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Movement in Structure

John Lam, principal dancer of Boston Ballet, and director Shaun Clarke collaborated on the dance film, Movement in Structure, which premiered in Boston in March 2019. Set to music by Lucas Vidal, and filmed at the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts, Movement in Structure calls attention to our physical relationship with space. In the interview below, John Lam discusses his artistic and personal motivations for creating dance on film.

Still from “Movement in Structure,” by Shaun Clarke and John Lam

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How did you get your start in dance?

My parents are refugees from Vietnam and came to America knowing nothing about dance. I was in a community childcare center which offered extended hours of care while dance classes were happening, which allowed my parents to work more. I just kind of fell into it by mistake, fell in love with it at age four, and it's what I love to do day to day.

What do you consider pivotal moments in your career?

I had two turning points in my career; first was my first major injury, tearing my ACL onstage. My whole world crumbled and all I knew was dance. This injury forced me to look outside the dance box and see that there is much life outside of dance. The rehab process taught me a lot about myself, in believing in myself, and not giving up on a profession I love so much due to an injury. I wasn’t going to let this injury hold me back. Looking back, I am so happy I overcame those very dark times while finding myself as a dancer with a new knee.

Secondly, when I had my first son, as a gay father, this brought a new dimension in my life, and what being a father meant while being a dancer. We hear much about female dancers about their physical pregnancy, and I felt, as a gay man, very left out because I didn’t have to endure the physical part and yet had to care for an infant from birth. It gave me a great sense of humbleness that I have the responsibility to care for my two boys.

What have been some of your most memorable roles at Boston Ballet?

Going into my 18th season with Boston Ballet there has been many incredible roles I have been so fortunate to dance. But what shines bright for me are three ballets that have really helped me grow as an artist. Wayne McGregor “Obsidian Tear,” Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” and Bournonville’s “La Sylphide.” These amazingly diverse ballets have given me a depth of artistry, and really allowed me to grow.

Tell us about the creation of the dance film Movement in Structure.

Creating dance on film started when I was asked by my director to create a film for Boston Ballet in response to the NEA. I created a 3-minute piece where I utilized 12 dancers and created movement that would draw a tone and context to the message of the film. Title of that film is called Dance is.

I then became more curious in capturing what my voice as an artist is on film. I wanted a platform where I could have a canvas; where I could dictate my own voice, movement, and quality. I always had an interest in architecture, so I combined a space that had historic significance to Boston while creating a movement piece.

The editing process took a long time as I wanted to be as specific as possible with the music. I collaborated with Shaun Clarke who is an assistant professor at Emerson College. We created this film together as a team and it felt very organic to make this film as it is now.

Can you tell us a bit more about your choreography, and future projects?

I’ve played around with choreography but haven’t dived into it in full. I think choreography is a very personal thing, another dimension of showing your voice as an artist. I’ve been exposed to many choreographers and styles and repertory, so I feel as though my pallet has experienced much, but finding my own voice in choreography perhaps is dance on film . . .

I am currently working on another dance film that will be more focused on the characterization of Nijinsky, as I loved immersing myself as the Faun when we premiered Jorma Elo's “The Rite of Spring” in Boston many years ago. Stay tuned!

Penelope Ford


Penelope is the founding editor of Fjord Review, international magazine of dance and ballet. Penelope graduated from Law and Arts with majors in philosophy and languages from the University of Melbourne, Australia, before turning to the world of dance. She lives in Italy.

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