Music Center Spotlight finalist Lauren Hunter invests her entire being into ballet
By Christina Campodonico | Photos courtesy of The Music Center
At 15 years old, Playa Vista teen Lauren Hunter has already danced roles that most ballerinas would covet — Princess Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty” and beautiful temple dancer Nikiya from “La Bayadère,” to name just two.
She’s also traveled the world competing in her pointe shoes. Hunter took home third prize at this year’s elite Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition in New York, a bronze medal from 2016’s World Ballet Competition in Orlando, and placed fifth in Switzerland’s Prix de Lausanne international ballet competition, earning her a scholarship to the U.K.’s prestigious Royal Ballet School for a summer intensive.
But the competition that’s probably shaped her the most took place right here in Los Angeles: the Music Center’s Spotlight program, an annual arts scholarship and educational program that culminates with a showcase of some the city’s finest young artists.
On May 23, Hunter — one of two grand-prize finalists in the ballet category — won a $5,000 scholarship and performed at the Walt Disney Concert Hall with 15 finalists in classical and non-classical singing, music, acting and dance.
Hunter says the experience has shaped her deeply as an artist.
“A key thing I noticed from the Spotlight competition is that they really make sure that you put artistry into your dancing,” she says. “They don’t just care about the technique. They emphasize that ballet is still an art form … which helped me express myself more, which helped me become a finalist.”
“We’re not like a competition situation, even though ballet is competitive,” explains Spotlight ballet judge Francine Kessler Lavac, a retired ballerina, ballet instructor and former soloist with Ballet West. “This is really an educational competition.”
Panelists in each category — classical voice, non-classical voice, classical instrumental, jazz instrumental, non-classical dance, acting and ballet — review hundreds of audition videos from high school-age students across the region and provide professional feedback to each contestant in a personalized letter. From that pool of audition tapes, the judges select 16 semifinalists in each category.
Semifinalists are invited to take master classes with esteemed professional artists, such as MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient Kyle Abraham, and audition a final time before panel of expert judges. The grand-prize finalists perform in the Spotlight Grand Finale Performance.
Lavac says that the ballet panel was extremely impressed by Hunter’s auditions.
“Lauren possesses something very special. She embodies the whole idea of ballerina,” says Lavac.
“There was something very refined, delicate, but very powerful, very commanding, very detail-oriented, but incredibly artistic and emotionally expressive,” continues Lavac. “You could tell she was highly invested in what she was doing — that there was nothing casual about her approach to her body, that this was a girl with an intense work ethic. She had invested every aspect of herself: her soul, her physicality.”
Having moved to Playa Vista with her parents last year to be closer to her ballet school — The Marat Daukayev School of Ballet — Hunter maintains a rigorous schedule, typically rising early in the morning to do school work (she’s homeschooled through Laurel Springs High School) and dancing up to seven hours a day between rehearsals, ballet classes and private lessons.
Hunter says she didn’t grow up dreaming of becoming a ballerina, like many little girls — she didn’t start training seriously until age 13, what most in the ballet world might consider “late” — but she’s committed to pursuing that path now, even if that means moving
to England, where she’ll start a full-time training program with The Royal Ballet this fall after attending their summer intensive.
“I gradually came to love ballet,” says Hunter. “The more and more I got into it, the more I realized I really wanted to do this, and then that I was willing to put all my effort into doing it. Now that I’m where I am now, I know for sure this is where I want to be.”
Lavac believes that Hunter has a promising career ahead of her. Notable alumni of the Spotlight program include American Ballet Theatre principal and barrier-breaking ballerina Misty Copeland as well as pop artists Adam Lambert and Josh Groban.
“A lot of the finalists over the years, we follow them. They stay in touch. They’re in companies now. They’ve gone on to great successes,” says Lavac. “I’ll be shocked if Lauren doesn’t have a career of her choice.”