The Ballet Dad
By Brian Schaefer
John Lam (left), Gio & John Ruggieri | Photo credit: © Joel Benjamin
When the Boston Ballet comes through New York this week (June 25-29), appearing for the first time at Lincoln Center to celebrate its 50th anniversary, the soloist John Lam will take on a broad spectrum of roles in a diverse set of works by top choreographers: from the fierce, supermodel cool of William Forsythe to the intensity and grace of George Balanchine, and the sly humor of Alexander Ekman, among others.
But on August 13 last year, the 29-year-old stepped into perhaps his most demanding role to date—being a dad. “It’s been a transition,” he says with a laugh. “But I think we’ve transitioned well.”
The “we” refers to his husband, John Ruggieri, a lawyer. The two married in Vermont in 2010 and recently expanded their family to include Giovanni, known affectionately as Gio.
“I’ve always wanted kids,” says Lam, who grew up in a large Vietnamese family in Marin, California. “Having our own baby is, like, awesome.” And a challenge too, of course. Lam admits that being a father “is a job and it’s hard but at the same time, it’s not. I enjoy it.”
He also has substantial experience adapting to new situations, thanks to his work. Naturally, dancing requires physical flexibility so the body can handle whatever choreography is thrown at it. But it also requires the flexibility of diving into new worlds, negotiating new relationships, taking emotional risks, being vulnerable and fearless. Not unlike becoming a first-time parent.
Lam points out that this willingness to push boundaries is characteristic of Boston Ballet’s artistic scope: “We’re so versatile and our repertory is so versatile,” he says. “Every piece is going to showcase that versatility.”
In addition to the aforementioned works by masters like Balanchine and Forsythe, the company is bringing avant-garde classics, like Vaslav Nijinsky’s Afternoon of a Faun (a scandal in 1912), the elegant and erotic Bella Figura by Jiří Kylián (complete with dramatic red skirts for both women and men), and a new work by the Spanish choreographer José Martinez. No one can accuse the Boston Ballet of playing it safe.
“We’re a young and vibrant company,” Lam says. “At the same time we hold the great traditions… We can do classical and contemporary on a very high level.”
Lam has been with the Boston Ballet for a decade now, arriving in Bean Town after a three-year stint at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. As a West Coast native, he claims to love all of the seasons, which he and his family get to experience up close in Woodstock, Vermont, where John and John were married and now have a second home.
“It became a getaway for us,” Lam says. “It’s a great place for Gio to get out of the city and see nature.” Ruggieri has also invested in two restaurants in the region: Bentley’s in Woodstock and River Stones Tavern in Quechee, both in Vermont, with renowned Boston restaurateur Maria Freddura. Meanwhile, Lam is a frequent diner.
“I just get to go in and be the husband of the owner and pick up a menu,” he explains, with a laugh. (Lam laughs frequently when he speaks.)
Gio, not yet a year old, sometimes gets to participate. Though there are sacrifices to be made—“You have to plan ahead”—having a kid hasn’t completely changed the couple’s routine. “We take him to restaurants and bars, we expose him to city living. He’s been very adaptable. We’ve adapted to him, and he’s adapted to our lifestyle.”
Soon, Lam hopes, Gio will have a sibling. “My husband and I are definitely hoping to begin that process… IVF is a pricey ticket, and especially for gay families where it’s not covered through insurance. But we want to do it, and we want to do it soon.”
As for whether little Gio, barely stable on two feet, will follow in his father’s ballet slippers, Lam demurs. “I wouldn’t be opposed if he wanted to dance,” he says. “My husband is very much into Broadway, so he wants him to be on Broadway. We always have show tunes on in the car. He’s definitely going to be exposed to a lot of theater. He may totally hate it and want to be a scientist.” Then, like a good dad, Lam adds: “Which is totally fine.”
Boston Ballet's 50th Season at Lincoln Center, June 25-29. For tickets.
Above: John Lam in Forsythe's "The Second Detail" | Photo © Gene Schiavone