Local dancer earns a spot with N.Y.C. Ballet

Photo by Paul Kolnik Clara Ruf-Maldonado performing a solo from George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15” at the School of American Ballet’s 2013 workshop performances.

Photo by Paul Kolnik
Clara Ruf-Maldonado performing a solo from George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15” at the School of American Ballet’s 2013 workshop performances.

AROUNDDEBY ALICIA GREEN  |  When Clara Ruf-Maldonado was nine years old, she scored the opportunity of a lifetime dancing with the New York City Ballet as Marie in George Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker.” Now, at age 18, the young East Village ballerina will once again join the company as an apprentice.

“Oh, I cried, of course,” Ruf-Maldonado said. “I was very emotional. I think it still hasn’t hit me because this is kind of what I’ve been working toward for so long and it’s been my dream for so long.”

Ruf-Maldonado still wonders how it all happened.

“Every morning I wake up and say, ‘Wow! This is real.’ ”

For the last 11 years, she watched as students from the School of American Ballet, at Lincoln Center, were chosen as apprentices for the N.Y.C.B.

“When I was younger, I was like, ‘That’s what I’m doing to do,’ ” Ruf-Maldonado said. “It happened to me this year, and I still can’t believe it.”

The ballet school and company were both founded by Lincoln Kirstein and Balanchine, the former in 1934 and the latter in 1948.

Ruf-Maldonado was one of five people chosen by Peter Martins, the company’s ballet master in chief, to be an apprentice.

While her major dancing break came with her lead performance in “The Nutcracker,” she has additional dancing credits with the N.Y.C.B., including parts in “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Circus Polka,” “Harlequinade,” “Coppélia” and “Double Feature.”

When she was only three years old, her mother, Elizabeth Ruf-Maldonado, enrolled her in ballet classes at The Ailey School.

“I remember we had to gallop around the studio,” Clara said of her earliest dance memories. “It was a really simple step, but I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Elizabeth — who is an actress and activist on community gardens, among other local issues — said that Clara simply always loved movement.

“She was dancing around all the time, and she was really already showing a lot of talent from the time that she was a baby,” she said.

When Clara was seven, she joined School of American Ballet, from which she graduated last month. Her most recent performance was in the wedding pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty” for the school’s annual workshop performances.

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor Clara Ruf-Maldonado at the School of American Ballet, with Peter Martins, the school’s artistic director looking on. 

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor
Clara Ruf-Maldonado at the School of American Ballet, with Peter Martins, the school’s artistic director looking on.

“Honestly, I’ve been a wreck for the past two months,” the young Ruf-Maldonado said. “I think after 11 years, you’re kind of past the point of being ready to go. It’s just so second nature. It’s so weird that I’m leaving. It’s definitely the biggest thing that I’ve accomplished, graduating from that school and being there for so long.”

Kay Mazzo, the school’s co-chairperson of faculty, said it’s been a treat to watch Ruf-Maldonado “grow into the beautiful young woman she’s become” after having her in class for so many years.

“Fortunately for us, S.A.B. and N.Y.C.B. are part of the same big family, so we don’t really have to say goodbye to Clara,” she added. “We expect to see her often in our classroom … serving as a wonderful role model to the younger students at our school.”

While Ruf-Maldonado is sad to leave ballet school behind, she said the dedication she has learned from her time there is something that will always stick with her.

“I don’t think there is anything that takes as much work as trying to become a professional dancer,” she said. “Going in there every single day for that many years — and not only coming in, but having the motivation to work as hard as you possibly can, with all the sweat and everything that goes in with that. It’s definitely shaped all of our personalities because it makes us like that in our everyday lives. We can kind of push to be successful.”

Her success is far from over. But for now Ruf-Maldonado — with the goal of one day hoping to become a principal dancer — will work during her year run to prove she deserves a core contract with the company. Her next performance will be in Martins’ “Swan Lake” this September.

“I can’t imagine not dancing,” Ruf-Maldonado said. “It’s what I’ve always been doing, what I will be doing for so long. It’s always going to be with me.”

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