by Saya Hishikawa

//Larissa Gerszke: A Dancer Fulfilling Her Dreams in NYC

Larissa Gerszke: A Dancer Fulfilling Her Dreams in NYC

The fact is, if you really adore something you make it work. – Larissa Gerszke

The day of the photo shoot was the first time I met Larissa Gerszke; who is currently a member of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. A few weeks prior to the shoot, I received a message from Larissa on Facebook. She was interested in working with me after seeing my works online. I was pretty excited to get this request. I personally love photographing dancers I’ve never worked with before and I needed new inspiration. I was getting a little exhausted from all the dance competitions I’ve been photographing recently.

However, it’s always a little difficult photographing someone you don’t know. You don’t know their movement style, their best angles, or the way they react in front of the camera. It’s all about trial and error and sometimes this process can take a long time. Larissa was different. She had ideas ready and she jumped right into it. Here are some of the shots from the photo shoot.

Make sure to check out the interview I did with Larissa below!

Saya Hishikawa_Interview En L'air

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Larissa Gerszke. I was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada and lived there for 18 years. It’s where I started my dance training at the age of 5, and pursued it mostly as a hobby until four years ago, when I decided to move to New York City to study dance at Fordham University & Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I graduated with a BFA in Dance this May 2016 and completed the program while being hired as a full time company member for Complexions Contemporary Ballet during my senior year of college.

You just finished your first season with Complexions! Tell us about your experience. How did you feel when you got the news that you were going to be a member of Complexions? Does it feel different now that you’re a professional dancer & getting paid to perform? Has your life changed as a dancer after this experience?

Dancing with Complexions Contemporary Ballet is probably my biggest accomplishment thus far and it was no easy task. I had been auditioning for the company pretty much ever since I moved to the city in 2012. I auditioned four times before being hired, and I still remember where I was when I got the phone call. My roommate and I were walking down the street with our groceries in hand when it happened. I remember him just staring at me in anticipation; neither of us really breathing until the end of the phone call. All I said was “I got it” and we laughed and cried. Then I called my mom and we laughed and cried some more. It’s really emotional knowing that you’ve been training all your life, being told “no” or “no not yet”… Just waiting for that one “yes”. But it was all worth it. Being paid to do something that I am so passionate about doesn’t really make it feel anymore like work either. They say if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life, and I’d have to say it’s true! Since embarking on my career with Complexions, I’ve traveled a ton; all over the USA as well as places like Serbia & Israel during our tours. I’ve worked with the masterful Dwight Rhoden and the legendary Desmond Richardson: two men whom I thank for the opportunity to debut myself in this field of art, and not to mention the artistry they have enabled me to develop. Moreover, this experience has enabled me to bridge the gap not only between student and professional, but between CANADA & the United States which I am very proud of.

Saya Hishikawa_Interview En L'air

Let’s rewind back to the very beginning. How did you get into dancing? Were your parents/family members into dance or did they ever study dance? Or was it something that just happened?

Funny enough my parents were athletes in high school. They didn’t go on to pursue them afterwards, however they were always very fond of sports competition. My mother hated ballet. As a child she would purposely forget her ballet shoes so she wouldn’t have to take part in class! Knowing this, my Aunt thought it would be funny to pay for my first dance classes as my 5th birthday present. After a while they noticed I was really gifted at it, and I stuck at it ever since. Then I got involved in competitive dance and my mother got right into it too. I used to get so scared I’d run off stage but she knew that I could be great at dance. So she often had to bribe me to finish my solos, just so I would stay on stage. If I did, the prize was usually clothing or a stuffed animal haha. I didn’t always like competitions but I am thankful for the stage experience it gave me, and the time to get rid of my stage fright – or at least get comfortable with it as I don’t think it’ll ever go away haha.

When did you decide that you wanted to pursue dance as a career? Was there ever a specific moment in your life when it hit you that you wanted to be a professional dancer?

I think I always knew dance was going to be a part of my life. I had spent so much time dedicating myself to its practice, it would have been shameful not do anything with it. On top of that it really was an outlet of happiness for me. It was only around senior year of high school that I realized I had the potential to make something out of all this training. I remember one of my favorite dance teachers and probably my most influential mentor, Derrick Yanford, telling me that I could have this career if I wanted it. But I had to be passionate about it. That’s when I decided to commit to making it my profession.

Were there any moments when you had your doubts? How did you overcome them?

Out of concern, there were people who tried to make me second guess what I was doing by moving away from home to pursue dance. People would often ask me, what is your back-up plan? I found reassurance in the fact that I didn’t need one if I was going to seriously commit myself to being successful in my field of study. A doctor studies for years in school and invests so much yet if she/he injured her/his hands, all could be lost. And yet doctors don’t get asked if they have back-up plans. How is my career so different? The fact is, if you really adore something you make it work.

I’m sure Complexions has a lot of pointe repertoires, how many pairs of pointe shoes did you go through this season?

We do have one piece entitled “Ballad unto…” Choreographed by Dwight Rhoden which features a lot of intricate pointe work and partnering. In addition to other repertoire, this piece stayed constant all season on tour. I didn’t count but on average we go through two pairs of pointe shoes a month, so in this season I estimate about 30 pairs of pointe shoes!

 Anything you would like to say to the next generation of dancers?

For the next generation of dancers, you guys are so talented and versatile! You are trained to be chameleons of dance. It’s fantastic, but I feel that you are mainly exposed to dance through the media the likes of “So You Think You Can Dance”, which doesn’t give you much to aspire to as far as a dance career is concerned. Know you can make dance your career. If you are passionate and dedicated, take a risk, jump off the deep end and invest in a dance career with a dance company, there are so many reputable dance companies and projects out there! Go see their live performances. It is such a fulfilling career but know it is hard work physically and mentally. In a sea of no, all it takes is one yes. Keep working for your yes and don’t let your dreams out of your sight.

Saya Hishikawa_Interview En L'air

By | 2016-10-17T13:28:27+00:00 August 22nd, 2016|Dancescape|

About the Author:

Saya Hishikawa
Saya Joins Interview En L’air with her new photography column called “Dancescape”. Dance is an art form that is created by the human body; every individual, every dancer expresses themselves in a different and unique way. “Dancescape” is a series of photographs in which I capture the unpredictable fusion between dancers and landscapes. The great outdoors is their new stage; how will each dancer stand in the spotlight?

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