Butler Ballet professor Laurent-Faesi wrapping up his final year

Professor Laurent-Faesi is retiring after 30 years. Photo by Emma Hall.

MALACHI WHITE | STAFF REPORTER | mrwhite1@butler.edu 

At the end of this academic year, Stephan Laurent-Faesi will be leaving after 30 years of teaching and choreographing for Butler Ballet.

“I am sad to leave,” Laurent said. “I planted my roots here and have worked with the highest quality of students and performers during my time, but I am proud of what I accomplished while I was here.”

Laurent emigrated from Switzerland to the U.S. in 1977. He is a graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s of fine arts in dance performance. After leaving Butler he will be following his wife back to Texas where she will be teaching at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi.

Laurent’s professional career was mostly accomplished in Europe, notably with the Ballet Royal de Wallonie in Belgium, the Scapino Ballet in Amsterdam and the Bayreuther Festspiele. He was artistic director of the Des Moines Ballet in Iowa from 1982 to 1988 until he became the chair of the dance department at Butler in May 1988.

“When I became chair of the department, I recreated everything,” Laurent said. “My legacy can be found in the dancers that Butler has produced and the professionalism of our dancers. This is one of the top schools in the country and is reflected in our great faculty, curriculum, policies and process for recruitment, a lot of which I implemented.”

His choreography output encompasses more than 70 classical and contemporary works, many of which are now in the repertoire of the Butler Ballet. He has choreographed for nearly every dance production and is most notable for his technique classes.

Junior Royal Hartwig is a dance performance major who has worked with Laurent three times, most recently in this year’s snow scene as Snow King in “The Nutcracker.”

“He used to make us laugh during rehearsals and personally I’ll miss his ballet classes,” Hartwig said. “They always made me focus on myself and could refine the basics.”

Brian Bennett is a senior dance performance major. He has taken a number of technique classes with Laurent, and performed the role of Snow King choreographed by Laurent in 2015.

“He’s a sweet man that has given so much of his time to Butler Ballet longer than any other professor,” he said. “Oftentimes, even when he’s teaching he’ll sneak some advice for the future in while he’s giving a correction.”

Sophomore Jamila Johnson, an arts administration dance major, credits a lot of her new knowledge in dance, and life, to Laurent.

“A lot of things that I have learned in his dance classes can be applied to my life outside as well, such as working on confidence and committing fully to everything that I do,” she said. “He has a great relationship with the students. He is always open to answering any questions and helping us grow from students to artists.”

Laurent was very specific when describing the relationship he has with his students over the years, calling it “close but respectful.”

“I respect my students and in response my students respect me,” he said. “With this mutual respect we have for each other the art of dance becomes the main focus.”

Bennett played the lead role of “The Nutcracker” in this last weekend’s production.

“When he says something, he means it,” Bennett said. “He urges us to be mindful of our body placement and to maintain the purity of the movement within the ballet technique.”

Every year, Butler allows the students of the dance department to have two full ballet productions in Clowes Memorial Hall.

Students in the program perform both classical and contemporary dance repertoire, and one of Laurent’s most memorable experiences with Butler Ballet was putting on a contemporary work called “The Willow Maiden.”

Laurent said he is fascinated with fantasy literature. The story of “The Willow Maiden” is based on Tolkien literature, one reason the production was so magical. The ballet written by Laurent’s wife, Ellen Denham, depicts the forbidden love of Aldric, the hero, and Salisa, the willow dryad.

“There was so much magic in the story, and the dancers really brought it to life,” he said. “People came from all over to see this production and I hope it was as memorable for the dancers as it was for me choreographing.”

Michelle Jarvis, former interim dean of JCA and Associate Provost, salutes his abilities as an artist and as a teacher both in his careers as a professional dancer, artistic director and professor of dance.

“Professor Laurent is very committed to his artistry, his choreographic work and to his teaching,” Jarvis said. “As a choreographer, Professor Laurent has the ability to see the ballet as a whole, meaning not only the dance, dancers and their steps, but he also sees the lighting and the scenery, knowing how it should take shape to highlight the movement of the dance.”

Reflecting on his time at Butler, Laurent said that all his experiences “are very diverse” and “the variety of experiences with the professionals I can call my students makes my farewell bittersweet.”