At Nantucket Dance Festival, Lauren Lovette and Lauren King Cultivate a Dance Education Community
June 25, 2024

The Nantucket Dance Festival has entered a new era—with new leaders, big goals, and even bigger impact. Founded in 2007 as a fundraiser for the Nantucket Atheneum, the festival has now embraced a whole new identity as a nonprofit organization with increased dance education ranging from a few master classes to two full days of classes, as well as connections with the Nantucket Dance Theater to support year-round opportunities. 

New York City Ballet principal Tyler Angle, and, before him, Benjamin Millepied, had directed the festival in recent years when it supported the Nantucket Atheneum, but Angle handed over the leadership to former NYCB artists Lauren Lovette and Lauren King in 2023.

When Lovette and King took over as co-artistic directors, they aimed to build on the foundation and 17-year history already in place. “Our biggest hope and dream for the festival was to include other dance styles [besides ballet] for these kids to learn,” says Lovette—the week now includes classes in tap, modern, jookin, Irish step, and ballroom.

With limited dance education opportunities available on the island, the festival exposes students to the many possibilities dance offers—new genres, choreography workshops, injury-prevention lectures, behind-the-scenes roles, and performing alongside professional dancers in the finale performance.

A tradition began last summer when around 20 students performed alongside artists from NYCB, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Royal Danish Ballet, and more. They received a standing ovation, which “brought tears to people’s eyes,” says Ballet West demi-soloist Lillian Casscells, who will be joining the festival lineup this July 9–14 for her second year.

Final performance with artists and students. Photo by Jean Celeste, courtesy King.

Casscells visited the island each summer with her family and attended the festival from age 12. “I think I had my fingers crossed my whole life that eventually I would do a full circle and be able to perform at the festival,” she says. 

She credits the festival and a master class with Millepied and NYCB principal Maria Kowroski for jumpstarting her professional career when they encouraged her to audition for the School of American Ballet. “[The festival] can change a lot of kids’ lives,” says Casscells. “It’s a really rare and cherished thing that they have.”

King and Lovette are partnering with Nantucket Dance Theater’s Michelle Birmingham and Alison Barone, as well as the Nantucket Boys & Girls Club, to raise funds that support year-round classes and performances in the community. “Last year, we were able to raise a little over $370,000,” says King, who is aiming for a goal of $500,000 in 2024.

But the Nantucket Dance Festival isn’t only for the youth on the island—Lovette and King hope to educate new audiences who are unfamiliar with dance by collaborating with a variety of venues and organizations, such as the Dreamland Studio Theater, Cisco Brewers, and Canadian fiddlers Nicolas Babineau and Alexis Chartrand.

They are also hosting an “Evening of Rhythm & Dance” with the Rossini Club, where a pianist and clarinettist will play Karim Al-Zand’s Cabinet of Curiosities alongside a demonstration of six different dance disciplines. The evening will showcase the origins of each style, what inspired each choreographer, and how each style utilizes rhythm differently. 

Lauren Lovette teaching dance class. Photo by Jim Waterbury, courtesy King.

And, during the following cocktail reception, ballroom masters Denys Drozdyuk and Antonina Skobina will teach guests beginner steps they can use later on at weddings or parties. “Our hope is that every event will have some kind of educational element to it, so they feel more attached and connected to dance,” says Lovette. 

The Nantucket Dance Festival is a large undertaking for King and Lovette, who both have busy schedules as SAB faculty and choreographer in residence at the Paul Taylor Dance Company, respectively. Accepting the role of co-artistic directors has had its challenges.

“When we first started, we had literally zero dollars and zero contacts,” says Lovette. But limitations sparked creativity, and they found a way to pay performers according to industry standards and create a memorable and valued experience for the Nantucket community. 

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