On the Rise: Isabella LaFreniere
Isabella LaFreniere dances like a beam of light. A member of New York City Ballet's corps since 2014, LaFreniere, 5' 8", is a technical powerhouse who exudes a sweet radiance: It's no surprise to learn that while she hasn't danced many principal roles yet, she is being primed for them in the studio. One is Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. As ballet master Jonathan Stafford puts it, "That's a ballerina role big time."
Company: New York City Ballet
Hometown: Lambertville, Michigan
Training: Northeast Academy of Dance (Oscoda, Michigan), Southold Dance Theater (South Bend, Indiana), Joffrey Academy of Dance (Chicago) and the School of American Ballet
Accolades: 2013 Mae L. Wien Award
LaFreniere in Balanchine's Harlequinade. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
Ballet battle wound: Growing up, LaFreniere wanted to be just like her older sister. "That meant that I had to do ballet," she says. "When I was 2, she had just learned how to do pirouettes. I was like, 'I can do that too.' I fell over and cracked my forehead open." She still has a scar to prove it.
Breakout moment: Although LaFreniere made her Dewdrop debut in last December's Nutcracker, she doesn't consider it her breakout. "Getting into the corps is such a learning experience," she says. "You learn how to be your number-one advocate, because no one else is going to push for you." Conversely, she's also learned how to work with a group. "I don't know if that's a breakout, but it is a mental and emotional breakthrough."
"She has everything that we're looking for
to be a ballerina for these epic
Balanchine ballets." —Jonathan Stafford
Right brain, left brain: LaFreniere is currently taking corporate finance at Fordham University and says she got the "math gene" from her parents, who are both electrical engineers. "I like number crunching. Ballet is so subjective, but in math, two plus two always equals four."
LaFreniere as Dewdrop. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
Learning from a setback: While rehearsing for the lead in Firebird, LaFreniere was sidelined by a severely strained lower back and had to cancel her debut. "It was such a bummer," she says. "But I learned who to seek out for doctors. I've really been able to find a solid team that's going to hopefully carry me through my career."
What others are saying: "For her, we see a really high ceiling," says Stafford. "She's a very clean, strong dancer, and she has a nice quality to her movement. If she ends up making it to principal one day, I think she'll be a great role model for younger dancers."
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.