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Chatting With a Star: An Interview with Laura Gilbreath

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist and Class Act Tutu model, Laura Gilbreath is--in a word--breathtaking. Her fabulous extensions, incredible technique and striking beauty make for a rather bewitching combination! We adored her in "3 By Dove", wept over her haunting interpretation in "Afternoon Ball", and were mesmerized by her peacock variation in "Nutcracker". But what we find most intriguing however, is her stunning work ethic! This young woman's been busting her chops since she was a teenager--an attribute which led to her success with Pacific Northwest Ballet!

Laura Gilbreath at a Class Act Tutu Photo Shoot  photo © Angela Sterling

Laura

We recently caught up with the talented dancer and asked her some of our--and your--burning questions. Here are her answers...

Please share with our readers about how you got started in ballet.

I guess you could say I started dancing because my mother always had such a love and appreciation for it. She danced (ballet) up until she was in high school, and so when she had two little girls, it was only natural that she expose us to this beautiful art form. My sister is two years older than I am, and she began lessons when she was about 4. When Mama and I would go pick her up (I was 2 1/2 at the time), I would constantly be dancing around in the waiting room wanting to join the class. The teacher and my mother must have gotten sick of seeing me jump around because they let me join the creative movement class early.

In a recent interview, you mentioned that you'd attended School of American Ballet when you were younger. Can you tell us how old you were when you accepted into their program? Was this your "dream" school at the time?

I started going to SAB for the summer course when I was 11, and then I began attending as a year-around student when I was 15. I would definitely say this was my dream school when I was younger. Aubrey Morgan (used to dance with NYCB) and Janie Taylor (currently dances with NYCB) are from my studio and they both attended SAB. I wanted to do exactly what they did. It all sounded so amazingly wonderful and exciting. I prepared my mother early on that I would be leaving home at an early age. :-)

How did your family feel about such a big move?

As I said, my mother was somewhat prepared that I would leave home early, but that did not make it any easier. Not to mention the fact that she had already let one daughter go at the age of fifteen to train in ballet as well. My sister, Elizabeth, trained at the Harid Conservatory for 2 years and then ended up attending Indiana University. Before that, she did some trainee work with Ballet Austin. She still does some dancing occasionally around New Orleans. She is a beautiful dancer. So I guess all in all everyone was very supportive of the move and happy that I was fulfilling my dreams. Daddy just wanted his little girl to be safe and to be able to visit me when he could!

What was it like for you to live so far from home for the first time? How did you handle homesickness? (I think I'd personally have a panic attack..LOL)

It was hard being away that young. I think I talked to Mama on the phone probably 5 times a day! At the time I felt so grown up and sophisticated, but 15 is a baby looking back on it. Mama would try to visit at least every few months and Daddy would come as often as his work schedule would allow. The good thing about being at a place like SAB is that everything is in that one building: cafeteria, dorms, studios, and there were plenty of things to do in a 10 block radius, so my mom never had to worry about me galavanting around the city. My friends and I had plenty of good, clean fun in the dorms!

So what prompted your move to Pacific Northwest Ballet?

I moved to Seattle after attending 2 summer courses at PNB. When you are at SAB for the winter, they encourage you to go somewhere else for the summer to experience different places. I chose PNB. My last year at SAB, I started to see that NYCB was not looking like it was going to work out for me, and, where I didn't know a lot about PNB, what I had heard and knew about the company I liked. So I became a Professional Division student in August, 2002, then I got my apprenticeship in the spring of 2003. And I've been here ever since!

And we're so happy about that, too! So what's a typical "day in the life" like for you?

A typical day in the life of me? Well, since we usually work until 7 pm, we don't have to start our morning warm-up ballet class until 10:15. Seems crazy to people with "normal" jobs but that extra sleep can really help when the days are long and exhausting. I get up at 8 am when we have class at 10:15. I immediately go to my dog Bonnie and let her outside to play, eat, etc. My boyfriend, Jerome (Tisserand), and I like to eat outside in the mornings if it's nice. We will usually throw the ball to Bonnie before we leave too. Then it's off to work. Class goes until 11:45 and rehearsals start at 12:05. Our lunch break is 3-4 and then rehearsals start back from 4-7. Now everyday is not this full. Some days you might have 12-1 then 4-5 and be done. It just depends on what we're working on. Right now on Tuesday and Wednesday nights I have Spanish class through Seattle University. It's spanish 1 and they will also be offering spanish 2 and 3 consecutively. These Seattle U classes are great, and I try to take all that I can in order to slowly chip away at getting my degree one day. If I don't have some SU class (they last until 9:30), I love to come home and make dinner. Then usually a bath is in order and then it's bedtime for me by 11:00. Not too exciting, huh?!

I think it sounds very exciting, actually! {Grins} Okay, next question. With it being the holiday season, would you mind sharing your favorite "Nutcracker" experience with us?

I guess my favorite Nutcracker experience/memory would have to be getting to do Clara as a young girl in New Orleans. That was such a special time for me. It was my first real dancing part in point shoes, and I remember feeling so beautiful. Now, that has carried over into adulthood as I get to take on the role of Clara with PNB. Last year was my first year doing the part, and I have fallen in love with it! I love that it is not only beautiful dancing, but a wonderful chance to act as well. Clara is by far my favorite role.

I think the same can be said for a number of "baby ballerinas"! Speaking of which, what advice would you like to share with young dancers?

My advice would be work hard each and everyday if you have the dream and desire to dance professionally as I did, but don't miss out on your childhood. I remember afternoons when I would go over to my friend's house to jump on her trampoline after school. Somedays I would be having so much fun that I didn't want to go to ballet class. My mom would always say that was just fine and let me keep playing (until I had to come inside to do homework, of course!). But the point is, if you're serious about it definitely pursue it, but always do it because you want to and because it makes you happy. I never missed a sleepover, I just arrived really late and left really early for my Saturday morning ballet class! :-)

Thank you so much, Laura for taking time away from your busy schedule for us. We really appreciate it and cannot wait to see you on stage again very soon!

To check out Laura in action, please purchase your tickets to Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Nutcracker". Visit PNB.org for more information.

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