An Interview with Claire Florian, T’09
Florian is the managing director of the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company.
Q: Tell us about your involvement in Hoof ‘n’ Horn.
Claire Florian: Hoof ‘n’ Horn was so important to my Duke experience. I first got involved during orientation weekendand I knew I wanted to be involved from the get-go. So I went to the auditions for the fall show. At callbacks that Saturday, I immediately felt like I was home. Right from the beginning, I found my Duke family! HnH was a key part of being at Duke for me and the people remain important in my life to this day.
Q: Tell us about your path from Duke to your current position at the American Ballet Theatre.
CF: At first, when I was at Duke, I thought I wanted to be an actor. I decided that I needed to have a complete, 360-degree understanding of what it means to be a professional actor before pursuing that difficult path. So in between my junior and senior years, I ended up interning in the casting department at Manhattan Theatre Club. Seeing the industry from the other side, I realized I wasn’t quite cut out to be an actor…so I decided to pursue more of an administrative path. After I graduated, I did a year-long casting fellowship at Playwrights Horizons. I really loved the balance of being on the administrative side but still working with creatives and having a small hand in making new plays tick.
That fellowship came to an end and…I was lucky enough to be introduced to another Duke alum, Kara Medoff Barnett. Kara was kind enough to meet me for coffee, and little did I know, she would become a crucial mentor and guiding light in my career. She needed an assistant at the time, and I was lucky enough to start off in that role in the Strategy and Business Development department at Lincoln Center. After 6 years of tremendous learning experiences in various roles there, I realized that I missed working with artists and being close to the action onstage. By that point, Kara had moved over to American Ballet Theatre, where she had become Executive Director. One day, she called me up and said, “we have a position available at ABT that you should apply for—I think it would be right up your alley.”
Currently, I’m Managing Director of ABT Studio Company, a group of 12 outstanding young ballet dancers between the ages of 16 and 20. They’re with us full-time, training to eventually join the main ABT Company or other major ballet companies. In addition to providing the best possible training for our dancers, we represent ABT on the road by touring to smaller venues around the globe that the huge main Company of ABT can’t necessarily reach, and we also foster choreographic talent by engaging a range of choreographers to create new works for our dancers each season. I work closely with our Artistic Director to head up all the business and operational aspects of the Studio Company. That includes everything from building and managing the budget, to booking, organizing and serving as company manager for tours, to negotiating contracts for choreographers and designers and much more. However, the heart and soul that makes this the most fun and fulfilling job is the dancers. They’re truly the ballet stars of tomorrow. I feel very grateful to work directly with such talented young artists.
Q: What is one way in which your time in Hoof 'n' Horn and in the arts at Duke helped prepare you for your career today?
CF: I feel like Hoof ‘n’ Horn and Duke Players prepared me more for my career than many other things I’ve done, because you have to be so resourceful and creative with the scarce resources you have and with your limited availability. Often, my experience in ABT Studio Company is like that—we’re trying to make a lot happen with a finite amount of time and resources. I feel that the drive, resourcefulness, work ethic, and creative thinking that I learned putting up student-run shows from scratch directly applies to what I’m doing now in my role at ABT.
Q: Can you give us an update on the Duke-ABT partnership? What has being back at Duke been like for you?
CF: It’s like worlds colliding, and I love it! It’s really fun for me to share Duke with our dancers—many of them are college-aged but don’t have a typical college experience, as they have to fully commit to their careers as professional dancers so early on. Doing things like bringing them to a women’s basketball game in Cameron and taking them to the Brodhead Center for dinner have been highlights so far!
But aside from my personal joy about this partnership, it’s gone quite well. This is the first of ABT Studio Company’s three two-week residencies here at Duke to create new work. We’ve been so lucky to be in the Ruby—it is absolutely stunning. It’s been very cool to work with Stefanie Batten Bland, the choreographer. She brings a different vocabulary, way of moving, and process to our dancers, who are all classically trained. We’re also working with a Duke Music PhD candidate in Composition, who is lending his music to the piece and has been in the studio working with Stefanie and the dancers. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next two residencies.
Q: Do you have any advice for Hoof 'n' Horn members considering careers in the arts?
CF: The Duke alumni network is incredible. Definitely go to Duke events, no matter where you end up. You should especially check out DEMAN events if you’re in the arts. Alums in the arts love to help other artistically inclined Blue Devils out. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people in the network and ask for meetings, because in most cases they’ll be psyched to talk to you and learn what you’re up to. If it weren’t for another Duke alum in the arts mentoring and guiding me, I don’t know where I’d be today.