the first teacher to inform me about technique and process and the importance of anatomical alignment. I will always remember her kind guidance: "Don't worry; I reworked my technique three times during my career." I began to understand how much our work is about process and how engaging that can be.
Q. Any preferences: modern versus ballet?
A. I appreciate both forms and made a point to return to Tisch Dance's MFA program to study modern dance and develop my choreographic craft.
Q. Were there any choreographers that served as major influences?
A. From the beginning, Balanchine enchanted me. As a child I danced in his Nutcracker and Midsummer's Dream. I so appreciate his musicality and spatial design. I remember being backstage and feeling like I was in some wonderful dream or movie, feeling all the excitement and drama of being involved in his ballets.
Q. You've spent much of your career in academia. How did that come about?
A. I danced professionally for about 10 - 12 years before deciding to get an MFA. I always had the urge to choreograph and felt I should really study the craft and expand my dance technique palette to include contemporary dance.
Another tremendous influence at this time was Lawrence Rhodes. I was taking his professional ballet class and wanted very much to continue working with him. He was the Chair of Tisch Dance at the time, and he encouraged me to enter the MFA program. That was great advice, and it truly changed my perception of performance and creative work. He invited me to teach in the department a year or two after I completed my MFA. My work at Tisch has always encouraged me to develop as an artist and teacher--I honed many skills through my roles at Tisch that supported my trajectory as a choreographer and artistic director. I was also surrounded by brilliant artists that have supported and mentored my artistic pursuits; Deborah Jowitt, Phyllis Lamhut, Jaclynn Villamil and Jolinda Menendez, to name the most influential.