In the second month of my first year at Juilliard, I saw a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that invited me to open my eyes, ears, and mind to a question—the question of the essence of dancing. It was a Tuesday night, sold-out, a standing ovation, yet I stood motionless, tears spilling onto the program I’d clapped over my mouth. Soaking wet from a final scene in which water poured down like rain, the 12 performers from alumna Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal took their humble bows. That evening’s piece, Vollmond (German for “full moon”) was over. Yet for me, something new began. In piecing together what I saw on stage—full-bodied, modern dance movement interlaced masterfully with regular human moments (pouring water, eating a carrot, fighting, kissing, speaking)—I came to the elated conclusion that this too could be a part of dancing.
Three years later, in a Juilliard Dance Division meeting, Lawrence Rhodes, our artistic director, announced that for the annual New Dances concert, in which choreographers are commissioned to create new works on each of the four classes, the fourth-year students wouldn’t be doing a new dance. “They will be doing an older dance, actually, by a woman called Pina Bausch,” he informed us. Of course we all knew who Pina Bausch was. And since Tanztheater Wuppertal is just about the only company ever to perform her work, we were wide-eyed. The excitement in the room was palpable.
Vollmond, choreographed in 2006, is representative of the latter stage of Bausch’s career, when only a gossamer thread separated elements of dance, theater, and human action in a given production. Upon hearing we would do a Bausch piece, my classmates and I envisioned something along these lines. Wind von West, however, which will have its U.S. premiere at Juilliard in December, is one of Bausch’s early works. There will be no carrots, no kissing, and no speaking. There will be no pouring rain, but one element—the sensation of wind—is instrumental to how we approach this movement.
Wind von West premiered in Wuppertal, Germany, in 1975. It was the first of three pieces in a Stravinsky-devoted evening that closed with Bausch’s widely acclaimed Rite of Spring. Juilliard Dance’s remounting of Wind von West is one aspect of a larger project—that is, to re-create the three-piece Stravinsky evening from 1975 in honor of the 40th anniversary of her company. In homage to her having attended both the Folkwang Hochschule in Essen, Germany, and Juilliard (1959-60), dancers from both schools learned Wind von West. In Wuppertal this November, several Juilliard dancers from the fourth-year class joined the Folkwang’s cast in Wind von West as part of the Stravinsky evening. For the U.S. premiere at Juilliard this December, eight dancers from Folkwang will join the Juilliard ensemble.
Remounting Wind von West was complicated. After a few years, Bausch’s company stopped performing the piece, and it was up to former company members who danced in the premiere—Mari Di Lena, John Giffin (B.F.A. ’68, dance), and Josephine Anne Endicott, the original soloist—to reach into history. Using only their memories and grainy video footage, they remembered the choreography and taught it to two ensembles. Di Lena, Giffin, and Endicott had varying opinions regarding movement and musicality. In rehearsal, hearing many musical cues, like “faster” from one director or “slower” from another, fine-tuned our awareness of the music. Conversations about the placement of each finger in relation to the arm, the degree of bend in the knee, or the exact angle of the head cultivated our attention to detail. Ultimately, this level of specificity was effective, allowing us to maintain integrity toward Bausch’s stunning work.
The next ensemble to perform Wind von West may have an easier time than we did understanding specific movement as it relates to Stravinsky’s multimetered score (it is set to his Cantata, a 1951-52 work for soprano, tenor, female choir, and instrumental ensemble). Mira Kim, a dance notation specialist and former student of Giffin’s at Ohio State University, attended rehearsals, studying every gesture, formation, and pattern, to eventually create a score for the dance.
One day Giffin walked in the room, set a stack of papers on the piano, and proudly announced, “Pina’s rehearsal notes.” One page in particular stood out: a map of the set design, on top was written “Wind von West” and on the bottom, in Bausch’s writing, “Geburt, Liebe, Tot” (birth, love, death). These three words and the feeling of wind almost sum up the contextual information we know about the piece. Bausch never told her dancers what her pieces were about. As Giffin put it, “she was afraid that words would pin her down [and] didn’t want to take her dancers’ imaginations away from them.”
The narrative element in Wind von West is abstract, but based on many nurturing images, the role I learned is easily interpreted as a mother. At the end of the piece, this character retreats to the back of the stage, behind the ensemble, and moves in unison with them. One day in rehearsal, Di Lena walked by and told me, almost secretly, “It’s really important that we see you back here; it’s a beautiful moment. Maybe you’re back here because you’re in heaven. I don’t know; you decide.”
This little secret activated my imagination, allowing me to tune in to the clues Bausch designed for this mysterious role. Dancing behind the group took on a new meaning for me. In that moment, the familiar dancers before me became my children, and I guided them with silent wisdom. As I arched back and gazed upward in the final motion, the rehearsal studio ceiling became a starry night sky, and I rose into it.
New Dances Decoded
Each December, the Dance Division presents four works by four contemporary choreographers set for the four Juilliard classes. This year’s version, New Dances Plus, which runs from December 11 to 15, has a twist. There are three new dances, and a reconstruction of a 1975 work by alumna choreographer Pina Bausch. “Of course it’s the opposite of a new dance,” Lawrence Rhodes, the division’s artistic director, told The Journal. But the opportunity to present it was too good to turn down.
The reconstruction has been done by some of the Bausch dancers who were in the original (see accompanying article), and the timing was such that it would only have worked to have it be danced in December. And the number of dancers was “almost ideal” for the fourth-year class, Rhodes said, adding “I always like to try and find something special for the seniors. It’s the cherry on top of their experience.”
One highlight of the production is that there will be live music, which there wasn’t in the original. The piece is set to Stravinsky, a choice Rhodes described as “sensational,” adding, “It’s so haunting and mysterious, and [Bausch] brought that to the dance.” At the Juilliard performances, Stravinsky’s Cantata will be performed by flutists Stephanie Kwak and Jake Chabot, oboists John Upton and James Riggs, cellist Madeline Fayette, sopranos Angela Vallone and Laura LeVoir, altos Kara Sainz and Kelsey Lauritano, and tenors Avery Amereau and Miles Mykkanen, all led by Yuga Cohler (M.M. ’13, orchestral conducting).
Since it started in 2004, the focus of New Dances has been “on the creative process and working with professional choreographers,” Rhodes said, and that’s no different this year. The first-years will take on a work by Takehiro (Take) Ueyama (Diploma ’95, dance) that was inspired by Kabuki theater star Nakamura Kanzaburo, who was known for bringing his extremely traditional art form to new audiences. The second-year dancers will be working with choreographer Brian Brooks, whose Torrent is set to excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. “I think he’s got an expert way of creating movement and exploring the potential of a phrase,” Rhodes said. And the third-years are working on Seeds of Endurance by Darrell Grand Moultrie (B.F.A. ’00, dance). The three-movement work is about finding the perseverance to sustain a career. While Rhodes hadn’t set out to have three of the choreographers be Juilliard alums (the third being Bausch, of course)—this is the first time that’s happened—it's an added bonus to an already impressive event. — Susan Jackson