Vanity Lane is a deeply personal, emotional and spiritual journey. It combines traditional and contemporary ballet and music -- and hopes to reflect and inspire the next generation of black artists.
By La’Toya Princess Jackson
Guest Blogger, Harvard Extension School
Vanity Lane is an original fairytale I developed during the process of recording my original song also called Vanity Lane. After writing the lyrics to the song and during the process of recording it, I developed the idea of turning the song into a contemporary ballet that would include a classical ballet score for Act I, while Act II would infuse my roots as an EDM artist and incorporate other musical influences such as jazz and African drumming. Vanity Lane premieres March 23-25 at Farkas Hall.
The ballet is a two-act ballet set in an imaginary land in Ethiopia. What I discovered in my research of traditional ballet as a student at Harvard Extension School and my work at the Boston Ballet is that the stories don’t reflect diverse experiences. To get to the root of the problem, I wanted to create stories and characters that are authentic to my experience and that is my reasoning behind creating culturally diverse characters. I hope to do for ballet and music what Ava Duvernay and Shonda Rhimes have done for TV and film: creating stories in which people of color can see themselves reflected and giving the inspiring ballerina, musician and songwriter opportunities to perform roles designed for them.
Things have come full circle and this process has taught me so much. While I worked on the Theater, Dance & Media production of The Owl Answers, I was intrigued by the process of seeing how director David R. Gammons gave life to the work of Adrienne Kennedy.
This inspired me with Vanity Lane to hand over creative control to BlackC.A.S.T.’s Darius Johnson ’18 as a director and local dancer Jean Appolon as a choreographer. I wanted to see how others would interpret the work. Taking a step back has been rewarding. For so long I’ve been used to doing it all. I’ve been the writer, producer, manager, director, performer, PR person, administrative person -- wearing so many hats that I never got a chance to be in the moment as an artist.
Working with BlackC.A.S.T. has given me the ability to focus on the art and on my own performance. Additionally, I paired with a few local musicians in Boston to compose and arrange the music for both acts of the ballet. Gordon H. Williams of Boston Ballet is the composer for Act I and Jared Hettrick of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is the composer for Act II, along with Paul Sayed who is the musician for all of the EDM inspired material for Act II and the Epilogue. I can step back and focus on creating and performing my art. I can finally breathe and be in the moment as an artist.
My goal is to create original work that reflects diverse communities. It is my hope and desire to continue creating original work that is diverse and representative of various cultural identities. With this original story I plan to provide representation of black ballet dancers in the classical arts. I also want the music in the production to reflect a variety of cultural influences from classical music to jazz music to EDM music to West African drumming. I am very conscious of the fact that images in media and entertainment have a profound impact on society. It is my desire to create art that inspires a young generation while providing positive images and stories that represent diverse backgrounds.
Representation, particularly for the black community, is something that I am deeply passionate about. I believe that stories have to be created, nurtured and developed to provide true representation and to give audiences access to art that they typically would not have access to. This is the sole purpose for my art. To create music and stories for the stage in which young people can see themselves reflected. I want to inspire a new generation of black ballet dancers, songwriters and storytellers by giving them characters, stories and music that relate to them and to which they can relate. Vanity Lane is the first step.