Harvard students redefine traditional ballet in original production

La’Toya Princess Jackson, stylized as "Vanity Lane" protagonist ElectrKPrincess. Photo by Kelvin Bushan

2 min read

This March, the Harvard Black Community & Student Theater Group (BlackCAST) strives to challenge tradition with a brand-new production: “Vanity Lane: The Ballet.” Created by Harvard Extension School student La’Toya Princess Jackson, “Vanity Lane” is a contemporary ballet that examines the duality of beauty and self-worth with an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the world of theater, music, and classical dance. The production will occupy a two-week residency at Farkas Hall, Harvard University’s Office for the Arts primary performance space.

“Vanity Lane” is a study in opposites: cutting edge electronic music with retro 80s influence, classical ballet blended with contemporary and culturally diverse choreography, and a study of modern media images told in a timeless fairy tale format. The main character ElectrKPrincess is enchanted by a spell and transported to Crystalline City, where she takes a journey down Vanity Lane and must confront and overcome three vanities. The ballet seeks to reject unhealthy media images, encourage individuality and diversity, and urge people to look behind the mask of superficial beauty to find the true beauty within.

The ballet will feature choreography from Boston-based guest artist Jean Appolon and original compositions by Jared Hettrick, Gordon Williams, and Paul Sayed. As the first ballet produced by Harvard BlackCAST, the production team behind “Vanity Lane” seeks to reconstruct the narrative of classical ballet as a restrictive art form with a historically white legacy.

With regards to her inspiration for the ballet, Jackson reflects: “Representation, particularly for the black community, is something that I am deeply passionate about … I want to inspire a new generation of black ballet dancers, songwriters and storytellers by giving them characters, stories, and music that they can relate to.”

“Vanity Lane” opens on Friday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m. Harvard University students and members of the local Cambridge community are invited to an open dress rehearsal on Thursday, March 22.

Harvard Black Community & Student Theater Group is a non-profit, student-run theater organization dedicated to providing students of color at Harvard University with a greater opportunity to gain practical experience in live theater and giving students of all races and ethnicities the opportunity to become acquainted with performance art of the African diaspora. Past productions include “The Wiz,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Bootycandy,” and “Songs of the Harlem River: Forgotten One Acts of the Harlem Renaissance.” For more information, please visit our Facebook page.