Arts & Culture

‘Vanity Lane’ wasn’t always an easy path

2 min read

Graduate student’s original ballet reflects creative collaboration

“Vanity Lane” was a personal journey for La’Toya Princess Jackson ’19.

Jackson, a dramatic arts concentrator and A.L.M. candidate at the Extension School and vice chair for communications of the Harvard Graduate Council, showcased excerpts from her original ballet for DanceFest at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Harvard Arts First Festival in April. Working alongside seven other dancers, both students and up-and-coming local artists, Jackson premiered “Vanity Lane” at the Science Center Plaza.

Jackson created “Vanity Lane” in collaboration with Boston musicians Jared Hettrick and Gordon Williams. The ballet features a blend of classical and contemporary movements, set to cutting-edge electronic music with retro, ’80s influence.

Jackson worked closely with Boston dancer and educator Erin McNulty and one of Harvard College’s emerging choreographers, Margaret Canady ’20, to compose parts of the solo performance.

“The artistic inspiration came from an emotional place that most everyone can relate to,” Canady said. “The piece starts off with Princess feeling confident in her beauty, and having a high sense of self-worth. It transitions into Princess recognizing and magnifying all of her flaws, and receding back into insecurities.”

Told in a timeless, fairy-tale format, “Vanity Lane” is a study of self-awareness and struggles with self-doubt. It addresses the duality of beauty and self-worth, external and internal. The story encourages young people to look beyond superficiality, and instead highlight the beauty within themselves.

Jackson said trying to bring it all together was overwhelming. “Being involved with everything — from the music to the choreography to the creation of the story, along with coordinating all of the behind-the-scenes logistics like casting, costuming, and directing rehearsals — really pushed me to my limit.”

In the end, her work paid off. Jackson said she was extremely proud of her accomplishment, and honored to represent graduate students in the arts community. She said she felt a great sense of belonging working with College undergrads and local artists throughout the creative process.

“Being able to see the reaction of the kids who were in the audience — when they came up, excited to see me as a ballet dancer, watching the expressions on their faces when they saw me in costume — was a dream come true,” she said. “I am excited to continue developing this work and eventually taking it to the main stage!”