An Interview with Lori Ardis Ballet Company’s Mother-Daughter Choreography Team
Pictured above are Mrs. Ardis (L) and her daughter Mrs. Flynn (R) holding her grandson.
CP: Lori Ardis and Amber Flynn, you’ve been creating ballets on young dancers for many years, when was your first Swarthmore Nutcracker?
LORI: It was in 1993.
CP: That’s a LOT of Nutcrackers! The performances I’ve seen have always gone very smoothly. But I’m sure in that many years, one or two things must have gone wrong? Are there any catastrophes, or funny stories you’d like to share with us?
AMBER: There are always small repairs and fixes happening in the background.
LORI: There was that year the Christmas tree fell…
AMBER: Yes, one performance, many years ago, the magical growing tree fell. As always the show went on, though with a little added excitement!
CP: I can imagine! I know there are several ballet families involved in your productions, the standouts being your own, and the Hodges, of whom I saw FOUR in this production! Do you have any funny stories about siblings? I’m especially curious to hear more about Ellen and William McCullough who dance the Gypsy pas de deux in the first act.
LORI: Actually, Carrie, you saw FIVE Hodges: Grace age 14, Rose age 12, Lillian age 8, Billy is their Father, and Denise is their Mother!
AMBER- Ellen began dancing when she was a little girl. Will just started dancing a year and a half ago.
LORI- Ellen didn’t want her brother to dance. It was “her thing”. I told her he would make a nice tall partner for her and she relented.
AMBER-Now they work very well together and seem to really enjoy dancing with each other! Ellen and Will’s father Doug runs the lights, giving each dance an enchanting glow. He also takes captivating photographs for the programs and the posters.
CP: The acting in this year’s production really stood out. Was there a special focus on acting in rehearsals this year, or is this a natural progression of the dancers as they become more comfortable on stage?
LORI- Starting with the Gingers I asked them to “perform” and showed them what that meant. I was astounded at their response! I told Amber and she also was impressed.
We had always asked the dancers to tell the story but the right word to use apparently is “perform”.
AMBER- Yes, there is always an emphasis on expression with and through technique in class but dancing as part of a story helps the dancers to use their imagination and see how important each part is to the entire show.
CP: We all know that you are a mother and daughter who co-choreograph. What is your process like? Do you usually share a vision of how the production should be or are there passionate arguments? Do you think being a mother-daughter team makes it easier to work together, or harder? (For anyone who hasn’t seen LABC’s Nutcracker, it’s important to know that although the music and story are, of course, the same, the choreography is very different from year to year.)
LORI- We do not argue. We get along as my mother said like “Boots & Shoes”. We talk things over, usually while we are moving around, and spark each other’s ideas. We also work separately e.g. Waltz of the Flowers was all Amber. She made and dyed the costumes and choreographed all of it! Shepherd & Shepherdess with Lambs was all mine. The story line in the first Act is all Amber. I contributed Gypsy and the adults dancing & Amber took my choreography for Soldiers and embellished it. We did Mice together.
AMBER- It is such a joy to work with my mother on something that we both love and care about so much.
CP: A minor town controversy surrounding LABT is the almost indecent rate at which performances sell out. If someone wants to score those coveted seats for the spring ballet, what do they need to do to stay informed about ticket sales?
LORI- Email email@example.com and ask in early November for The Nutcracker and early May for the June Ballet.
CP: I know you’ve both performed in The Nutcracker yourselves. What were your favorite roles to dance and why?
LORI- “Snow” I love to jump and swirl around.
AMBER- Arabian, for the dramatic feeling and Flowers for the joy of dancing to such a beautiful waltz. I loved being a Ginger. It is so exciting to dance in The Nutcracker as a little child. Mother Ginger is also a fun part because she is so proud of all of her wonderful children!
CP: I met your grandson over intermission lemonade today, Amber. That would make him your great-grandson, Lori. If the rest of us want to have your ageless energy, what should we do? What is your super power?
LORI- I have a great family both by blood and by Swarthmore Ballet Theatre. It makes me incurably happy!
AMBER- Dance! Dancing around the house or in ballet class is wonderful for your whole self. Ballet gives you strength, stamina and the joy of artistic expression. We have students that love to dance, boys and girls, men and women, from the age of 3 all the way into their eighties. My mother, Lori sets the tone at Swarthmore Ballet where we challenge students to balance elegance, strength, accuracy, musicality and a transcendent joy through dance!
CP: Thank you so much for talking with us today, Lori and Amber!
If anyone reading this interview would like to learn more about attending classes at Swarthmore Ballet Theatre (the training ground for LABC) please visit their website at SwarthmoreBalletTheatre.com.