‘Can I Actually Sing?’ Meet New York City Ballet’s Songbird

Earlier than the pandemic, Clara Miller had a secret that she stored from her dancing world at New York Metropolis Ballet. Effectively, the janitors knew.

After dance performances, she would hunt down empty studios to rehearse. However she wasn’t dancing. Armed together with her voice and a piano, she wrote and sang songs — generally, she recalled, didn’t increase her voice above a whisper.

Covers have been a part of her repertory, too. As soon as, she took benefit of a rehearsal piano left onstage on the David H. Koch Theater and sang “Dancing within the Darkish” to an empty home. “It felt like I used to be enjoying for an viewers of ghosts,” she stated in a current Zoom interview.

She would typically take movies of herself performing; she didn’t know write down her compositions. However a query persevered: “I’d hear again and be like, ‘Is my mind simply listening to my voice pretty much as good?’” she stated. “‘Or am I truly unhealthy and I simply am not listening to it? Can I truly sing?’”

“It was like my hidden secret little ardour,” she added, “that I wasn’t able to share with anybody till I figured it out.”

She figured it out. She will sing.

Miller, 25 and a member of Metropolis Ballet since 2015, focuses on a mix of indie-folk and indie-rock with a voice — imploring, ethereal, lilting — that floats in an area of vulnerability. It feels uncovered and tender, but there may be an underlying confidence, too: She is aware of she is spilling secrets and techniques. “Oath,” her debut EP was launched this month. On Friday, she will probably be performing on the Bitter End. (She has been recording and showing beneath the moniker Clanklin, however goes to start out utilizing her full name.)

Her songs don’t ignore trauma she has skilled, notably her troublesome relationship together with her father when she was rising up — it’s higher now — however in addition they sort out lighter topics, like an unrequited crush.

She calls Phoebe Bridgers her queen — “girls are saving music,” she stated — however she additionally loves Lucy Dacus, who fashioned the group boygenius with Bridgers and Julien Baker, Fiona Apple, Samia and Soccer Mommy. “And I’m without end a fan of Stevie Nicks,” Miller stated, her blue eyes extensive and critical. “I’ve her photograph on my wall within the rest room. She’s the whole lot.”

Lately, Miller launched a video of the primary monitor, “Graveyard,” which was shot on the Inexperienced-Wooden Cemetery by Devin Alberda, a fellow Metropolis Ballet member. Miller calls Alberda — who has additionally explored one other type of artistry, as a photographer — her mentor. (Wendy Whelan, the corporate’s affiliate creative director, reposted the video, calling Miller “City Ballet’s very own songbird.”)

Miller and Alberda grew to become shut associates throughout the pandemic. “She’s writing these songs for herself,” he stated, “and we’re fortunate sufficient to listen to them and watch her be reworked by means of them.”

Alberda added that he was impressed by “the empathy, the delicacy and the emotional maturity that she’s in a position to carry to how she approaches life — she’s been by means of extra bodily trauma than virtually anybody I do know. I don’t know anybody who’s had their again opened up twice.”

Miller has undergone two spinal surgical procedures — vertebral physique tethering — to right idiopathic scoliosis. The second occurred in October of 2020; she knew that the pandemic would give her ample restoration time. (The duvet of her EP exhibits an X-ray of her backbone.) In 2016, tethers have been used to drag her backbone straight. However as an alternative of giving her physique sufficient time to acclimate, she returned to dancing too shortly.

The tethers broke “and my backbone obtained curved once more,” she stated. “So that they went in and so they repaired the tethers from the primary surgical procedure after which they put in a complete different set of tethers and I used to be like, OK, I want to return again slowly.”

She launched her first single, “Previous Automotive,” from her hospital mattress, the place she needed to keep for 10 days. “Songwriting has been the one outlet that I’ve had, and I’ve been so appreciative of that,” Miller stated. “Once I can’t dance, I’ve to specific myself indirectly or else it makes me sick.”

As a musician, she’s principally self-taught. She took piano classes as a scholar on the Metropolis Ballet-affiliated Faculty of American Ballet, however taught herself play the guitar — she named her first, given to her on her 18th birthday, Stevie — together with the ukulele, the banjo and the drums.

Studying covers served a goal: It taught her carry out. (“Oath” options her rendition of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings.”)

“It’s type of like studying a ballet variation and outdated tapes of ballet dancers and attempting to repeat a few of their artistry moments,” she stated. “I’d simply play the songs that I liked on the piano. And sometimes a janitor would stroll in and I’d be in the midst of belting one thing and I’d get so shy.”

When the pandemic hit, Miller labored out of her Higher West Facet loft, the place guitars dangle on a brick wall and a drum set sits off to the facet. Within the early days, she ended up on a reverse sleep cycle, going to mattress at 8 a.m. and waking up at 4 p.m. It was the primary time in her life that she wasn’t on a strict schedule.

“I’d begin enjoying drums at 11 p.m.,” she stated, “and my poor neighbor would come to my door and be like, ‘Please cease.’ So I needed to give up.”

What she has actually examined over the previous yr and a half are her boundaries — these associated to her dancing and musical selves in addition to to her bodily and psychological well being. Her relationships with a number of Juilliard graduates — associates who’ve performed an element in her musical improvement — helped. (Together with Steven Robertson, who’s sharing the present together with her on the Bitter Finish, a few of these associates, the “quarantine crew” as she calls them, will carry out together with her.)

After a interval of despair, she obtained a prognosis of bipolar dysfunction and began taking treatment, which made an actual distinction. “I had a lot extra entry to my creative voice as a result of I used to be extra regular,” she stated. “And that’s when the writing simply type of blossomed and after I wrote all of my EP: That was January by means of March.”

However Miller, who has common periods together with her bodily therapist and has been taking class with Metropolis Ballet, has no plans to cease dancing, which she referred to as her deepest love. “To bounce is to me to grow to be one with the music in the identical approach that performing music is,” she stated. “It’s all in regards to the music to me.”

Earlier than the pandemic, she discovered that she was dancing extra freely; she wasn’t holding again. “Now I’m rediscovering that very same lesson with music,” she stated. “Even releasing my album was an enormous, large public show that I used to be nervous about — it’s a really exposing factor to do. However on the finish of the day, my entire factor is, I by no means wish to not do one thing out of worry. Simply put it out.”

Busking, primarily within the Occasions Sq. subway station and at Washington Sq. Park, has been an essential instructor. “The primary time I performed in Occasions Sq., I used to be full physique sweating, like trembling,” Miller stated. “I used to be similar to, OK, you’ve obtained to do that. And folks have been so supportive. They have been taking footage and movies and simply being so candy. It’s helped me recover from stage fright.”

As a younger dancer, she spent years — humbling ones, she careworn — dancing on concrete for tiny audiences and in competitions, the place, she stated with fun, “the whole lot’s type of jank.”

In an identical approach, busking is about paying her dues. “I like the sensation that I’m being humbled and going again to my roots,” she stated. “It’s positively been a take a look at of my braveness and my means to not mumble. Generally I sing so softly. I imply, now I carry a microphone as a result of I simply need to, or else individuals wouldn’t hear me. Sure, the microphone is critical.”

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