Stephan Laurent joined the Butler Dance Department in 1988, convinced it was going to be one of the top programs in the United States.
“And we proceeded to make it so,” he said, crediting “aggressive recruitment and a fantastic faculty.”
Thirty years later—the first 15 as chair, the second 15 as a faculty member—as he prepares to retire from Butler, Laurent looks back proudly at what he and the department have accomplished in developing a program that’s consistently one of the top-rated in the country.
“It’s been a wonderful experience because this is such a strong program,” he said. “It’s strong because of the curriculum, because of the faculty who deliver that curriculum, because of the students it attracts and because of the facilities in which it is delivered. It is a conservatory-level training program, but we all value the liberal arts and that’s what makes the program unique.”
Laurent grew up outside Lausanne, Switzerland, and moved to the United States to study at Southern Methodist University. After earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts, he danced professionally in Europe, then returned to SMU for his Master of Fine Arts.
He taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and had spent six years as Artistic Director of Des Moines Ballet when he saw the opening at Butler. The Board of Directors was reducing the size of its company to cut costs, so he decided to apply.
He expected a short stay in Indianapolis, but “it clicked so well. It seems like I had found my place – and I think I did. I have really planted my roots in this community. It will be bittersweet to leave.”
He leaves with great memories of “all the wonderful productions we have accomplished with the Butler Ballet” and comfortable in the knowledge that he helped advance both Butler and the Dance Department.
“I’ve seen a lot of progress being made in establishing the strong vision of a comprehensive university where the liberal arts are valued,” he said. “The core curriculum is really excellent here. I teach an FYS seminar (Spellbound: the Quest for Magic in the Arts and in Fiction), so I know firsthand how good that core is and how valued it is by all the members of the faculty across all the colleges.”
Sophomore Stefanee Montesantos said Laurent “has been a wonderful instructor to work with in the studio.” Not only that, “but he has given me opportunities that most first-years and sophomores wish for.”
In Butler Ballet’s 2018 Midwinter Dance Festival, Montesantos was cast as the lead female in Farewell to the Singing Earth, an original piece that Laurent-Faesi choreographed.
“It was one of my most challenging roles yet, but it was such a pleasure to work with him,” she said. “His positivity, yet silent discipline to execute the steps, brought out a drive I didn’t know I had in me. I am sure I speak for all of Butler Ballet when I say that he will be deeply missed.”
After the semester ends, Laurent plans to move to Texas, where his wife, Ellen Denham, is directing the opera program as a member of the music faculty at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. He describes the move as “going full circle,” since Texas was where he started in the United States.
Professor Susan McGuire, his colleague in the Dance Department, said Laurent set an example for others to follow.
“He is outspoken and liberal-minded in the best sense, and a staunch defender of academic freedom, for one,” she said. “He knows the university system inside and out, and holds the people within it to a high standard, and quite vocally, regardless of the consequences. I appreciate this wholeheartedly, and I will miss his loud and clear voice.”