Lyrica Woodruff will be one of the Guest Artists for Westside Ballets Soiree, May 26th at the BroadStage in Santa Monica. Lyrica, a delicate ivory skinned, doe-eyed beauty with long chestnut hair, is clearly deceptive when looking at her diminutive figure. However, when she starts dancing one gets a rush of disbelief and excitement seeing her strength and talent.
So being curious, I asked her how she began in this profession, considering how young and accomplished she is as a triple threat, dancer/singer/actress. The expression that comes over her face is clearly about love, and she begins her story.
JD: How did you start dancing?
LW: I basically was kinda born into it… after I was born my mom took me from the hospital to go pick up my sister at Westside ballet. My sister and I studied there every day, so from the time I was two years old I would sit in the back of the studio while they were rehearsing “Flowers” (Waltz of the Flowers) and by the end of it, I was practically in the front doing “Flowers” full out.
JD: And what was your rapport with Yvonne Mounsey, the Founder and Director of Westside Ballet, I remember her as a gorgeous ballerina from New York City Ballet?
LW: Ah yes, Yvonne was more than just a teacher or mentor to me, she was like my grandma…like my family. From the very beginning Yvonne really took me under her wings.
JD: That’s so lovely…and Patricia Neary? I saw her working with you and Maté Szentes on Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes? What an incredible opportunity, working with the repetiteur for the Balanchine’s ballets. She was also a brilliant ballerina from New York City Ballet.
LW: Pat Neary has been here since I was 8. Pat and Yvonne were so cute together. Yvonne was already in her late 80’s at that time – so she and Pat would sit and chat. Yvonne would say, “Pat would you just stay for 20 minutes”, and Pat would stay and work with Yvonne on something that was coming up. They just had a beautiful rapport with each other. There was so much love there.
JD: Had you worked with Pat before?
LW: I always admired Pat when I was younger, but I never got to work with her because once I was 14, I moved to New York City for SAB (School of American Ballet). But now whenever I come home for the Gala, Pat always makes sure we can do what we want to do. She would say, “What do you want to dance?” I would say, “Well, I’d love to do Stars if we can get it.” Pat would say, “We’ll get it!” And we did. So, when we work with her, she always rehearses us about a month before the gala, for about 4 or 5 days. Then I fly back to New York, and then come back out about a month later.
JD: When working on a classic piece like Stars and Stripes, what is your process? Do you learn by video or does someone… Pat or someone else… come in to work with you?
Lyrica: We usually learn it off the video but some of this I’ve learned over the years. The girl’s variation I learned when I was 16 at a ballet center program. So, some of it is like what you’re raised with and some of it is…”fill in the blanks”. Then when Pat comes, she fills in those blanks.
JD: I know Westside was practically your home away from home, but did you know you wanted to be a professional ballet dancer?
LW: It’s so funny when I was a kid, I didn’t even think Ballet could be a career. And now I’ve been doing it for some years and can’t imagine doing anything else.
Because I trained at Westside until I was 14 and a half, Yvonne encouraged me to audition for the School of American Ballet for the Summer program when I was 12. She said, “just audition for fun…just go for it.” … And I got in!
I was there for two summers, and on my 3rd summer they asked me to stay for the Winter Term. They’re not allowed to ask you to stay until you’re 14 because they can’t offer you a spot in the dorm. So, they offered it to me, and Yvonne told me to go. She said, “If you don’t see this through, you’ll regret it. I know you’ll succeed there.” So, I left Westside and went to SAB, all four years of high school. But when Yvonne died in 2012 it was really hard. I wasn’t able to come back for her funeral because I was doing lecture demonstrations for SAB. But I know that she wouldn’t have wanted me to leave what I was doing. She was like that… so committed to dance.
When I graduated in 2014, I was one of the recipients of Mae L Wien award for “Outstanding Promise.” They give this $1000 award to about three or four people each year… usually to students who go on to do apprenticeships at “City Ballet” (NYCB).
At the same time LITTLE DANCER, Susan Stroman’s show, also just got picked up for our first run at the Kennedy Center and I was understudy for Tyler Peck and was also in the ensemble. I had been with that show since I was 15 years old, and I was thinking, four years… I really want to see this thing through. And then, when I finally did the show, it was like… I’m never going back. It was full out classical ballet…the whole show. It wasn’t anything I had never known or learned before… plus the singing and acting, it was everything I ever wanted to do, but didn’t realize it.
So, after graduation, the decision was either going to dance in a ballet company or do musical theatre. My mom said, “Are you going to audition for ballet companies in the Spring?” And I thought about it and said, “I don’t think so. I think I’m good. I think this [musical theatre] is what I want to do now.” And she said, “Well… all right, we’ll make it work”.
JD: That was a major decision. It’s very rare that a ballet dancer has all the skills for musical theatre. Had you ever taken voice lessons?
LW: No, I always liked to sing, but mostly in the shower. I didn’t start singing until I was 16 or 17. I sang in a church choir as a child, but I started taking voice lessons and started booking after that.
Thinking back on it, I guess the first audition that I had for a show was for LITTLE DANCER, Susan’s show. I couldn’t say no, and they said, “Bring your sheet music”, and I turned to my parents…and said, what is that? So, some sweet girl in the audition room said, oh, I have Somewhere Over the Rainbow from Wizard of Oz. You can sing that. I did sing it… but I remembered nothing …except the last verse… I sang it 4 times. They thought it was hilarious, and I booked the show. That’s when I started singing lessons and started booking.
So, after my choice to do musical theatre, I got the revival of FINIANS RAINBOW off Broadway. I did Silent Susan, got nominated, and won the Chita Rivera Award. And shortly after that I booked Anastasia and was in that for 3 ½ years.
JD: That’s so excellent! Yvonne’s quote plays back to me “Ballet is a beautiful art and a very cruel profession.” How might that resonate with you?
LW: When I was a kid, 12 or 13 and we were doing a Spring Show at Westside. Yvonne knew I wanted to be a professional dancer, specifically for ballet, but she turned to my mom during one of our jazz pieces and said “are you sure this is what she wants?” My mom said “Yes, she wants to be a ballet dancer.” And Yvonne said, “I know that she acts, and sings…are you sure ballet will be enough for her?” and my mother said, “I think so.”
So yes, Yvonne’s quote is perfect for what ballet is…it’s cruel mentally and physically – some don’t mind it – I wanted something more than that.
JD: So, the future. Any plans for the future?
LW: I have no plans. The funny thing about ballet, you plan, and God laughs and gives you something totally different than your plan. So, whatever happens to me, happens to me. I hope it’s only good things, but I’ve been very lucky so far, so I’m hoping I just stay on that trajectory.
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Just days after our interview I received a beautiful note from Pat, just before she left for Birmingham, England and it said:
”For me it was a joy to work with Lyrica and Maté. They are so professional… wonderful dancers plus technically and musically they are great. Balanchine Loved these qualities that I mentioned in dancers – A hundred percent energy… the joy and passion of dance… which both Lyrica and Maté have… it was an honor to work with them.”
For information and to purchase ticket to Westside Ballet’s SOIRÉE, please visit their website.
For more information about BroadStage, please visit their website.
Written By: Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle
Featured Image: Lyrica Woodruff – courtesy of the author