February 24, 2018  

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USM Alum, Wife Dance into International Spotlight as Part of Apple TV Ad

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USM alum Christopher Grant, right, and his wife, Lauren, demonstrate one of many moves while teaching a master class in dance recently on the Hattiesburg campus. (Photos by Danny Rawls)

Except for a twist of fate, Christopher Grant might have spent the past 10 years studying ecosystems instead of adagios. He might have been examining coral reefs instead of TV scripts. He might have been partnering with scientists, instead of a pretty brunette from New York.

But destiny has a profound way of tapping you on the shoulder at just the right time. And Chris, a University of Southern Mississippi graduate, was keen enough to accept the intervention that helped catapult him to dancing stardom.

The endearing story of Christopher and Lauren Grant has enough twists and turns to fill any ballet hall. A superstar husband-wife team. Collaborators. Dreamers. The closest of friends. And renowned professional dancers. You may not know them personally. But chances are lofty that you have seen their artistry on a TV or mobile device.

Chris, a 2007 USM graduate, and Lauren, a 2005 graduate of New York University, snared the lead roles in Apple’s recent holiday commercial called “Sway.” The captivating video has amassed more than 10.2 million views on YouTube.

How a young man from Jackson, Miss., and a young woman from Long Island, N.Y., meet, fall in love, get married, tour together as professional dancers and land a game-changing video spot involves a mixture of hard work, timing, and perhaps a sprinkle of serendipity.

Although he took a somewhat circuitous route to his chosen career, Chris firmly believes that he was born to be a dancer.

“Absolutely. No question about it,” he said during a break from teaching a master class recently at his alma mater. “Sometimes, it takes a little while to figure out exactly what your purpose is in life. But once you have reached that point, then you realize nothing else will satisfy you. In my case, I have no doubt that I’m doing exactly what I was born to do. I have to dance. I have no choice.”

It might be a stretch to say Lauren Grant was practicing dance steps in the womb. But then again.

“On the day I was born, my mom said that I was an actress out of work,” said Lauren. “I’ve been dancing and performing since I was about 3 years old. There’s a freedom that comes with dancing that is unlike anything else for me. It’s about being lost in the present. To me there’s nothing more beautiful. It has been my saving grace.”

Professor Stacy Reischman Fletcher, Interim Director, School of Performing and Visual Arts at USM, coordinated the Grants’ “guest artist residency” appearance earlier this month that included master class instruction and a weekend workshop. Reischman Fletcher estimates that she spent hundreds of hours working with Chris during his time as a USM student. She taught him modern technique, composition, senior capstone, and thesis writing – among other critical necessities. Along the way she noticed and admired qualities that enabled Chris to perform at a premium level.

“Chris always had a love for dance and a drive to learn all he could about it,” said Reischman Fletcher. “His heart, his generosity and his partnering ability allowed him to stand out. When I worked with him in rehearsal, he inspired me as a choreographer. He took risks and was committed to the vision of the work. He reminds me why I do this – why we as faculty work for hours with our dance majors in the studio.”

Returning to the Hattiesburg campus for the first time in years, Chris was flooded with wave after wave of nostalgic emotions.

“I got pretty choked up about it because a lot of feelings returned,” he said. “This is where my love and appreciation for dance really began. I started remembering all the fun I had during my time here. The football games. The classes I loved so much. USM will always be very special to me.”

USM sophomore Casey Collier says the opportunity to watch the Grants in action, while learning under their tutelage made the Master Class experience unforgettable. The three days of intense instruction showed her the significance of creating movement and expression with a partner.

“Their class was all about giving and receiving information from your partner,” said Collier. “The tools they taught stretched my mind and creativity and pushed me out of my comfort zone. My eyes are opened to a whole other world of partnering that I will now use for the rest of my life.”

Amazingly, dance was not Chris Grant’s foremost career choice. Upon graduation from McLaurin High School (Florence, Miss.), Chris enrolled at USM with dreams of becoming a marine biologist. When not immersed in his challenging classwork, Chris found time to nurture his favorite recreational pursuit – dance. In particular, hip-hop dance.

Blessed with natural rhythm and timing, he danced as often as possible in the local night spots. He danced in his dorm room; in parking lots; in hallways. A chance encounter one Halloween evening altered the course of his collegiate studies.

“I remember me and some others guys were on frat row just doing some impromptu dances,” said Chris. “This girl dressed like Alice in Wonderland came up to me and complimented my moves. I saw her again later on campus and she said, ‘you know we have a dance program here. You should think about looking into it.’ “I was caught completely by surprise. I honestly had no idea that you could major in dance or anything like that at USM.”

Armed with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance performance and choreography, Chris left Hattiesburg bound for the ultimate dance mecca – New York City. There he met fellow dancer Lauren Yalango while both were auditioning for Pilobolus Dance Theater in 2007. A year later they began dating. In the summer of 2014, they were married. Today, they live and work in Manhattan, N.Y.

Their talents have carried them across the globe performing in numerous stage productions. As members of Pilobolus Dance Theater, they made national and international TV appearances, including the Conan O’Brien Show and BBC’s The One Show. They have even enjoyed the distinct privilege of performing for the Queen of England.

Last summer a phone call from their agent changed the trajectory of the Grants’ already hectic and successful careers.

“Our agent said that a big-name company was looking for dancers to star in a new commercial,” said Lauren. “It was all very secretive. Like U.S. government secretive. They specifically wanted a couple that could move like one organism. Our agent thought we would be perfect and asked if we wanted to submit an audition tape. We didn’t have any idea what the commercial involved, but we thought it was worth a shot.”

After passing the first screening, the Grants were asked to submit a second audition tape. Shortly thereafter, the couple found themselves being whisked to the Czech Republic and its capital city, Prague, for Apple’s elaborate commercial shoot.

In the commercial themed, “Move Someone This Holiday,” a woman (Lauren) walks down a snow-dusted street and briefly stops to whip out her iPhone X. She dials up Sam Smith’s “Palace” — transmitted through her AirPods. As she dances wistfully through the gorgeous scenery, she bumps into a handsome stranger (Chris), who catches her mid-twirl. As they lock eyes and imaginations, the woman puts one of her AirPods into his ear, establishing a connection that enables them to move together.

The commercial runs for less than two minutes. But the breathtaking flips, dips, and spectacular symmetry of these polished artists required five days of filming – and up to 14 hours per day. Upon seeing the finished product, the Grants were left practically speechless.

“I almost had a heart attack,” said Lauren. “I think I basically blacked out. It turned out even greater than either of us could have envisioned.”

At age 33, Chris Grant believes there is still plenty of creative juice in his veins and limitless twinkle in his toes. Stillness is for statues.

“Man, I just want to keep dancing for as long as I can,” he said.

Destiny wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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