Preview: Match
Including interview with Lola Abigail Koch

June 2, 2024: Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
West Palm Beach, FL

Jerry Hochman

I never thought that tennis star Serena Williams and ballet would have anything in common, much less that Williams would inspire a new ballet. Wrong again.

Inspired by (and with the blessing of) Williams, who has taken ballet classes during the course of her career, a new piece, titled Match, will premiere at a Paris Ballet and Dance Gala at Kravis Center for Performing Arts in West Palm Beach on June 2nd, 2024. I knew that athletes in other sports take ballet classes to help with their flexibility, endurance, and strength conditioning. I didn’t know that Williams was one of them, but that doesn’t surprise me.

The dance, described as a pas de deux, is being choreographed by Tiler Peck, and will be performed by Skylar Brandt and Breeanna Palmer. Peck and Brandt are principal dancers with their respective companies (New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre), and Palmer is a student at Joffrey Ballet School in New York.

(l-r) Breeanna Palmer and Skylar Brandt
in rehearsal for Tiler Peck’s “Match”
Photo by Andrei Bart

Match is commissioned by Ballet Support Foundation, led by Lola Abigail Koch, who states that “Serena is an inspiration not only for tennis fans, but for all athletes, including us ballerinas, and for women. A goal of BSF is to make ballet more diverse and accessible for different audiences, not just for ballet lovers. This is why Match was created with Serena at the focus.”

Curious as to what Ballet Support Foundation is since I’d not heard of it previously, and knowing nothing about Lola Abigail Koch, I decided to accept the opportunity to interview her. Given time pressures and other commitments, unlike my prior interviews, all of which were live, these interviews are based on emailed questions and answers. There was no opportunity for follow-up questions – although I bundled some anticipated follow-up questions with the original.

Interview (via email) with Lola Abigail Koch

General Questions

  1. I’d not previously heard of Ballet Support Foundation. Could you please describe it, its mission(s), and a little bit about its history (e.g., when and why was it formed, by whom, does it have officers (and, if so, their identities).

    Lola Abigail Koch
    Photo Courtesy of Ballet Support Foundation

LAK: It’s a new foundation that I opened during the pandemic in 2020. I realized that dancers need not only professional support, they also need financial support. These dancers were not able to perform or teach classes, most of their companies were not paying them a salary. So I tried to organize workshops and ballet competitions on Zoom where we had dancers and judges from all over the world. We want to give ballet dancers a network, but also bring stars from around the world to perform in front of audiences who would never see them otherwise.

  1. Was Ballet Support Foundation (BSF) created, and does it function, in connection with any ballet or dance company or other existing organization? Does BSF obtain funding for its operations and commissions from dance companies, other organizations, or individual donors? Is any organization (dance or otherwise) specifically providing the funding for Match?

We work with American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Company, Miami City Ballet, Kibbutz, Opera de Paris, Royal Ballet.

Our funding has so far been from ticket sales and donors from benefit dinners. With Match we were very lucky, as it was created in collaboration with my co-producer, Jean-Hughes Feray. His school holds an annual spring gala for its graduate students, and we were invited to be a part of it, us a space to perform.

  1. What kind of programs has BSF presented previously? That is, are they only ballet, only dance generally, or are there non-dance types of programs that BSF has presented?

Previously we produced the Holiday Season with Ballet Stars program at the Adrienne Arsht Center in December of 2023. It included star dancers well known in the ballet world, such as Natalia Osipova, Ludmila Pagliero, Christine Shevchenko, Aran Bell and Mathieu Ganio, among many others.

  1. What prompted you/BSF to commission Match?

    Jean Hugues Feray
    Photo by Steven Caras
    Courtesy of Ballet Support Foundation

I wanted to find a way to create something new in the world of ballet by connecting it to other genres. Serena Williams is a huge inspiration of mine, and I wanted to find a way to dedicate a tennis themed ballet to her. After speaking to my friend Jean-Hughes Feray, he helped me get in touch with Serena, who supports this idea.

  1. The piece is scheduled to premiere in Miami. Why was Miami selected as a location, and did the idea originate with the Paris Ballet and Dance Gala producers or others connected with that gala. If so, can you tell me who they are or what organization they’re from. Are they connected in any way with Paris Opera Ballet?

This idea came to fruition in concert with Paris Ballet and Dance, as we were invited to unveil this ballet as part of their Spring Performances on June 2nd. Since we were offered the opportunity to perform at their space in front of a ballet audience, we thought it would be a great idea not only for the performance, but for all the graduating students to meet star dancer, Skylar Brandt.

  1. Can you tell me who Jean-Hugues Feray is (I know he leads the PB and D Gala), and what his connection is (if any) with dance (beyond the gala) or BSF.

He is a French dancer who now teaches the French technique in the United States, which is very important because they have some of the best classical traditions. He trained and performed with the Paris Opera Ballet School, and later became a principal dancer. He also danced with the French National Ballet. He now runs the school, Paris Ballet and Dance.

  1. Do you know what other dances/companies are being presented or represented at the gala?

    Breeanna Palmer
    Photo Courtesy of
    Ballet Support Foundation

So it is the students of the Paris Ballet and Dance Conservatory which Jean told me is like his school graduation concert, and Skylar Brandt of American Ballet Theater will be part of the performance as well.

  1. Do you have any connections with ballet or dance in general beyond your position with BSF? Are you a former dancer? If so, please provide details.

I used to be a ballerina and I danced with the Bolshoi, and I got my degree at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. I moved to the US in 2008, but stopped performing in 2009. But I never lost my connection with ballet. I give master classes at the Joffrey Ballet School and do workshops, sometimes private lessons. But now what is most interesting for me is, of course, creating projects.

Match-Specific Questions

  1. I know who Serena Williams is. How is it that she became your/BSF’s inspiration for commissioning Match? That is, other than the fact of her notoriety and that she has taken ballet classes, is there any other reason for her connection with Match?

I wanted to create a project where ballerinas would be inspired by the role, and wanted to find an icon to dedicate this to that represented female leadership and achievements. The first that came into my mind was Serena Williams. Who wouldn’t want to be her?

  1. Has Serena Williams (Serena) contributed anything (e.g., financial, story) to make this commission happen?

Serena has told us how honored she feels to have a ballet dedicated to her.

  1. Is there a specific purpose for creating Match? Does (or did) Serena have any input into the what’s being presented or how it’s presented, or who was chosen to choreograph and dance it?

    Tiler Peck
    Photo Courtesy of
    Ballet Support Foundation

Tiler Peck of the New York City Ballet is choreographing it, and Skylar Brandt of ABT will be performing. (The rest is answered in Question 1 of this section)

  1. Is there a story that Match will tell? How was that story determined? Does Match have a set and/or costumes? Will there be a pseudo tennis court (or just a net) included as part of Match’s set, and will any costumes be tennis-related? If there is a set and/or costumes, who is designing it/them?

    (l-r) Breeanna Palmer and Skylar Brandt
    in rehearsal for Tiler Peck’s “Match”
    Photo by Andrei Bart

We cannot give away much about the show itself, we only can say come and see the show! We can say that the ballet will be based around a tennis match, and they will be dressed in tennis shoes and clothes.

  1. Will Match have a score? If so, please provide details. If not, will the pas de deux be accompanied by any spoken words or songs? Again, please provide details.

No, it will be a friendly game! No words or songs.

  1. Who selected Tiler Peck to choreograph Match? Was there a specific reason for selecting her? Was she in some way part of a “package” for securing the BSF commission? Did Tiler have any role in creating whatever story Match tells?

    Skylar Brandt
    Photo Courtesy of
    Ballet Support Foundation

I spoke to Tiler about choreographing this. After her choreographing debut in February, I believed she was the perfect person to do this. Firstly, she loves tennis. But I also believe in her future as a choreographer, especially important that she’s a woman choreographer because there are not that many, and she is extremely talented.

  1. How were the dancers chosen to perform Match selected? Was there input from BSF? From any other organization? From Serena? Were they selected by Tiler?

Tiler and I discussed who would be best and agreed on Skylar Brandt. She’s a great friend of mine and I am always very happy to work with her.

  1. Is Match intended to be a pièce d’occasion, or will it be presented again elsewhere? If the latter, can you reveal where or when?

We have big plans for how and where it will be performed, but for now we can say it will be performed and filmed on June 2nd.

 

The above information provided by Lola Abigail Koch should be sufficient to describe the impetus for Match, for selecting Tiler Peck to choreograph it and Skylar Brandt to appear in it, as well as a hint of what the piece is about. If you’re in or near the West Palm Beach area on June 2, it might be worth taking the opportunity to see Match’s premiere – as well as additional programming that, together with Match, will comprise the Gala. To obtain further information about the Gala, check http://www.parisballetdance.com/june-atthe-kravis-center.html .

Serena Williams
Image Credit: Getty Images
As published by
Who What Wear Newsletter

But if you’re not in or near West Palm Beach on June 2, fear not. It appears from the response to that last question that plans may be afoot to take it on the road, presumably including the New York area, and/or to present a film of the premiere to those interested – perhaps online.

In any event, I learned something from this – and maybe the reader has as well: that there is, or soon will be, a connection that Serena Williams has with ballet beyond simply taking tennis classes. But had I seen her costume at the 2018 U.S. Open, described as a “tutu outfit” (as captured in the above photo by Getty Images and published by Who What Wear Newsletter in an article titled “Serena Williams’s Most Controversial and Iconic Tennis Outfits of All Time” authored by Erin Fitzpatrick and last updated on August 30, 2022; found during a Google search for pertinent photographs), I might have realized that sooner.