Laura Gar­rett Dancer

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPOS - — Madeleine Nick­lin

When Laura Gar­rett was six, she was the wildest of the “Wild Things.” As one of Mau­rice Sen­dak’s un­ruly crea­tures in an NDI New Mex­ico end-ofyear per­for­mance, she rolled her eyes, head, and body with the aban­don of a movie al­co­holic on a ben­der. It was hard to re­sist her zip. By then she was a show-biz — and Na­tional Dance In­sti­tute — vet­eran.

Laura re­cently re­called her stage de­but. It was at a trib­ute for NDI founder, Jac­ques d’Am­boise: “I was three, and it was at the Len­sic. I played one of Jac­ques’ twin daugh­ters.” While still a prin­ci­pal with New York City Bal­let, d’Am­boise be­gan de­vel­op­ing a method of teach­ing kids to dance. He chal­lenged and en­cour­aged them with pedes­trian move­ments most chil­dren could ac­com­plish: Get to the stage in ex­actly 30 counts, qui­etly, like a ghost. Jump higher — now bend your knees in the air. Dance to give chil­dren a feel­ing of achieve­ment — the idea was sim­ple and rev­o­lu­tion­ary. NDI was es­tab­lished in New York in 1976 as an out­reach pro­gram bring­ing dance in­struc­tion into schools. In 1994, d’Am­boise co-founded New Mex­ico’s coun­ter­part. D’Am­boise un­der­stood first­hand the trans­for­ma­tive power of the arts on chil­dren. He grew up in Man­hat­tan’s Wash­ing­ton Heights, and at an age when many of the boys in his neigh­bor­hood were join­ing gangs, d’Am­boise — no stranger to life on the streets — joined City Bal­let at fif­teen.

Laura, now seven­teen and a se­nior at Santa Fe Prep, has come up through NDI’s ranks. She grad­u­ated from its out­reach pro­gram and has stud­ied tech­nique at the Dance Barns — tap, bal­let, mod­ern, jazz, and con­tem­po­rary dance. She’s worked with d’Am­boise; his daugh­ter, Broad­way dancer Char­lotte d’Am­boise; and Ann Reinking, keeper of the Bob Fosse flame. (Laura ad­mit­ted to lov­ing Fosse’s style: “It’s pow­er­ful and yet so con­tained.”) The young dancer has taken classes with Peter Boal, artis­tic di­rec­tor of Pa­cific North­west Bal­let; City Bal­let’s Daniel Ul­bricht; and Michelle Yard of the Mark Mor­ris Dance Group. On­stage, she has been a duck, a tiger, and a go­rilla on pointe. She has per­formed ex­tracts from clas­si­cal bal­lets and orig­i­nal bal­lets and mod­ern works by NDI’s teach­ers. To­day, she is a mem­ber of NDI’s pre­pro­fes­sional com­pany and dances with the lo­cal troupe Il­lu­mine.

A ca­reer as a per­former would seem to be in the cards for Laura. “If it hap­pens, it hap­pens,” she said. A new am­bi­tion has been tak­ing shape. While at­tend­ing Ur­ban­ity Dance’s sum­mer pro­gram in Bos­ton last July and Au­gust, she heard about the group’s work with peo­ple who had Parkin­son’s dis­ease. “Once the mu­sic started, and the pa­tients started to move, their symp­toms seem to di­min­ish.” This knowl­edge jump­started a mem­ory Laura had of work­ing as a teach­ing as­sis­tant sev­eral years ago with her mother, Diana Oroz­coGar­rett, a long-stand­ing NDI in­struc­tor. “One sum­mer, one of the stu­dents was dis­rup­tive and dis­tracted the other kids. I tried to con­trol him with stern rep­ri­mands, but this didn’t work. I found out he suf­fered from ADHD. I changed my ap­proach and en­cour­aged him to par­tic­i­pate. By the end of the sum­mer, he was able to chan­nel his en­ergy into move­ment. He knew he was suc­cess­ful, and even nick­named him­self ‘the Fly­ing Hawk.’” From an early age, Laura had watched her mother in the class­room, and at four­teen, she was be­gin­ning to understand her mother’s method of teach­ing with a com­bi­na­tion of hu­mor, kind­ness, and dis­ci­pline.

Laura laid out her new plans. “I want to open up my own dance stu­dio that will serve the com­mu­nity. It will have three pro­grams. The first will be a school that of­fers classes in tech­nique — ev­ery­thing from bal­let to hip-hop. And no child will be turned away for fi­nan­cial rea­sons. Then there will be a pro­fes­sional tour­ing com­pany. As well as per­form­ing, we will give lec­tures, classes, and demon­stra­tions wher­ever we visit.” The com­pany will serve as an out­let for Laura’s chore­o­graphic projects, she said. “The third stream — and the most im­por­tant — will be out­reach, work­ing with peo­ple with men­tal and phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties.”

To help make this idea a re­al­ity, Laura hopes to at­tend Bal­ti­more’s Goucher Col­lege in the fall. “They have a great dance depart­ment, and I can also take classes in busi­ness and arts man­age­ment.” Where will her stu­dio be? “Maybe Bal­ti­more. I think the city could use some­thing like that.” It looks like d’Am­boise may have an­other dis­ci­ple.


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