It’s not just her elegant 5' 10" frame that makes Laura Gilbreath stand out. It’s her ability to subtly express the very soul of a movement—whether she’s conquering the stage in Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels or skimming above it as Clara in Kent Stowell’s Nutcracker. She sparkled as the Fairy of Purity in Sleeping Beauty last February: Her happy gaze, alive and natural, gave purpose to the steps; her dainty pointework matched the delicate score.
This 25-year-old Pacific Northwest Ballet corps dancer would soon have more to smile about when artistic director Peter Boal promoted her to soloist. “I would have happily done it sooner,” says Boal. The delay was due in part to balancing the budget and the company roster. He pointed to Gilbreath’s 2009 lead performance in Balanchine’s Diamonds. “She didn’t do that as a rising corps member. She didn’t do it as a talented soloist. She did it as an accomplished ballerina. Laura is one of those dancers where early on you could see the ballerina.”
Gilbreath’s sheer joy in dancing was recognized early. Not long after her older sister started taking a creative movement class, the teacher noticed the younger girl’s excitement through the waiting room window. She invited the 2-year-old into class. “Immediately I fell in love with it,” says Gilbreath.
Both girls outgrew the ballet offerings in Hammond, Louisiana, the small hometown Gilbreath still loves to visit. When they were 8 and 10 years old, they began training in Baton Rouge, 45 minutes away. Soon, they added classes in New Orleans. “Our mom had to be very dedicated to schlep us back and forth every day,” says Gilbreath. Some nights they didn’t get home until 10:00 p.m.
At age 11, Gilbreath followed her sister to summer sessions at the School of American Ballet. After five summers, Gilbreath joined the winter program, staying for two years. “Every day you got this outpouring of knowledge from dancers who had worked with Balanchine,” she recalls. “They were so eager to make you better dancers.”
Gilbreath credits SAB with helping her learn to dance faster. They urged her to dance not just from the knees down but to use her buttocks and legs to power that speed. (The resulting strength shows up in her adagio as well, where her control means there is no rushing.) And SAB teachers encouraged her not to hide her height. She remembers Susan Pilarre calling out: “Dance bigger! Use your body! Use your long legs!” This, says Gilbreath, proved the biggest turning point for her.
At 17, after two summers of PNB intensives, Gilbreath left SAB. She joined PNB’s Professional Division, and signed her apprentice contract that spring when she was 18. A year later, she joined the corps. Francia Russell was one of her first directors and coaches at PNB. “With Laura, your eye goes to her right away,” Russell says. “She’s completely there; every fiber of her being is there.” This was evident in Gilbreath’s poignant performances of the Waltz Girl in Serenade last April: Her emotions matched the music and movement nuance for nuance.
Both Russell and Boal use words like “beautiful,” “intelligent,” and “superb” to describe Gilbreath. She has a “wicked sense of humor,” says Boal. She has that ability to take you with her, says Russell. To new places, says Boal. Russell notes she possesses the crucial skill of listening, of being open to coaching. Boal praises her technique. It seems that Gilbreath has a good chance of achieving her ultimate goal, to be a principal dancer.
“There’s so much that I have to work on and want to work on,” she says. Increasing her strength tops her list, followed by improving individual steps—like right pirouettes, “because I’m a lefty and everything in ballet is done to the right.” She tries to take more risks, especially in class, where, says Boal, she’s always ready, never hanging back, always pushing herself. “I want to get to the point where I could do Odette,” says Gilbreath.
And before Odette? That’s anyone’s guess. “The range is so great,” says Boal. “You can’t pigeonhole her. She’s capable of so much.” Her rep this year has been that of a principal dancer: Clara in Nutcracker, Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, Choleric in Balanchine’s Four Temperaments, Kylián’s Petite Mort, and Rosalia in Robbins’ West Side Story Suite—a singing role! She made smaller parts count, too. She danced the first theme in Four Temperaments—its calm opening, its convoluted turns, and its precise grands battements—with a composed, neutral quality that was riveting. “Laura took a small part and made it a big part,” says Boal. “That’s what great dancers do.”
Rosie Gaynor is a Seattle dance writer.
Photo of Gilbreath in Balanchine's Serenade by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB. Copyright The Balanchine Trust.
It's no secret that Broadway dancers need to be incredibly versatile. In addition to having singing and acting chops, they need to be well-versed in a wide range of dance styles.
Knowing all this is one thing. But seeing it in action is another. BroadwayBox.com's Dancing Through My Resume series asks Broadway dancers to give a visual demonstration of their career, performing segments from all the shows they've been in. The result is a fast-paced tour of some of the best dancing on Broadway, past and present. Their newest video features Paloma Garcia-Lee, who's currently dancing Joshua Bergasse's choreography in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
The fact that Garcia and the other dancers profiled in this series can literally do it all speaks to how challenging it is to be a Broadway performer today. But it also says something about the diversity of today's Broadway lineup, and the new ways that choreographers are using dance to tell stories.
Watch more of our favorites below, and click here to watch the whole series.
In the days and hours before an audition, your to-do list might include researching the company, conditioning your muscles, updating your resumé or taking a long walk to clear your head. But what you don't do before pinning on your number can be just as critical to your success.
1. Don’t stray from your feel-good food routine.
Stick to what already works for you. Don't start a new diet less than a month or two before an audition, says registered dietitian nutritionist Sarah Krieger, who has counseled dancers and athletes at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in Florida. "Anyone can develop an allergy or aversion at any time, even the day of a big audition opportunity," she says. "Drastically changing your diet, going on a juice cleanse or adding a new supplement is a bad idea." Steer clear of foods you've never tried for two to three days before the audition, and avoid anything that you know upsets your stomach on the day of. If you want to be sure you—and your belly—will be comfortable during the audition, rehearse your meal plan about a week ahead of time and adjust as needed.
2. Stop thinking in terms of all or nothing.
How you think affects tension in your body, says Dr. Kate Hays of The Performing Edge, a sports and performance psychology practice in Toronto. "So allowing messages like 'This is my only shot,' or 'Only perfect will do,' to race through your mind can actually impact your physical performance," she says. Reframe these thoughts by reminding yourself of why you dance and what really matters to you—this is what should get you in the door of the audition, not a high-stakes ultimatum.
3. Auditions aren't the time to unveil a brand-new look.
The trick is simply to be comfortable, says Tiit Helimets. Now a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, he has auditioned for companies on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean throughout his career. "Wear your favorite clothes—not a new outfit that could rip, ride up or otherwise be distracting," he says. Don't choose now to test or break in new pointe shoes or character heels, or debut a drastic new haircut or dye job. Fresh bangs or layers might obscure your face or distract you, and it can definitely be a confidence killer if you don't like your new 'do.
4. Don't obsess about messing up.
Picturing a flub or reflecting on a past mistake can predict trouble in your upcoming audition. "It doesn't give you any constructive information, only mental instruction on what to do wrong," says Hays. Helimets agrees: "You have to stop those thoughts in the moment and see yourself doing everything to the best of your ability—not someone else's."
If you feel stuck in an endless loop of negative thoughts or anxiety in the days before an audition, Hays recommends scheduling time to reflect on your concerns so you can shut them down for the moment and move on. The morning of, remind yourself that you took time to file those thoughts away and that they aren't serving you. Then, change your mind-set by listening to music you like or meeting a friend for breakfast. But if you're really wound up that day, drinking more coffee than normal won't do you any favors, says Krieger. "Too much caffeine can make you feel more anxiety than nerves alone."
5. Don't stand out for the wrong reason.
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe
If you're taking a company class as part of your audition, someone from the staff will most likely meet you upon your arrival and show you the facilities, the studio and where you should get changed. But you may need to respectfully ask about where to stand for the beginning of class. "It's kind of rude to park yourself in a spot at the barre before class starts," says Helimets. "Remember that you are entering the daily life of the dancers who work there."
Elizabeth Earley's path to the Great White Way was fueled by perseverance. Currently a swing and co-dance captain for Hello, Dolly!, she shared her journey with Dance Magazine.
When I was a freshman at New York University's musical theater studio, I cut class to attend a singers' Equity Chorus Call for The Phantom of the Opera. I had no idea how casting worked. I hoped they might realize I was a ballet dancer and put me into consideration for a ballerina. After waiting in line for hours, I sang "Falling in Love with Love." The team asked, "Is this your first New York audition?" They said, "You are so cute," but there was no callback. Later, I saw the show was holding an open dance call. I went. The line wrapped around the block. We did two pointe combinations. But again, I was cut.
I decided to keep my focus on school instead of auditions with the exception of summer stock, which I worked every season. After graduating, I developed this idea that I wasn't ready to be seen by Broadway casting teams. I only auditioned for stock, theme parks, cruise ships, regional theater and national tours. I eventually booked them all. As I started to gain more experience, auditioning went from being overwhelming to exciting.
After returning from the national tour of Whistle Down the Wind, I started to actively pursue roles. In 2009, I was up for my first principal role in a regional union show, Cassie in A Chorus Line. Having worked nine shows at this particular theater as ensemble, dance captain, minor roles and understudy, I was thrilled to be in the running for a lead. I felt strong as I danced, sang and read. Then someone on the casting team said, "She's not hot enough."
I realized I couldn't control what other people felt, but I could control my mind-set. Keeping positive and being my daily best became vital in moments like that. I actually did end up booking Cassie in that production. I even went on to play her elsewhere and returned to the same theater to play Mary Poppins years down the road.
Earley as Cassie in a regional production of A Chorus Line. Photo by Alicia Donelan, Courtesy Earley
While I auditioned for Broadway regularly starting in 2008, I landed national tours for years. In 2015, I decided to dig my heels into the ground in New York City. That year, I attended an invited call to hire one female swing to cover the miscellaneous dance and singing tracks in a brand-new show. I almost didn't go. I was so tired of pounding the pavement without making headway. On the day of the audition, I saw Eric Giancola, to whom I had taught Mary Poppins on the national tour when I was dance captain. He was leading the audition! He knew my work and work ethic. After passing the test with Phil Reno, the show's musical director, and after approval of the director, I booked a job as swing in the original cast of Something Rotten! I finally cracked the glass ceiling of Broadway. All of the training and relentless work helped make it happen.
After a year in Something Rotten!, I auditioned for Hello, Dolly! by attending the dancers' Equity Chorus Call. I danced and sang the first day after the team made a cut. I was called back to audition with the girls from the agent invited audition. More cuts were made as we danced, two by two. I had to dance with Jessica Lee Goldyn, who played Val in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. She is a terrific dancer! Years of auditioning taught me not to get nervous, but to get excited, saying "I get to dance with Jessica!" More days of auditions happened where we danced, sang, read for roles and partnered. I sang a song from Kismet. I was asked to sing and read for the character of Irene. I ended up booking swing/co-dance captain, and am very excited for my next Broadway experience. Though the road has been winding, I've learned not to compare my journey to others'. One of the most wonderful things about theater is that everyone takes their own unique path there. But in the end, we all share the same stage.
Despite intense hip pain, Annmaria Mazzini waited until leaving the the Paul Taylor Dance Company to have one hip replaced in 2011, followed by the other in 2016.
But, it turns out, a hip replacement no longer spells an automatic end to a dance career. While the surgery remains a last resort, new technologies work better and last longer, allowing dancers to continue performing for several years after getting a replacement.
Mazzini, for example, has continued to dance. She even performed a duet just three months after her second hip replacement, having rehearsed for four months prior on a deteriorating hip. "It was really a gift to have that dance to do right before and after the surgery, because I had something to compare," she says. "There were parts of the duet where my whole body used to tense up, and now to be able to do them so easily is just euphoric."
1. Will I Need A Hip Replacement?
Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe
Probably not, although the surgery is common among dancers. Those who end up needing one typically start off with some kind of abnormality of the joint, says Dr. Douglas Padgett, who's performed hip replacements on more than 100 dancers at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "Very often the hip socket is somewhat shallow, which can lead to excessive load and wear."
2. Aren't Hip Replacements Only For Old People?
Angela Towler continued performing with Rambert Dance Company after getting a hip replacement in her 30s. Photo by Nick Guttridge
Not any more. Implants used to be made with a plastic that degraded over time, lasting only about 12 to 15 years. But the new gold standard lasts 30 or more years, making hip replacements a reasonable option for a younger age group, says Dr. Roy Davidovitch, a hip surgeon at New York University Langone Medical Center.
3. What Questions Should I Ask?
Ask your surgeon about dual mobility hip replacements, a recent advancement that potentially allows for greater range of motion and a lower dislocation rate after surgery. Also inquire about the anterior approach to surgery, in which the surgeon enters the hip from the front without cutting through the large muscles in the back of the hip. Davidovitch, who specializes in the anterior approach, says it can have particular benefits for dancers since dislocation after surgery is less likely, making large ranges of motion safer.
4. What Will Recovery Be Like?
Wendy Whelan in physical therapy after her hip surgery
You'll need physical therapy two to three times per week for about three months after surgery, and once per week for three more months after that. "Usually the leg has gotten stiff, so we look to free up the muscles to allow for the hip to have full range of motion," says Michelle Rodriguez, a physical therapist and founder of Manhattan Physio Group. "There's soft-tissue work, strengthening, conditioning and stabilization of the core." Ninety-five percent of recovery happens within the first 6 to 12 weeks, says Davidovitch. "But I tell my patients it's one year to full recovery because you have to recover from the residual injuries, the compensatory patterns that developed when you were in pain."
5. Will My Dancing Change?
Annmaria Mazzini. Photo by Darial Sneed
After three to six months, most dancers get back almost their full range of motion. Though Rodriguez cautions that dancers are likely to notice a reduction in their turnout. However, dancing on a hip replacement will not feel quite the same as dancing on a natural hip joint. Repetitive, high-impact movements—like lots of jumping—can wear down even the best hip implant. But after years of extreme pain, many dancers are happy to make these trades. "I have a freedom in my body that I didn't have a year ago," says Mazzini.
Even if you make it through to the final round of an audition, that doesn't mean that you're guaranteed a spot on the roster. Before handing out contracts, many companies also require prospective dancers to complete an interview with staff. How can you impress your potential employer with your words as much as your dancing? Three artistic directors weigh in on what matters most.
Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis
Ballet Memphis in Gabrielle Lamb's Manifold. Photo by Andrea Zucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis
What do you cover in a typical interview?
"In the studio, I'm already watching closely for how well you pay attention, how you handle your nerves, and are you polite to the rest of the dancers. So, by the time you're sitting down with me in my office, I just want us to get to know each other. I want to see you look me in the eye, be curious and listen. (I might have questions about someone who just can't stop talking.) But I also want to know what you like about your hometown, what drew you to our company, and who you are when you're at ease. Remember that you're interesting to me!"
Colin Connor, Limón Dance Company
Photo by Juan José Escalante, Courtesy Limón Dance Company
What kinds of responses are red flags that a dancer wouldn't be a good fit for your company?
"I think a lot of dancers assume it's bad if they're not extroverted, but I'm happy to hire someone quiet. Do show me you can articulate what you love, because that's what you end up drawing from as an artist. I see a red flag when it sounds like someone has a lot of scheduling conflicts and previous commitments but still insists she can commit to us. I understand that working with other choreographers might be the only way you can survive, but being overextended is not a healthy way to function. You really have to be transparent in the interview about the obligations you do have, so I can be up front about whether it's possible to work with you."
Patricia Barker, Grand Rapids Ballet
Photo by Michael Auer, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet
How can a prospective dancer prepare?
"I don't want to be asked how many performances we do or which choreographers we work with. A great way to prove you've done your research is to say, 'I see Robyn Mineko Williams is choreographing this season. I was able to work with her in one of my summer programs.' That draws my attention to something I may have missed on your resumé, and now I know that I can touch base with her about that experience."
It seems like everyone in New York's experimental dance scene is talking about Okwui Okpokwasili right now. Her multidisciplinary work Poor People's TV Room is in the middle of a much buzzed-about two-week run at New York Live Arts.
But although the dance world loves her, Okpokwasili is hesitant to call herself a dancer. In a story about dance theater in Dance Magazine's May issue, she told this to writer Siobhan Burke:
"I have a deep love and appreciation for dancers. And because of that, sometimes I'll call myself a mover, because I feel like dancers are saints. They work so hard, they take classes, they don't get health insurance. Their ability to come into the unknown and commit to multiple languages without question—I find it so generous and beautiful. I don't know that I'm that generous. People can't just walk around calling themselves a dancer."
Even though she's very humble, many would definitely consider what she's doing bonafide dancing. Check out her intense, otherwordly virtuosity in a section from Poor People's TV Room, shot for The New York Times' #SpeakingInDance series.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's iconic Jewels. And thanks to The Royal Ballet, you can celebrate in the comfort of your local movie theater. The company is screening its production in theaters across the US this spring—along with a handful of other performances both live and recorded.
Of course, we couldn't wait. So we got an exclusive sneak preview of principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares performing the regal "Diamonds" pas de deux:
Plus, we're giving away a pair of pointe shoes signed by principal dancer Sarah Lamb—the very pair she wore during this performance of "Rubies." Watch her tackle the playful role alongside Steven McRae and Melissa Hamilton:
Click here to find a theater in your area.
Michaela DePrince is having one spectacular year. On New Year's Day, the Dutch National Ballet dancer was promoted to soloist. And yesterday, she scored a major endorsement as a face of Jockey's "Show 'Em What's Underneath" campaign. We've said it before: There's a right way and a wrong way to feature dancers in mainstream media. This campaign hits the mark by celebrating DePrince's grace, athleticism and story of hope.
If you need a refresher on her remarkable journey—from war orphan in Sierra Leone to being adopted and launching her ballet career—check out Jockey's video below.
DePrince's path has an uncanny connection to Dance Magazine. As a young child, she found the May 1979 cover of DM outside her orphanage. Mesmerized by the image of Pennsylvania Ballet's Magali Messac, she kept the treasured cover hidden in her panties, dreaming of becoming a dancer herself. After she was adopted, DePrince began training at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. The rest is history.
@michaeladeprince with the May 1979 issue of Dance Magazine that first inspired her to pursue ballet. We caught up with her in NYC to celebrate her latest achievement: becoming an ambassador for Jockey! #inspiration #vintagedancemag #jockey #showemhope
A post shared by dancemagazine (@dancemagazine) on Apr 26, 2017 at 4:28pm PDT
Congratulations to DePrince on this milestone in her career!