When I think of poise in ballet, I think of Claire Richards. She has this grace to her that truly hits me. Over the past year, I have been able to observe that different dancers have different styles of dance. For the men, there are guys that can do these powerful leaps through the air that make them look as if they are in flight. And then, there are others that can spin for days, at what seems to be 4000 rpm’s. It goes the same for women. There are some that have this whimsical character to their movements, and others that have this “lighter than air” look to them. To me, and keep in mind that I have only been shooting ballet for a year when I say this, Claire has a truly romantic style to her dancing. It’s as if she gets swept away with the music and where the dance takes her.
The past two ballets that I have seen her dance, were Dracula and the Nutcracker. The contrast between the shows is enormous, but the performances were equal in the overall entertainment value. She played the Red Harpy in Dracula, and the Snow Queen/Arabian Dancer in Nutcracker. Her performance in Dracula was downright seductive with a tone of sinister. But, in the Nutcracker, her dances were the contrary. The Snow Queen had this regal quality to her movements and the Arabian Dance was absolutely sensual. The equivalent to this in Hollywood is finding out the Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays, “Negan,” the worst villain in the history of television, also played the love interest in the last season of “The Good Wife.” What am I saying by that statement? I am saying that Claire is anything but a “One Trick Pony.” She not only gets lost in the character of her dance, she takes you with her.
Claire has an incredible range in her dancing, and I am always thrilled to photograph her. The first time I met her was at the photoshoot in London and Lace that I did with Ashley Concannon. Her movements were just as beautiful as her spirit. She has this great sense of humor, that we should all have a little more of in life. Listening to her, Madeline Foderaro, Ashley Concannon and Anna Porter joke around about feet had me rolling in laughter for the whole photoshoot. “Nice Feet!”
To be quite honest, it is refreshing to see the human side of someone from ballet. It is easy to get caught up in labels in life, with who or what we think people are in life. For the large part of my life, I thought that the ballet was for the “elite.” And, that everyone involved looked down on the rest. That is not the case at all. Through Claire and her friends, I learned that the ballet is incredibly hard and the people that do it, literally work their butts off trying to be the best they can be. And, on top of that, they do it with a smile and a laugh.
How long have you been doing ballet?
-I’ve been dancing for 21 years.
Where did you start?
-I started at the Columbia Conservatory of Dance (which is the school of CCB) and grew up through the school there and later joined the company. I started dancing professionally with CCB directly after high school and I absolutely knew it was what I wanted to do. I had been dancing in company roles throughout high school and joining the company was just the next natural step.
What is it about the ballet that draws you to it?
-What draws me in to ballet the most is the challenge of it. We train for years and years and do the same steps every day, but with your body as your instrument, it feels different each day and there is no point of perfection, which is what fuels my desire for more. It’s challenging in both mind and body, figuring out how to make even the tiniest of movements happen more kinetically or more artistically. And then, of course, sharing my art with an audience is something truly special and indescribable. If I can make someone see into my little world of beauty for even a moment, then I’ve done my job.
Do you have any advice for any of the younger ones, (like my daughter) that want to pursue this as a career?
-As far as advice for younger children or my students who are interested in pursuing dance as a career, my advice is always to work hard, focus and be observant, have fun, and remember that the only person who can limit your growth is yourself.
What Claire just said about focus, is the most spot on way of saying, “pay attention.” Pay attention to detail, pay attention to teachers and pay with your mind, body and soul in anything that you do. If you want to be the best, you have to give the best. The photo that is at the top of this blog is of Claire in the Nutcracker as the Snow Queen. It is one of the most incredible pictures I think that I have ever taken. The way that she is positioned in the arms of her partner screams poise. You can see the focus in her gaze. She is not concerned with the buckets of snow that is falling around her, or anything else at all, just the dance.
I knew that something great was going to happen when I set up for this photo because I knew the snow was going to fall. But, I had no idea that I would be in the right place at the right time to make this capture. This one moment of her in “flight” through the snow says more than a thousand words. It says at least a thousand words for each of the 21 years that she has put into her art. Not for just this reason, but especially this reason, Claire Richards is Good People.
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