On the Rise: Ashley Laracey
Laracey in Martins’ Swan Lake. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB
Born in Sarasota, Florida, Laracey grew up doing tap, jazz, ballet, and modern at the Cheryl Carty Academy of Theater Dance. Drawn to ballet, she eventually moved to the Sarasota Ballet School. There her teachers Pavel Fomin and Diane Partington recognized her ability and encouraged her to venture beyond her hometown for additional training. Laracey went to summer intensives at the Harid Conservatory and at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, where she got her first taste of Balanchine. She recalls learning the turning girl from Divertimento No. 15. “I remember loving it, loving the freedom of movement,” she says.
She went on to the Harid Conservatory, then entered the School of American Ballet in 2001 after attending the summer intensive on full scholarship. After her workshop performance in 2002, when she led the Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet’s fourth movement, Peter Martins, the company’s ballet master in chief, named her one of five new female apprentices.
Dependable and a quick study—“If they handed me a video, I could come back in an hour and know the ballet”—Laracey often was thrown into roles at the last minute. A few months into her apprenticeship, she was a last-minute replacement in the final movement of Vienna Waltzes, which she learned from ballet mistress Rosemary Dunleavy and then-principal Benjamin Millepied—in the hallway as the third movement’s music played. The next evening, Martins had thrilling news—Laracey was the newest member of the corps, and would be stepping in for Carla Körbes in his Sinfonia the following evening. In 2004, she originated a role in Martins’ Eros Piano, replacing an injured Janie Taylor. The ballet’s only other dancers? Nikolaj Hübbe and Alexandra Ansanelli.
But during that year’s Nutcracker run, another dancer did a tour jeté and knocked Laracey’s leg from under her. “I had to crawl offstage,” she remembers. “My left ankle was the size of a grapefruit. I was throwing up in shock. I had ripped three ligaments.” It took a year of intensive physical therapy before she could dance again. When she finally returned, the opportunities came more slowly than she would have wished.
Laracey has concentrated on what she can control—making sure that each performance is the best it can be. Ballet mistress Kathleen Tracey commends her instincts in the studio. “You don’t have to explain style to her,” she says. “You put her in a Robbins ballet and she automatically shifts her focus—in the steps, but also in the atmosphere she creates. She certainly is always thought of when we’re deciding, Who can we put into this solo?” Tracey points to a demi-soloist performance of Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet last spring as a marker of how Laracey has grown. “She had such a pure, lovely presentation,” says Tracey. “I haven’t seen that part done that way ever and I’ve been watching the company for 30 years. She made it her own. That’s artistic intelligence.” The critics also have taken note. In Robbins’ 2&3 Part Inventions, for instance, The New York Times’ Roslyn Sulcas praised Laracey’s “wistful delicacy.”
Outside ballet, Laracey studies communications and business at Fordham University. She also performs with Satellite Ballet, a pickup company co-directed by her boyfriend of five years, fellow NYCB dancer Troy Schumacher. But her main focus remains her NYCB career. Her list of dream roles is long and varied: waltz girl in Serenade, Dewdrop in The Nutcracker, the Kay Mazzo role in Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux. “To be completely honest, every day that schedule goes up is a good day or a bad day,” she says. “That’s what drives me and keeps me pushing. The rank doesn’t matter to me.”
Kina Poon is a Dance Magazine associate editor.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.