Clara Miller and Isabella LaFreniere talk about the School of American Ballet

School of American Ballet students Clara Miller and Isabella LaFreniere talk about dancing Balanchine at this year's Workshop Performances

Time Out New York: If it doesn’t go so well, how do you bounce back? 
Isabella LaFreniere: I just try to breathe and say, “There’s another rehearsal, there’s another time.” 
Clara Miller: The second variation is shorter, and it’s broken into two sections so you have a break and you can come onstage each time really refreshed. After the first variation, if something didn’t go so well, I don’t let it affect me because when I come back on, I’m looking forward to the second. So even though it’s a lot more manageable; it’s broken into pieces, and there’s one part that I didn’t used to like, but now I try to travel a lot in it. That’s the one part of the ballet where I’m like, Yeah, I’m going to do this! 
Isabella LaFreniere: That part’s a lot of fun: the piqué diagonals [turns]. We have two of them. You can breathe—it’s not like you’re jumping really hard. It’s playful, too.

Time Out New York: What do you think about in terms of your performance quality? 
Isabella LaFreniere: 
I always think of the pas as more exotic, because we do a lot of arms over our eyes. 
Clara Miller: You’re being a little more mysterious and not playing with the audience yet. You’re supposed to have an aura. 
Isabella LaFreniere: Whereas the variations are very upbeat and playful. 

Time Out New York: So you can change your personality in the ballet? 
Isabella LaFreniere: Yes. And the finale is very dramatic. You just let it all out there with your hair down and everything. 
Clara Miller: After the first variations, when the music starts for the finale­—if it was any less crazy I wouldn’t be able to get through it and go onstage. 
Isabella LaFreniere: The music really pushes you through. I hear the music, and I get so excited for the finale. I’m back there when all of my friends are dancing in the corps, like, “Ah!” It’s so much fun. 

Time Out New York: How do you deal with your hair? 

Clara Miller: I haven’t dealt with my hair very well. I got it cut because it was even longer before, and it was like it was trying to attack me every time I did those piqués. It would just wrap around my head. It was very ugly. 
Isabella LaFreniere: At that time, you’re really sweaty too, so it just clings to your face. It doesn’t nicely brush off; it slaps on and wants to stay there, so you do the piqués. Before I go onstage for the last time, I’m always frantically on the side trying to brush it all off—basically wiping my hair off. And once you do the finale, it’s usually hanging in my face again, and I have to run and try to get some of it off before I do the finale pose, so I don’t look like a lamp shade, as Susie would say. 
Clara Miller: When you’re running around right before you run at your partner, I try to flick my head—because my hair is always right in front of my face, but it looks really awkward. I’m going to have to get it cut more or put a clip in or thin it out or something. Sara Mearns’s hair was a lot more off her face. 

Time Out New York: What does it feel like to dance with your hair down? 
Isabella LaFreniere: It’s so much fun.
Clara Miller: It’s so different. When my hair’s in a bun, I feel like my skin gets pulled back, and my face is already tense because I’m trying to do everything right; my face can get kind of scary looking because I’m so uptight. And then when you let your hair down, you feel very open and free. 

Time Out New York: How scary is the lift at the end? 
Isabella LaFreniere: Actually, we practiced the Sugar Plum Nutcracker pas, and it has those [lifts]. I take adagio class with Mayim, my partner. When we saw that lift at the end, we were like, “Oh, we’ve done this, we’ve got this!” The first time we did it, Clara was there. I take a couple of steps—I think you can take four steps—and then you do a glissade and jump onto his shoulder. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. I’m at one edge of the studio; [Mayim] is at the other edge. I take my four steps, and I realize that I’m in the middle of the studio. I only have one glissade to do before I land on his shoulder, and I don’t know how I did this…
Clara Miller: Luckily, you’re a good jumper!
Isabella LaFreniere: I glissaded halfway across the studio and flew on his shoulder. Meanwhile, Susie’s sitting in her chair. She sees that I’m only halfway across the studio, and she knows I have a far way to go, and she gets off her chair and starts screaming. “Ahhhh!” [She imitates Pilarre holding her arms out.] Like she’s going to catch me or something! She got out of her chair and was running for me. Magically, I land on his shoulder. Susie was like, “That was the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen. That was spectacular. Do that for the show!” So that’s my story about the lift. 

Time Out New York: It’s a good one. 
Isabella LaFreniere: We helped Clara. 
Clara Miller: I was a little more nervous for it. I think I’m not used to looking.… Lorris is 6'6", and right before I’m going to jump to go onto his shoulder, I just look at him. Oh, God, I have to get all the way up there? It’s a little bit daunting! I think it gets easier when you do it in the context of the ballet because it’s the last thing, and you know you have to do it. I mean, today I didn’t do it. [Laughs] My skirt was really slippery; sometimes when I don’t get quite on his shoulder, he’s able to adjust, but since the skirt was so slippery, it was just, like, a slide…
Isabella LaFreniere: She always gets it. 
Clara Miller: It would be a really bad end to the ballet if everyone is lined up and their arms are going in one direction—
Isabella LaFreniere: And she slides down! 
Clara Miller: That wouldn’t be good. 

Time Out New York: What are the other challenges?
Isabella LaFreniere:
 Stamina. Clara has rehearsal for Divertimento [No. 15, which is also on the program] on the days that we don’t have Faust, but I’m just doing Faust,so sometimes I’ll go to the YWCA and do the elliptical for a little bit. 
Clara Miller: Sometimes I crawl onto the bike in the Pilates room. I used to bike for a half an hour; now, I’m just like, eh, I’m just going to bike for the length of Faust. After that anything can happen. I can die. It’ll be fine. [Laughs
Isabella LaFreniere: Exactly! 

Time Out New York: Today, you danced in the corps de ballet when Isabella was dancing the lead. So you perform in both casts? 
Clara Miller: I’m doing the lead for one show [the evening of June 1] and the corps de ballet for Faust and Divertimento for the other shows, so in the matinee performance before I do the lead, I’ll be doing two ballets in the same show. Tuesday is the same deal. So I don’t know how it’s going to happen. I’m just going to be dead. [Eyes widen] But I was really comforted last week when I remembered that 5-hour ENERGY and coffee and caffeine exist. I was so comforted! Oh, now I’ll get through it. [Laughs]

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