Kids carrying pink ballet slippers and leotards walk into a small dance studio on Lincoln Street near the railroad tracks almost every day.
The Maxine Patterson School of Dance now runs it. But once, it housed the Savannah Ballet Company.
Savannah native Gabrielle Lamb walked into that temple of tutus when she was five years old. And there she found a career that would take her around the world.
“The trains would pass during our class and the noise would be deafening and the studio would shake,” Lamb says. “I have fond memories of that little studio.”
Lamb is an acclaimed New York choreographer. She’s won many awards, including a recent Princess Grace Award. She’s performed in cities like Cleveland, Los Angeles, Montreal, Chicago, Prague and Helsinki, to name a few.
She left Savannah at age 15 to study dance in Boston. But associating her with the word “tutu” might give you the wrong impression.
First, while she still dances, she mostly now choreographs. So, she composes movements for other dancers to perform. And second, her work is modern. You better not be a sugar plum fairy auditioning for her.
“It’s only about two years ago that I stopped wearing point shoes because it didn’t seem relevant to what I was doing anymore,” Lamb says. “That was kind of a landmark.”
Writers have called her choreography “novel,” “stunning” and “inspired.” But she’s not much into “fierce” movements, the kind of razzmatazz that wows competition audiences with spectacle.
“I’m not against having an acrobatic jump,” she says. “But there needs to be a theatrical reason for it. A lot of times I would like the audience to feel like they’re looking through a keyhole at something that is happening regardless of them in some mysterious place.”
And really, how many times in a typical day might a keyhole peeper find you in a “fierce” mood, doing something like acrobatic leaps? Not at my house!
As for spying on Gabrielle’s typical day, you might find her in a studio with a group of dancers, directing and arranging dance “fragments” that form the atomic structure of choreography. If she hits a creative wall, she might change the order of these fragments.
“To connect these fragments in an organic way, you find new things,” Lamb says. “The glue is something new.”
And here’s another great idea for all of us who struggle to be original on a daily basis:
“Times of no inspiration can happen at any point in the day,” Lamb says. “I wish I could predict in a six hour day when it’s going to happen.”
Yes, brain? Can you please tell me when my words are going to flow like a river and I’ll sit myself in front of the computer then? No, creativity doesn’t work like that, especially if you have a room full of dancers staring at you for ideas. Lamb just pushes on.
“Hitting a wall at two in the afternoon doesn’t mean that the rest of the day is gone,” she says. “Sometimes it can be 5:30 and something great happens when you feel like you just have nothing left. So, I feel like it’s always worth continuing to push even when I really, really don’t want to.”
Lamb might push in the studio for four hours to finish a minute of on-stage movement. She considers it lightning speed if she can finish a minute’s worth in two hours. Wow!
But of course, anything done well requires time. And in the time since she left Savannah, Lamb has done very well by the folks who knew her back home at the shaky studio of tutu troopers.