Three Pros Talk About Making It in NYC

October 19, 2010

Name: Alexis Carra


Tampa, FL

Swing in Sweet Charity


Carra showed signs of being show biz material at age 2 1/2, when her mom enrolled her in Centerstage Dance Academy in Tampa, FL. “While [my mom] was talking to the teacher, I walked into the class and started making faces and doing poses in the mirror,� Carra says. She went on to study ballet, jazz, tap, acro and modern, and started competing seriously at age 8. She was focused on ballet, dancing as an apprentice with Christopher Fleming’s former company Bay Ballet Theatre, until she fell in love with musical theater when she was in high school.


Carra majored in theatrical studies at Yale University while performing with and choreographing for Yaledancers, a student-run company. When she attended Broadway Theatre Project the summer before her junior year, director Ann Reinking offered her the chance of a lifetime. “Ann pulls me into a stairwell and says—I’ll never forget this—‘How would you feel about joining the Fosse tour? You’re going to need to leave next week for Japan.’� Without hesitation, Carra took a semester off college to tour with the show as a swing.


After getting her bachelor’s degree, Carra moved to NYC in July 2003 and worked part-time as a broker’s assistant while taking voice lessons and “auditioning like crazy,� she says. A month later, Carra landed an ensemble spot in the off-Broadway show Fame on 42nd Street, and also understudied one of the lead roles (Serena Katz) until the show closed in June 2004.


Looking to take a break from NYC, she signed on for a two-month gig with regional theater company Sacramento Music Circus. Days before leaving for the West Coast, she went to an open call for Wicked and made all the cuts, but wasn’t offered a job. Two weeks later, Wicked’s casting directors called her in Sacramento to ask her to join the show as a vacation swing. SMC’s directors understood Carra couldn’t pass on the opportunity, so she returned to NYC and during her week off before starting Wicked, auditioned for Sweet Charity. “Before I even started Wicked, I found out I got Sweet Charity. I had to show up on the first day [of Wicked rehearsals] and say, ‘P.S., I have to leave in December.’�

Sweet Charity
The show had try-out runs in St. Louis, Chicago and Boston before opening on Broadway in May 2005. The ride was bumpy: Christina Applegate broke her foot in Chicago and the show was called off. Four days later, it was back on again. “Sweet Charity has been the most bittersweet learning experience as of yet,â€� says Carra. “It’s a test of my patience, and of my character. It’s a lot harder to be a swing in a show that’s just beginning than to jump in a show that’s been running for two or three years,â€� she explains. “It hasn’t always been fun. I’ve only performed four shows. Swinging is the hardest job on Broadway and it’s thankless—until you save the show [when you’re called onstage at a moment’s notice].â€�

Surviving in NYC:
“You have to be smart with your money and save,� Carra says, so you can support yourself while between gigs and have the money to take class.

Carra credits her success to spending summers supplementing her dance education in any way she could. She attended Florida Dance Festival and intensives with Boston Ballet, Nutmeg Ballet and The Ailey School. —Lisa Arnett


Name: Kanji Segawa


Kanagawa, Japan

A member of Battlewoks Dance company, under the direction of Robert Battle, a former member ofThe Parsons Dance Company

Like many dancers, Segawa began his studies in his mom’s studio. She is a modern dancer in his native country Japan, and encouraged all three of her children to dance. Segawa’s older brother, Kanichi, is a freelance contemporary modern dancer in Paris and his younger sister, Kaori, teaches in their mom’s studio after an interlude in Novosibirsk Opera Ballet Theatre of Russia. While Segawa has inherent talent, he’s also mastered the art of networking: He says he has never had to rely on auditions. Choreographers call him. Segawa’s life in dance may seem charmed, but he’s worked hard for what he has.


By 7, he was winning major Japanese modern competitions. (Nabbing first place from 1990 to ’93 in the Akita National Modern Dance competition garnered him a Prime Minister Award.) At 8, he landed a recurring spot as a dancer in commercials for Vermont Curry, for which he starred alongside Japanese pop star Noriyuki Higyashiyama. Two years into the five-year stint, Higyashiyama asked the director of a musical he was starring in to write a special part for Segawa.


When Segawa was 13, his mom enrolled all three siblings in Unique Ballet Theater, a school known for enlisting a plethora of male students and churning out pros. Over the next eight years, while immersed in his ballet studies and inspired by performances of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company on its many Japan tours, Segawa planned for a future in America. “I always wanted to come to the United States,� he says. “My mom used to take us to cities. London. Paris. New York—where I found Broadway very exciting and I loved Ailey.�


His dream came true after high school, when he received one of only two Japanese Government Fellowships awarded annually, which allowed him to study anywhere he chose for two years, all expenses paid. Segawa chose The Ailey School. His third year at Ailey was financed with a Coca-Cola Scholarship and by his fourth year in the U.S., he was a member of Ailey II. After two years with the renowned junior company, he joined Jennifer Muller/The Works and in 2002, after a stint in the touring company of Cats, joined Battleworks.

After his scholarships ran dry, Segawa realized how hard it is for dancers to financially survive in the city through performances alone. He teaches and choreographs through commissions from universities and independent dance competitors.

On the U.S.:
As opposed to Japan, where the dance world is very insular, in the U.S. dance can reach a greater part of the general population. “Here, as a performer you get to travel and ordinary people come to see the show,� Segawa says. “That is [a] fundamental purpose [of] an artist—to reach the people. We go into schools and do demonstrations for the students. I find it more important to be here.�

At presstime, Segawa was choreographing a new musical called 21C: Mademoiselle Mozart, which is slated to open in Japan this summer and then embark on a worldwide tour.

“Know who you are, your talent and what you’re good at,� he says. “If you compare yourself to others, it’s really hard. Nobody is perfect. Concentrate on creating a unique you. That’s why I think I can be who I am right now in the dance world. I like my uniqueness, and because of that, a lot of choreographers like my uniqueness.� —Sara Jarrett


Name: Emily Vonne SoRelle

Age: 24
Bowie, MD

Currently: Youngest member of Rebecca Kelly Ballet, a contemporary ballet ensemble

Vonne SoRelle’s nomadic dance history has taken her to numerous cities in the U.S. since she began serious training at the age of 10 at Universal Ballet Academy in DC She has attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, The Washington School of Ballet in DC, Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, and The Rock School in Philadelphia, where she danced in 2001 in hopes of landing a contract at Pennsylvania Ballet (the two organizations are no longer affiliated), but was sidelined by a serious ankle injury for most of her time there. After months of intense physical therapy, she headed back to Texas for a year in Ballet Austin’s studio company. At the end of the season, she returned to The Washington Ballet, this time not as a student, but as a trainee in the company.


In 2004, as her contract with WB was nearing its end, Vonne SoRelle decided it was time to move to the dance capital of the world: NYC. She spent her last months with WB commuting to the city on days off via the Chinatown bus for auditions. Finally, she landed a job with Rebecca Kelly Ballet. “It was a two-day audition,� says Emily. “The first part was modern. The second day was pointe and partnering. My strong point is the classical, so I was nervous about doing modern first, but I went with the attitude that I’m going to do my very best. There is nothing to lose. The director saw that, because she asked me to come the next day, and she saw that I was willing to try new things.�

Surviving the First Year:
Vonne SoRelle learned the hard way how to find balance in her life during her first year in the Big Apple. She started working long hours in a restaurant right away to help pay the bills. “I was worried about rent, because my company isn’t full-time and I didn’t have connections with pick-up companies yet,� she says. Serving five nights a week after dancing all day left her exhausted, and she began losing weight. “I realized I had to be smart about my body,� she says. Now, she babysits, teaches ballet to kids through Rebecca Kelly’s Kids Co-Motion Program and hostesses at a restaurant a couple evenings per week, all of which she says is much less stressful than serving. She recommends that every dancer who has to work a “survival job� build at least one day per week into his or her schedule for rest—no dancing or working.

On Establishing Connections:
Making it in NYC has a lot to do with who you know. Luckily, it also has to do with being in the right place at the right time. Vonne SoRelle suggests attending class regularly and going on as many auditions as possible, whether or not you’re interested in getting the job. Ask around about teachers who want to start a company, and take their classes. If you’re in a company, you can get leads from fellow dancers, which is how Vonne SoRelle has been able to guest with such companies as Connecticut Ballet. “Introduce yourself to the teacher every time you take class and say thanks,� she says. “If the teacher asks you how long you’ll be in town, explain that you’ll be taking his or her class every morning. Sometimes directors of companies watch classes and [choose] dancers from [them, too].�

Biggest Lesson:
“The city has taught me to be a go-getter. There are so many people here who want the same things, so you have to be assertive. I’ve never been very aggressive, but I’ve learned how to be in my career, finding out the places to go and the connections to make.� —Kristin Lewis