Moses Pendleton’s White Widow is one of contemporary ballet’s most melancholy spectacles, an athletic showstopper that requires a ballerina to twist and contort herself acrobatically on a hanging rope. Britta Lazenga recalls staring up at the daunting cable inside the Joffrey’s warehouse and wondering if she was physically up to the challenge. “You want me to pull up and slide down this rope?” Lazenga remembers thinking. “Your hands get blistered and calloused. They bleed. I thought, What did I get myself into?”
After a year of extracurricular pushups, pull-ups, and Pilates, and a lengthening roster of leading roles, Lazenga will likely dance the widow’s solo in the Joffrey’s spring engagement (April 25th through May 6th at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.; 312-739-0120, joffrey.com). The 25-year-old features prominently in at least two other pieces, Gerald Arpino’s popular Light Rain and the Pilobolus original Untitled. The Joffrey, which is generally democratic with its corps, clearly has a breakout performer; still, when asked about her increasing presence center stage, Lazenga demurs and sips from a giant bottle of water. “The last year or two, I’ve been realizing who I am and what I want. Becoming clearer about those things has helped me focus on my artistry,” she says.
Tenacity is a personality trait shared by professional ballerinas, and Lazenga is no exception. As a ten-year-old ballet student in Minneapolis, she was hired by the Joffrey as an extra in The Nutcracker. She still describes the event in perfect detail: her turquoise costume, meeting Deborah Dawn and Maia Wilkins, her proud father driving her to most shows.
When Lazenga was 13, her father died of a rare form of pancreatic cancer, and ballet became her only refuge from grief. By 16, she had left Minneapolis for the Harid Conservatory in Florida, a prestigious ballet boarding school. While her friends frenziedly juggled auditions and college applications, Lazenga pursued the Joffrey almost single-mindedly-the same sheer will that, a few years later, had her staring at a rope in the company warehouse. “I loved the sweat, the work, the being pushed,” she says about mastering the solo. But she could just as easily be describing her professional ascent. “It was a really gratifying moment when I could say I did it.”
Hair and makeup by Krista Gobeli