It’s no exaggeration to say that when Jake Lapham takes the stage, he lights up like a Christmas tree. On the evening of December 23 he brought plenty of electricity to his performance in Tony Williams’s "Urban Nutcracker" when he danced in both the prologue, which culminates in a thrilling hip-hop dance battle, and the solo role of the Soldier Doll, a less percussive hip-hop sequence. Lapham, a senior at the Boston Ballet Professional Division at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, is also a ballet student, who has performed as Cavalier in the grand pas de deux of the same production. A hip-hop dancer whose professional future lies in the ballet world, Lapham does, indeed, do it all. I caught up with him online to ask about his dance career past, present, and on the horizon.
What’s your dance background?
I started dancing when I was four years old at the Tony Williams Dance Center in Jamaica Plain, Boston. Early on, I was doing mostly ballet and jazz with some hip hop and tap. At around eight years old I joined Russell Ferguson’s Side Street Dance Company [Ferguson is the 2009 winner of "So You Think You Can Dance" ], where I learned Krump and multiple styles of hip hop. I wasn’t very interested in ballet; I mostly did it because I knew it gave me an edge in doing the styles that inspired me, but when I was about 13, I went to see the Boston Ballet "Full on Forsythe" program and started watching male ballet dancers on YouTube and Instagram, and it ignited a passion for ballet. When I was 14 I joined the Boston Ballet Pre-Professional Program (now called the Professional Division at Walnut Hill School for the Arts), and I’ve been there during my high school years.
How and why did you get involved with "Urban Nutcracker" ?
"Urban Nutcracker" is Tony Williams’s show, and when I was a seven year old in his boys ballet class, he included me in the party scene. I went on to do Omar, the "Urban Nutcracker" equivalent of Fritz, for the next two years, which is still one of my favorite roles. As my time in the production increased, I started doing hip hop roles, such as the prologue and Soldier Doll, and this year I performed the roles of Russian and Cavalier as well.
How would you describe the styles of dance you do in "Urban Nutcracker" ?
The prologue and Soldier Doll include multiple styles of hip hop, including krumping, popping, locking, animation, and lots of key elements of hip hop like gliding and waving. The Russian dance is choreographed with a set of jumps based on European character dancing, and the grand pas de deux is pure classical ballet.
What are you hoping to do after you graduate from Walnut Hill?
I am in my senior year, so I will be graduating in June. January is audition season, and I am applying to American and European companies for traineeships, second-company positions, and school scholarships to pursue a career in ballet.
Who have been your dance teachers in the Boston Ballet program?
When I started, I wasn’t quite ready to be there from a technical standpoint. Miranda Weese, who is now the director of the program, was my teacher nearly every day of my first year. She brought discipline, attention to detail, and a much more technical approach to my movement and my mind by the time that year was cut short. I also had Peter Stark, who’s a master teacher for young male dancers, and he helped me channel my coordination into important steps like double tours en l'air and entrechat six. This year we’ve been taught by Joan Boada, whose teaching contrasts with my previous training in ways that have facilitated my continued growth. I’m also very excited that recently retired Boston Ballet principal dancer Paulo Arrais has started teaching us, and after seeing him onstage not too long ago, I’m looking forward to learning from him.
What are some of your favorite ballet roles?
It is a dream of mine to perform William Forsythe’s "Blake Works I," "Playlist EP,"and "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated" I would also love to dance Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet"; I think it is perhaps the greatest story of all time. I also love Balanchine’s "Apollo" and "Prodigal Son."
What do you want to achieve as a dancer?
I want to share high-quality dance with the public. I love to perform and entertain people, and I know that dancing is the way that I can make people’s lives better -- even for a short time.
Who are your dance heroes?
I have to say that Tony Williams, Russell Ferguson, and Peter Stark are my dance heroes. Without them, I would not be able to dance, and I would not have had the performing experiences I have had. In addition, working with Russell as a teacher while he is also having a career as one of the best Krumpers in the world has been an incredible gift and inspiration. And of course, I have to say that Baryshnikov is a hero of mine, not just for his otherworldly dancing, but for the way he helped bring ballet and dance into mainstream culture.
Where can one see you performing next?
I will be performing in the Boston Ballet "Next Generation" program at the Boston Opera House on May 19th.
One thing that’s immediately apparent about you as a performer is the joy you radiate onstage. Where does that come from? How do you maintain it despite grueling classes and rehearsals?
I think the grueling classes and rehearsals are what make me so ecstatic to be onstage. Whenever I get to perform, I’ve probably been thinking about the performance before the rehearsal process even started, and thinking about the people I want to see it, so that joy of finally being onstage is genuine. Also, performing is different from taking class and rehearsing. You cannot perform the same way you train, you absolutely cannot dwell on imperfections onstage. You have to trust all the work you have put into it and focus on immersing yourself fully in the role, which is much more important than the technical details of what your body is doing.