The annual rite of passage that is New Dances—a highlight of the dance season—is underway. Each year, four choreographers arrive at Juilliard in the fall and start working with one class apiece, creating a new dance from scratch for the students. In early November, we asked the choreographers and/or their assistants as well one student from each class to sum up either the experience or the choreography in three words and to write a bit about that day’s creative process— and how it was and wasn’t like other rehearsals they’ve had.
Helen Simoneau, choreographer (first-years)
EXCITING | DYNAMIC | CONCENTRATED
Throughout the process of creating this piece, I hope for the dancers to learn how to be contributing members of an ensemble, to value their own part within the overall arc of the piece, and to be engaged performers in both moments of being featured and moments of stillness.
It’s always a challenge in large groups to give everyone the attention and consideration they deserve. Luckily, these freshmen are mature enough to help each other and find ways to give their classmates validation. And the best thing about the process is that the possibilities are endless. They’re completely capable and willing to try anything, and they all bring something different. That gives me a lot to play with as I shape the piece.
Moscelyne ParkeHarrison, first-year
Edward John Noble Foundation Scholarship
CURIOSITY | TRANSCENDENCE | COMMUNITY
For me this experience of intensive rehearsals three times a week and culminating in five days of performances in a professional theater is completely new. Our choreographer is soft-spoken, yet clear in her intention, and the creative process is something of a metaphor for the entire environment of the class as a whole. The piece is turning out to be a collage of phrase work we did in early rehearsals that has been curated into interesting and dynamic sequences. Another element that is new for me is the opportunity for a great amount of detail and time to be taken on each movement and within each of our roles.
The cast is large, and diverse, therefore things have the ability to get overwhelmingly complex. Yet in the midst of our long rehearsals, the personalities and movement styles are tamed into synchronized chaos. The newness of this experience inspires me, for I know that with every movement and every hour of rehearsal, we are getting closer to showing the world what is in store for Juilliard.
Aszure Barton, choreographer
Jonathan “JoJo” Alsberry, assistant (second-years)
PATIENCE | FOCUS | MINDFULNESS
We hope the dancers will walk away from rehearsal with more patience, focus, and mindfulness as well as a deeper understanding of how to move more efficiently through space. The most challenging—but also the best—aspects of creating a piece on dancers in real time is the same: trusting the unknown.
In this case, an unadorned quality of movement revealed itself unexpectedly in the studio on day one. Aszure and I were deeply moved by this honesty and are working diligently with all of the dancers to achieve this sensitivity in real time. One of the best things about being in the midst of creation is witnessing the dancers’ growth.
Katerina Eng, second-year
Edward John Noble Foundation, Three Arts Club, and Dolly and Stephanie Susan Gross scholarships
PATIENCE | SENSITIVITY | DETAIL
I got goosebumps when Aszure played Caroline Shaw’s Gustave Le Gray for the first time today. The way she focuses is refreshing and truly distinctive in a world that is often fast-paced and blurred. It’s fascinating to watch her sit, legs tucked, chin resting on her knee, soaking up every detail for inspiration. Aszure and JoJo encourage us to learn choreography by concentrating on sensations of the movement as a whole and being present in each sensation’s details rather than fragmenting the movement into steps. This of course requires a great amount of patience, especially since it might take a large portion of our rehearsal to truly comprehend every detail within a phrase.
Aszure requires a lot more from her dancers than other choreographers with whom I’ve worked. She not only has us in the role of the dancer, but also in roles of developer, assistant, and teacher. Today we continued to work on a phrase from a classmate’s fast footwork improvisation derived from the word patience. From that, another classmate and I had to learn and codify a blurred improvisation from a slow-motion video recording. We then had to teach the phrase to everyone while holding on to our patience and developing our sensitivity to detail. From the very first day of rehearsal we have been scrupulously working on multiple phrases, expanding upon their original form and defining each moment without knowing how they connect. Until today, our rehearsals have resembled a photograph zoomed-in to the point of pixelation. Today, we shared a beautiful moment as we witnessed the first 10-minute sketch of what our hours of rehearsals thus far have amounted to. As Aszure sewed together each phrase, it was as if she had zoomed out, slowly unveiling the picture of what is to come.
Zvi Gotheiner, choreographer
Nikki Chalas, executive director of ZviDance (third-years)
INSPIRED | FUN | EXCELLENT
I’m hoping the dancers will take away from this rehearsal how fun the creative process can be, and I’d also like to empower them to contribute to the process as real collaborators. I’d also like the dancers to embody a different way of moving and approach movement as more sequential and less shape-oriented.
Creating a piece from scratch in such a short amount of time has been the greatest challenge of this process, but the project is pushing me to work faster and try new directions, and the students are really stepping up to the challenge. It’s been great to see how phenomenal all 23 of these dancers are. Wow!
Alexandra Eliot, third-year
FLIRTATIOUS | ATHLETIC | SWIRLING
Going into rehearsal today, I was excited to see what exciting new ideas that Zvi had concocted over the weekend—on Friday, we finished a rough sketch of the opening section of the dance, and talked a lot about how to find more richness and individuality in the steps. There is a velvet-like quality to the movement that Zvi creates: it is lush, flowing, deep, and simultaneously powerful and even biting at times. One of my goals for today was to investigate that feeling further. Today’s rehearsal was different in that instead of going over all the material at the beginning, we looked at and changed specific phrases, and then, we dove in to making a rough sketch of the second section.
There are major differences between this year’s creation process and last year’s, namely, the way in which the choreographers generated the dance steps that became/are becoming the backbone of the piece. But I think that the more important difference is that of our class’s energy. As second-years last year, we still felt unsure of ourselves in a lot of ways, and it took us time to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and completely open to the movement. As third-years, I think we have offered ourselves fully, both as individuals and as a group, from the very beginning of the process.
Kyle Abraham, choreographer
Vinson Fraley, assistant (fourth-years)
REVEALING | FOCUSED | PLAYFUL
In today’s rehearsal, Kyle and I were surprised to see how well the dancers are already connecting to the progression and flow of the piece. It already seems to have a clear, yet intricate build of ideas and bodies in space. I hope the dancers walk away today having gained a deepened sense of self within the work, and that they allow that to translate in future processes that they are part of. Kyle always tells us “everything you do is perfect,” and I hope these dancers know how valuable that information is. I also would be satisfied knowing that they’ve challenged themselves to play with the balance of physicality and humanness, and how that blend can unlock ways to connect further with each other and people watching. I also hope they’re able to connect to the sheer love of movement and dancing with each other.
For a choreographer, the most challenging thing about creating a piece on dancers is achieving a group sense of connectivity and unity. The best thing about it is seeing how different bodies in space can allow for endless ways to play with perception and interpretation.
Mark Sampson, fourth-year
COMMUNAL | DYNAMIC | PHYSICAL
Kyle has generated material incredibly fast, so my goal going into today was to find an even deeper connection to the movement. Discovering more interesting nuances in the physicality of the piece comes with each rehearsal. Today was the first day I could see the arc of the piece taking shape, which is always an exciting moment in the creative process. Kyle has given each of us a movement or a task to deal with and finesse, and today it felt as if all those pieces of the puzzle were fitting together. Once we’ve learned or built material, Kyle will insert our mini sections throughout the piece. This is much different than our New Dances process last year, when we spent much of our time as an ensemble figuring out spatial patterns and developing traveling movements. It’s been interesting to see how each choreographer deals with the mass of people—24 people is a lot to organize in space. Some use dancers en masse in a very spatial way; some highlight each individual dancer through smaller cameos. Each choreographer provides us with new problems to solve and a different way of finding resolutions.
One thing that sets New Dances apart from other rehearsal experiences is that being part of a creative process is integral to our development at Juilliard. Through working in a collaborative environment we learn to create with each other in developing the voice of the piece as well as learning the specific movement language of the choreographer we’re working with.