At first glance the grace of ballet and the grit of New York City seem to have little in common. But scratch under the surface and you will learn they are more alike than they seem: they either make you or break you.
Ballet movements are excruciatingly hard, but ballet dancers must make it look effortless. Similarly, the unofficial New York mantra claims: “it’s all about the hustle”. But also: “don’t let them see you sweat it.”
Both are highly competitive environments, emotionally and physically challenging, and offer the most rewarding life experiences.
Life as a ballerina was all that Faustine Lavie could think of growing up. At three, she asked her parents for ballet classes. At seven, she knew she wanted ballet to be her lifetime career. By the time she was ten, her family was so inspired by her talent and commitment that they relocated. They moved from Toulon, a small town in the south of France, to Paris, so that she could attend the renowned Ballet School of the Opéra National de Paris.
Ballet was Faustine’s first love; but while the passion for this style was never lost, the relationship did not work out in the long term. As a young adult, Lavie turned to contemporary dance and found the Alvin Ailey summer intensive in Paris. That encounter would change her life.
Until then, New York City had never been on her radar. During the intensive, she was pushed to audition for The Ailey School Certificate Program by an enthusiastic teacher who saw the young dancer’s talent.
Today, Faustine could not envision living anywhere else. “New York has taught me so much. I have grown as dancer and as a person in ways that would have not been possible if I had stayed in France”.
In the three years at the Alvin Ailey school, Faustine has thrived as a dancer. She maintained her connection to technique with ballet and pointe classes, and started exploring other dance styles, including modern, jazz and tap. Touring as part of the Ailey Student Performance Group and working with choreographers to create new pieces was the highlight of her third year. Winston Dynamite Brown, director of The DynamitExperience and one of the choreographers she met during that year, loved working with her so much he asked her to join his company. “We love to have Faustine in the studio, as she embodies the balanced physicality we require of our dancers. Her capacity to wield her apparent technical prowess within her humanity and nuanced grace is done with professionalism and maturity. Faustine is a true collaborator; her productivity advances the whole. She challenges us through her artistry which allows us as choreographers to truly view the work we are trying to create.”
Faustine’s ballet training indeed prepared her for the life as a dancer in NYC, and her talent did the rest. After the first few shows she booked, the word spread and invitations to audition came flooding in. “I started exploring contemporary dance in Paris, but only in New York did I come to really love and embrace all I can do with this style,” she says. She became a regular at the contemporary classes of Peridance Center, where she grew to love floorwork. To date she has collaborated and been part of over a dozen dance companies: her skills are highly requested.
This comes as no surprise. Watching her dance is mesmerizing: each movement is in equal parts intentional from start to finish and emotionally moving in its expression.
The reality of the pandemic hit hard, as her industry shut down, but the forced stop also gave her room to grow as a dancer. “I focused on my artistry rather than my technique; before the pandemic I didn’t have time to work on expressing my ideas through choreography because of rehearsals and performances.” While ballet made her “New York tough”, she concedes that the pandemic contributed to softening her and opening her up to her emotions. Her views on choreography are very specific: it is not about a list of techniques, nor about movement for movement’s sake. “Choreography is about giving dancers an idea and letting them interpret it,” she explains. “In ‘Outburst’ I explore the inner conflict between who you want to be and who society wants you to be. In that case I did a lot of directing and pushing, but ultimately my goal was to allow their uniqueness to come through.” Her dancers appreciate her view, direction, and guidance. Erica Welty (also a graduate of the Alvin Ailey program), a member of The Faustine Lavie Dance Project is excited to be part of the company: “Faustine is an absolute joy to work with. Her ideas are new and original. She is personable and considerate not just as a person but even with her choreography. Her works are tailored to the dancer so that the message is delivered to the audience in a creative and considerate manner. I love dancing for her, and I am honored to be a part of her company. I want to stay a part of her works for as long as possible because I love it so much!” Annie White, who also dances with Faustine in iKADA Contemporary Dance Company and LaneCoArts, echoes the sentiment: “Faustine creates an inclusive and comfortable environment in rehearsal that allows me to explore my artistry more freely. Her work is challenging and satisfying to execute correctly. She’s supportive of her dancers and collaborative in a way that fosters growth and community. Working with her inspires me to push my limits as an artist.”
The Faustine Lavie Dance Project began performing online during 2020. As things started to open back up after the lockdown, the requests for her choreography began picking up momentum, just like the requests for her dancing.
Balancing being part of five different dance companies and managing her own could be challenging for some, but to Faustine it feels like a serendipitous flow.
This August is full of events: a two-week residency with The DynamitExperience will culminate with a performance on August 13th (click here for tickets).
During this time, she will also be presenting excerpts of her own choreography with The Faustine Lavie Dance Project on August 6th and 7th (click here tickets).
Following the residency, she will be performing on August 19th at Battery Park Dance Festival with iKADA Contemporary Dance Company.
Harmoniously intertwined with auditions, rehearsals and shows, Faustine also has time to compete in hustle dance competitions, another dance style New York City introduced her to, and which she fell in love with.
Her full summer is leading up to an explosive fall season. Recently she was selected as part of the fall 2022 cohort of the Emerging Artists Theater program. She will be choreographing new work for her first one-hour long piece, which will be presented on October 21st 2022, at TADA Theater in Manhattan. While the details of piece are still in progress, she anticipates that the core theme of the piece is focused on women and raising awareness on gender-related issues faced in the US and across the world.
With her commitment to her artform and to society, we recommend you add her to your list of dancing women to watch.