Go West, Young Dancer
Rafailedes joined LADP for its rep: Here, Justin Peck's Murder Ballades with Nathan Makolandra. Photo by Laurent Philippe, Courtesy LADP.
In February 2013, Rachelle Rafailedes sat in an airport with tears in her eyes and a knot in her stomach. After eight fruitful years in New York City—four as a student at The Juilliard School and four dancing for Kyle Abraham—she was relocating to California to join L.A. Dance Project, the company founded in 2012 by Benjamin Millepied, now artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet.
“I thought, What am I doing?” Rafailedes recalls. “It was a moment of, Okay, I hope I made the right decision because I just changed everything in my life in one moment.” To add to the stress, when Millepied offered her the job, he had also just announced his new position in Paris. (He assured her that he was committed to LADP’s longevity by convening a top-notch artistic and administrative team.) Yet today, she reports that the leap of faith has paid off. “It’s been so rewarding and so worth it,” she says. “I’ve grown so much.”
In the past few decades, Los Angeles has perhaps unfairly earned a reputation as something of a concert dance wasteland. But that label is quickly changing, thanks in part to the establishment of LADP and other independent contemporary companies, like BODYTRAFFIC, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company and Ate9, led by former Batsheva dancer Danielle Agami, who occasionally teaches Gaga for LADP. “There is an audience here and it is younger, which is exciting,” Rafailedes says. “People are hungry for it.”
That hunger is satiated by LADP’s bold and sophisticated programming, which includes works by Millepied, Justin Peck, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe—the rep is what drew Rafailedes to the company—and collaborations with noted visual artists and composers. “What’s cool about this company, and the most challenging part, is that you have to be in three different worlds in one evening,” she says.
Still, Rafailedes’ transition to the West Coast wasn’t easy. One reason is the speed at which it all took place. After discovering on Facebook that LADP was seeking another dancer, she sent in a tape and, a month later, was invited to audition. She flew to Los Angeles and was offered a job after one day, a Thursday. By Monday she had found an apartment and, a week later, had passed off her residence and furniture in New York City. Soon, she was in a Southern California studio, marveling at the winter warmth. “It was insane,” she says of the move.
In addition to learning a whole new repertory, Rafailedes had to adapt to a different social scene. “I was trying to make L.A. into New York, but they’re completely different cities and vibes,” she says. “Once I realized that, it became easier.” She spent the first year negotiating L.A.’s limited metro system from her East Hollywood apartment to the company’s downtown home before finally buying a car (a blue Chevy Cobalt). “I’m able to explore L.A. a lot more,” she says. “It makes life a lot better.”
Rafailedes also has to regularly shift gears culturally, since much of LADP’s touring has included long stretches in Millepied’s native France. “I’m a little bit ashamed that I don’t speak better French because we spend so much time there,” she says with a laugh. Ballet master Charlie Hodges notes that on tour, Rafailedes takes on the motherly role. “She is a nurturer,” he says. “Always watching over the schedule, the group, the events, the rehearsals.” But in performance, he adds, “she brings a power to the stage that is as wild as her hair.”
Before making the move, Rafailedes says that she hadn’t considered Los Angeles to be a place that would offer her what she was seeking as a dancer. But sometimes from supposed wastelands sprout unexpected gifts. “With the rep we get to do, the touring and opportunities…I would move anywhere for that,” she says. “It’s a dancer’s dream, really. My dream.”
If "Fosse/Verdon" whet your appetite for the impeccable Gwen Verdon, then Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon is the three-course meal you've been craving. The new documentary—available now on Amazon for rental or purchase—dives into the life of the Tony-winning performer and silver-screen star lauded for her charismatic dancing.
Though she's perhaps most well-known today as Bob Fosse's wife and muse, that's not even half of her story. For starters, she'd already won four Tonys before they wed, making her far more famous in the public eye than he was at that point in his career. That's just one of many surprising details we learned during last night's U.S. premiere of Merely Marvelous. Believe us: You're gonna love her even more once you get to know her. Here are eight lesser-known tidbits to get you started.
Every dancer knows that how you fuel your body affects how you feel in the studio. Of course, while breakfast is no more magical than any other meal (despite the enduring myth that it's the most important one of the day), showing up to class hangry is a recipe for unproductive studio time.
So what do your favorite dancers eat in the morning to set themselves up for a busy rehearsal or performance day?
When it comes to dance in the U.S., companies in the South often find themselves overlooked—sometimes even by the presenters in their own backyard. That's where South Arts comes in. This year, the regional nonprofit launched Momentum, an initiative that will provide professional development, mentorship, touring grants and residencies to five Southern dance companies.
You ever just wish that Kenneth MacMillan's iconic production of Romeo and Juliet could have a beautiful love child with the 1968 film starring Olivia Hussey? (No, not Baz Luhrmann's version. We are purists here.)
Wish granted: Today, the trailer for a new film called Romeo and Juliet: Beyond Words was released, featuring MacMillan's choreography and with what looks like all the cinematic glamour we could ever dream of: