Argentina native Manuela Chaher Lavalle has traveled the world pursuing her career as a ballerina. Since the 23-year-old left home, she has danced in Moscow on her way to settling in the United States.
Can you share your career to date?
By the time I was 15, I had stopped traditional school and began going to the national Argentinian ballet school (Teatro Colón). That same year I was accepted into the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow (one of the world’s most prestigious ballet academies) and left my home to follow my dream out into the world.
From there I moved to the United States, where I danced with Neglia Ballet Artists in Buffalo, New York. Then I found my home away from home in Tennessee with the Nashville Ballet (where I feel I grew up both as a dancer and a person).
During my time with Nashville Ballet, I was selected to perform the famous Balanchine Western Symphony, was part of the creation process of “72 Steps” a ballet by Gina Patterson about women’s suffrage, performed Nutcracker, and was a soloist in “Breath of Fresh Mountain Air” choreographed by Julia Eisen.
Watch Breath of Fresh Mountain Air-Principal Couple Manuela Lavalle and Addison Goodwin-Nashville Ballet
I was also a part of Nashville Ballet’s Community Engagement Program, which brought me infinite joy because there was nothing like bringing ballet to people who wouldn’t normally be able to get tickets, as well as seeing the children’s happy faces.
In February I was given a scholarship to train at Kansas City Ballet for the summer where I got to work and perform Devon Carney’s first act of Swan Lake taught by Racheal Nye. Following the performance, I was offered a contract by Northwest Arkansas Ballet (NWA) Theatre artistic director Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye. I am excited to announce I will be starting with NWA Ballet Theatre and Jolicoeur-Nye this fall.
What lead you to a career as a ballerina?
When I was three, in an attempt of calming me down my mom showed me a VHS of Julio Bocca performing. Immediately I started dancing around my house and told her that’s what I wanted to do.
What is your greatest strength as a dancer?
It’s hard to say — I’m never fully happy with myself as a dancer and that’s what keeps me striving for perfection. I’ve been chasing this dream since I was very young and across the world, so if anything I’m proud of my perseverance.
What excites you the most about a career as a ballerina?
Getting to reach people in different ways through my art, making them feel or think things they might have never felt before.
How many years does it take to become a ballerina?
Most professional schools have eight years of training, but you never really stop learning.
How many hours a day do you rehearse?
Companies start with ballet class every day to work on perfecting our technique and warm each muscle up in the correct way for the day. After that, it depends on which ballet we are rehearsing — but about five hours.
How long does it take to learn choreography?
Our job as dancers is to learn choreography as fast as possible. In fact, sometimes dancers get roles or jobs based on how fast they are able to learn choreography.
It depends on how much we are learning, so it’s hard to say an estimated time. We learn as much as we can, as fast as we can, so we can use the rest of our rehearsing time to perfect the movements and make sure everyone moves the same way.
What’s the hardest thing about being a ballerina?
I would say the mental challenges we go through. There’s lots of “no”, and we have to pick ourselves up, remind ourselves why we do it and keep going. Injuries are very hard too. Those are scary times for dancers.
I moved to another country very young and when my ballet life doesn’t go as planned, it requires lots of introspection, yoga and fulfilling myself with the best internal tools I could to keep going.
And what’s the best thing?
I love how when I’m dancing I’m completely present in the moment. I lose myself in the movement with the music and the story I’m trying to tell.
What tips or advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in ballet?
I think the main thing to know is that it isn’t just a career — it’s a lifestyle. We have to wake up earlier to ice our bodies, stretch — it requires lots of dedication. Nowadays, we have the advantage of internet; we can look up companies we like, their repertoire, the dancers we admire and learn from all of that.
What’s involved in becoming a Principal Ballerina?
Lots of dedication, good training and being in the right place in the right moment.
What does your morning routine look like? Similarly, what does your evening routine look like?
During performing season, I wake up extra early to roll my muscles and maybe take an Epsom salt bath if I’m very sore. I’m very slow paced when I’m not at the dance studio and I like taking my time, so I try to allow myself the extra time. I make breakfast, put music on, if I’m learning a piece I listen to the music from that piece to get more familiar with it.
In the evenings I get home and if my rehearsal schedule has been very loaded, I’m pretty boring. I go to yoga and get ready for bed right after. I take a shower, eat and either go over choreography or call my friends while rolling my muscles. If I need to unwind I watch Grace & Frankie or The Office.
What’s the funniest thing that you’ve ever seen happen on stage?
Seeing someone trying to hold in their yawn on stage maybe?
What’s your favorite ballet?
I don’t have favorite ballets, but so far what I’ve enjoyed the most performing was Western Symphony with Nashville Ballet.
Do you watch dance movies?
How accurate are movies like Black Swan and Center Stage?
I’d say Center Stage would be more accurate. I haven’t seen it in a while, though. Every time I get asked about Black Swan I say it’s a movie about a woman who has mental issues who just happens to be a dancer.
What other kinds of dance do you enjoy doing?
Even though contemporary and neoclassic weren’t part of my initial training, I’ve been falling in love with them more and more throughout my career. Something about the way I get to express myself and let go in the movement is amazingly fulfilling
When you do get time away from plie-ing and pirouetting — what do you enjoy doing?
I always say I owe my sanity to Yoga but talking with my family and friends is also a big one — as well as reading and writing and going to listen to my boyfriend play his music.
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