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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."
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.
"There's an ancient energy in Fana's movement, a deep and trusted knowing," says Jeff, director of the Chicago-based Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. "Because I witnessed the raw humanity of his dancer's souls, I wanted my dancers to have that experience."
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
In his final bow at New York City Ballet, during what should have been a heroic conclusion to a celebrated ballet career, Robert Fairchild slipped and fell. His reaction? To lie down flat on his back like he meant to do it. Then start cracking up at himself.
"He's such a ham," says his sister Megan Fairchild, with a laugh. "He's really good at selling whatever his body is doing that day. He'll turn a moment that I would totally go home and cry about into something where the audience is like, 'That's the most amazing thing ever!' "
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
Choreographer Sergio Trujillo asked the women auditioning for ensemble roles in his newest musical to arrive in guys' clothing—"men's suits, or blazers and ties," he says. He wasn't being kinky or whimsical. The entire ensemble of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical is female, playing men and women interchangeably as they unfold the history of the chart-busting, Grammy-winning, indisputable Queen of Disco.
Have a scroll through Agnes Muljadi's Instagram feed (@artsyagnes), and you'll notice that in between her ballet shots is a curated mix of lifestyle pics. So what exactly sets her apart from the other influencers you follow? Muljadi has made a conscious effort to only feature natural beauty products, sustainable fashion and vegan foods. With over 500k followers, her social strategy (and commitment to making ethical choices) is clearly a hit. Ahead, learn why Muljadi switched to a vegan lifestyle, and the surprising way it's helped her dance career.
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Update: Due to an overwhelming response, the in-person audition has been moved to a larger location to accommodate more dancers. See details below.
For the first time in more than 10 years, Janet Jackson is holding an open audition for dancers.
Even better? You could land a spot in her #JTribe simply by posting a video on social media.
What does it take to become an international superstar? Carlos Acosta might have a few ideas.
At the Oxford Literary Festival earlier this month, the BBC sat down with Acosta to ask for his life lessons. His answers—which he says he will pass on to his kids one day—give incredible insight into how he's become such a beloved worldwide success.