The stories of most professional ballet dancers begin the same way. They begin their training in a local studio between the ages of 3 and 10, move on to a pre-professional school and eventually enter a company. Lara Paraschiv did not follow this script. She began her serious ballet training at age 16 and went from beginner to professional in just five years. Having overcome naysayers along the way, she is now in her first season at the Astrakhan Russian State Ballet and plans to keep climbing.
The Canadian dancer started taking tap, hip-hop and jazz lessons in her hometown of Burlington, Ontario at the age of 10, but never had much interest in dance. ballet. Everything changed at 15 when she played a supernumerary role in Ballet Jörgen’s Romeo and Juliet. “At that point, I said, ‘This is what I want to be,'” she says.
Paraschiv strategically planned his next move. She added recreational ballet lessons to her schedule, and at age 16 she was accepted into the Quinte Ballet School of Canada in Belleville, Ontario. Suddenly she was dancing five days a week, doing pointe and living in a dorm. Although Paraschiv’s body seems made for ballet, with flexibility to spare, more than one teacher has told her that she started too late and would never reach the professional ranks. But Paraschiv was not deterred, and even thinks her age gave her an advantage: rather than relying on imitation, she approached learning analytically. “I needed to figure out why you’re performing the steps this way,” she explains. “What is the purpose of participation? How does this help the technique?
After a year, Paraschiv left Quinte to train with a Russian pedagogue closer to home and fell in love with the attention to detail and artistry of the Vaganova Method. She graduated from high school in an honors program and was awarded a scholarship to attend a five-year law program. This focus came at the expense of a normal social life, but Paraschiv happily prioritized his career goals. “Instead of hanging out with friends and partying on the weekends, I was doing ballet and working on technique,” she says.
His inexorable dedication helped Paraschiv take the next step. She postponed the law school scholarship but did not feel ready for the company auditions yet. At 18, she was accepted into the international class of the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow as part of the internship program.
Rachel Neville, courtesy of Paraschiv
Paraschiv quickly adapted to life at the Bolshoi. Speaking Romanian at home with her immigrant grandparents gave her an edge in Russian classes, and she graduated from the one-year program with a deeper love for the country’s ballet tradition. But Paraschiv felt she still had more to learn. She spent six months at Gelsey Kirkland Academy in New York, then studied with private teachers in Toronto, New York and Michigan.
At 20, Paraschiv took part in a host of open calls in New York and toured Europe auditioning, but it was a quick response to his Astrakhan State Ballet audition video that stung his interest. The state-owned company based in southwestern Russia was founded in 2011 and performs its own classical ballet repertoire while supporting the neighboring opera company. For Paraschiv, any Russian business would have been “a dream”. In May 2019, she took a two-week corporate course and, after a lengthy visa application process, started her first professional season last August at the age of 21.
Paraschiv is one of the few non-Russian dancers in the company. She lives in furnished accommodation with three Russian roommates. By all accounts, she has “succeeded,” but she still considers herself a student. “I don’t feel like I’ve plateaued,” she says. “Every day is a new exploration.” In an industry that seemingly favors teenage prodigies, Paraschiv proves that personal will is superior to the status quo.