To watch Devon Lodge dance is like watching the ocean. He moves with the fluidity and balance of a rolling wave about to break on the beach. Maybe it’s the result of his exposure to the beaches of the Vineyard. Maybe it’s the expertise the Oak Buffs native developed since he began dancing at age three.
Whatever it is, the second year dance student at The Juilliard School is one of six student dancers chosen to participate in Canada’s National Ballet School’s (NBS) Assemblee Internationale 2013 (AI13) in Toronto from April 28 to May 4. The group will represent Juilliard and will present the school’s alumna Julia Eichten’s dance piece, “Phases of Strobes.”
AI13 brings together students and artistic staff from 18 international professional ballet schools for seven days of intensive classes, performances, forums, and professional development. Students from participating schools will perform both a piece of existing repertoire as well as student-created choreography, which will be performed by a cast of students from each of the schools.
The AI13 also includes an innovative live-streaming project that explores the use of new technologies in dance. The live-streaming project, as well as several other AI13 performances and student classes, will be shown live on nbs-enb.ca/ai13/.
Growing up a dancer
Mr. Lodge said that he knew he wanted to be a dancer since he was a child. He began dancing with Laura Sargent Hall’s school for younger kids on the Vineyard.
“At the age of six or seven I started taking more and more classes. I would go to school at the Oak Bluffs school and go straight to dance at 2 pm and come home about eight every night,” he said.
He said that in spite of his dancing prowess, he has never been much of an athlete. He played baseball for a while when he was younger, but he said he spent most of that time on the bench daydreaming. Neither of his two older brothers dance, but they sail a lot, he said. His mother, Karen Lodge, manages LeRoux at Home in Vineyard Haven and his dad, James Lodge, is a Steamship Authority boat captain.
While in grade school he studied at the Martha’s Vineyard School of Ballet with Beth Vages and Lori Cunningham. During his middle school years he danced with the Martha’s Vineyard Dance Theater and performed in “The Nutcracker” and in Built on Stilts, an Island summer dance festival.
“Lori Cunningham first suggested that I pursue dance off Island,” he said. It was soon after that he left home for the first time when he was 13 to attend the Nutmeg Conservatory in Connecticut, a renowned New England professional ballet training organization, for a summer.
He spent his high school years on a full scholarship at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts in Natick where he majored in ballet. “They not only had an incredible dance program, it was a really good high school. I got a good well-rounded education,” he said. There were about 80 students in the dance program. “We danced every day from 2 until 8 pm, after our classes.”
He applied to several colleges all of which had good dance programs, but was unsure about whether he should dance professionally or continue his education when he auditioned for a spot in the prestigious Juilliard dance program in New York City.
He knew very little about Juilliard before the first week of his freshman year, he said, and had never visited the school before his audition. After his initial experience at Juilliard he said he knew it was the right place for him. “I really liked the atmosphere at Juilliard,” he said. “Juilliard was where I needed to go.”
Somewhere between 400 and 600 accomplished dancers are invited each year to audition at the school after making the first application cut. After a day-long series of classes and dances, the group is reduced to about 60 for the final auditions. By the end of the day the 24 spots are filled, 12 boys and 12 girls.
His schedule there is similar to the schedule he has maintained since his grade school days. He often has classes six days a week. Most mornings are taken up with arts oriented academic classes. His afternoons and evenings are all dance. He said he spends about 50 hours a week in classes.
He works with some of the most gifted choreographers and dancers in the world at Juilliard and in the other programs, but he hasn’t been overwhelmed. “I rarely get intimidated,” he said. “I have very strong opinions, and I just go with the flow.
“I remember movement in a very different way than most people, I think. It really doesn’t get stored in my brain as well as it does in my body. You learn how you learn when you work with new choreographers.”
Mr. Lodge said he has never liked competition at all. “I strive to be the best for my own sake, for the feeling of it. It is then that you lose all sense of competition and you are just doing it for yourself. ”
He said that the movement toward competition dancing produces flashy performances that are not as nuanced as pieces that dancers spend more time developing. “I try to investigate every aspect of the choreography and produce a whole, rounded dance rather than something I’m flashing at the audience quickly,” he said. “It becomes much more fulfilling. Then I can really live in the movement rather than put it on top of myself.
“I think I don’t have a body like most other men my age. My limbs are very long and I think I am more ethereal and creature-like than human-like,” he said with a laugh. “Some choreographers really like that and some don’t.”
Mr. Lodge is often involved in multiple shows in addition to class. The 20-year-old often has classes or film shoots on weekends. It’s not all school all the time though. Saturdays he works the front desk at a yoga studio. He said he does a lot of yoga when he’s not dancing. His mother says the yoga helps keep him grounded.
Mr. Lodge was selected to perform at the Springboard Danse Montréal (SBDM) in June. SBDM aids the professional dancer by providing the skills necessary to transition between school and a first job by exposing dancers to a network of professional peers.
He will dance this summer with a professional company in New York. But he hopes to spend a week or so on the Vineyard dancing with his old friends at Built on Stilts — and at the beach.