Pirouetting through the Pandemic — The Avenue Magazine.
With six months of COVID-19-induced quarantining behind him, Lawrence Rines is sick of resting. Instead, he’s putting all his energy toward an unprecedented pursuit: Boston Ballet’s first digital season.
This year will mark Rines’ 11th season with the prestigious Boston Ballet company, and his second with the title of lead soloist. This coveted position within the company has been a long-time coming. Rines has put dance first since he was 15 years old and moved away from his hometown of Philadelphia to attend the School of American Ballet in New York City. At just 18 he joined Boston Ballet II, the gateway program to the company, which he was officially invited to join just a year and a half later. In the years since he has risen in the company and was even asked to be a member of their newly formed Diversity and Inclusion Commission. Of course, those who have been to The Nutcracker in the past decade know him from his portrayal of the beloved Bear.
This season, however, Rines and the rest of the company are challenged with learning more than just new choreography; now that they are finally able to rehearse again, the dancers of the Boston Ballet are adapting to incorporate the technology necessary to make this production season happen. “The new normal is to learn choreography over zoom,” said Rines, who is affectionately known as Lola to his friends and 3000+ Instagram followers. “There have been some sound hiccups here and there, but for the most part it’s been incredible.”
To learn more about The Nutcracker’s fuzziest star, Ballet’s new digital format, and what a virtual season will mean to the company, Northeastern’s Izzy LoNigro sat down with Rines for an iced chai latte. The following are edited excerpts from their conversation.
How did you end up at Boston Ballet…did you always want to come to Boston?
I went to the School of American Ballet because it is the training grounds for the New York City Ballet. It is the most surefire way to get into that company. My graduating year was the year of the recession and New York City Ballet went on a hiring freeze. New York City Ballet takes about six to nine candidates into the program (from the School of American Ballet) but my year it only took three. Boston Ballet was in good standing at the time, so I auditioned. Russel Kaiser used to work at New York City Ballet and came to Boston at the same time as me which helped.
What is one way that Boston Ballet is set apart from other companies?
We work a lot with William Forsythe. In school I used to say, “I hope I get to do a Forsythe Ballet in my life.” I think I’ve done six or seven total now. Before COVID, we’d get to work with him for a few months out of the year. My boss says we are the envy of the ballet world because we get to work with Will who’s such a ballet titan and god. We lovingly call him grandpa…he’s our sweet artistic grandad.
You are a soloist in the company. How did you transition from the Boston Ballet II group all the way up to soloist?
I spent a year and a half in the Boston Ballet program before I got promoted to the main company. You basically go from school to apprenticeship, and it can be hard to make your mark surrounded by so many talented people. When I got promoted to second soloist my boss told me it was my time. I was an artist of the company for six years; it was a good time for me to make the transition. As a second soloist I was given the opportunity to cover for people when they were injured and had to learn new roles really last minute. I only spent a year and a half as a second soloist before becoming a lead soloist.
How did the quarantine affect your attitude toward Ballet?
The day of the shutdown was supposed to be opening night for the Carmen program. At first I thought it was fine. I was tired, my body hurt, I needed a rest. When we realized it would be like this until the fall, we needed to adjust. This meant a lot of home workouts and YouTube classes from my kitchen and bedroom. I did kind of give myself permission to have a better balance than normal. My body feels so much better now after letting it rest. I had that reset. I have some friends who found it hard to go back to that level, but for me, the time away made me miss it a lot. You take for granted sometimes, the things you love. I didn’t do that after it was taken away.
Tell me about your first day back in the studio. What was it like seeing everyone in-person again?
Over the summer the Ballet did a great job hiring a COVID task force. In the summer only one person could be in the studio at a time. We were able to be back in a proper dance studio then. The first day back in pod groups was amazing. Seeing people in the hall was amazing. I had a bit of an anxious feeling though, you have to trust the people around you to follow protocol and precautions.
What does rehearsal look like under COVID regulations?
We rehearse in pods that are in the same studio all week with the same people. Each pod has a rehearsal director and a pianist. The class that is being taught will be broadcasted to all the studios. Sometimes I have to personally Zoom into a different rehearsal.
In your experience, how do you feel the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement has affected Boston Ballet?
Quarantine, for good or bad, has changed everyone. It has been a great tool of introspection and retrospection. We are allotted the time to think about who we want to be as people. It has opened up conversations about what is going on that can’t continue. Ballet needs to keep evolving and updating. After the murder of George Floyd, we started the Diversity and Inclusion Commission that I am a part of. There are directors, board members, dancers, and artists who are members. We are trying to make Boston Ballet the best that it can be.
So…the entire 2020–2021 season is virtual. How does this affect you?
The good thing about the digital season, and why I am happy about it, is that it is going to be newly filmed. Some companies are just putting out archival videos that the company is not a part of. We are lucky to be doing this. Our job is to rehearse and perform. When we are working to put out a product, even on this new platform, it feels like we are fully back. The Boston Ballet isn’t really accessible. If you don’t see us tour or come to Boston, you don’t get to see us perform. Now with the digital aspect we have a wider audience. Everyone will miss getting dressed up, and going to the show, but this will make a new need for accessibility. There is no going back after this and it will bring Ballet into the future.
On top of the virtual season, NBC will be broadcasting The Nutcracker this December. How do you feel about the Balanchine classic being performed on TV rather than in the Opera House?
Every year we try to make The Nutcracker super accessible, because it is a kid’s show, but is also the cash cow in America, everyone knows it. Not everyone who wants to see it can see it because of money and time. To be able to watch it on TV is really great and I hope we continue to keep it as accessible.
What is it normally like to perform the Nutcracker during the holidays?
During The Nutcracker, you do up to 10 shows a week and your body is going to be dying. It is the joy of the families that makes it worth it. If [we] have a matinee you can see dancers in hoodies and sunglasses run out to grab something quick. In those times you’ll bump into families who are coming from The Nutcracker show. Even though your body, mind, and spirit might be dying it’s worth it to see kids in The Nutcracker crowns and to hear them answer their parents about their favorite part-especially if you were their favorite part.
What are you looking forward to most in the 2020–2021 season?
I’m most excited for the choreography program. It is highlighting female voices in choreography for the first time. A principal dancer, Leah Cirio, is choreographing and I am in her piece. The first thing I’m rehearsing is my friend’s ballet. This will be her first commission for the Opera House stage. To have that be my re-entry to the art form is… so exciting!
Why would you urge people to watch the virtual season?
Through the digital season we are keeping the art going. This is the time for ballet to be accessible. It is so special that we have the ability to create new content. Six digital programs, all of which will be newly filmed and not from the archives. This is what sets us apart. Our subscription is $180 for the full season, which is less than what one family pays to see the show live.