Jane Kosminsky (’61, dance) began her professional life at 17, dancing in the companies of May O’Donnell, Tamiris-Nagrin, Norman Walker, and Paul Taylor (B.S. ’53, dance), whose company she joined in 1965. She grew up in Newburgh, N.Y., and graduated from New York City’s High School of Performing Arts (now part of LaGuardia High School) and C.C.N.Y., where she studied language and literature. In the 1970s and ’80s, she was the co-artistic director and principal dancer of 5 by 2 and 5 by 2 Plus, a modern dance repertory company; also in the ’70s, she restaged Taylor’s Aureole for European productions of Nureyev and Friends, dancing as Nureyev’s partner. Jane joined the Juilliard drama faculty in 1971 and the dance faculty in 1986, along the way training as an Alexander Technique teacher. She has choreographed plays for Juilliard and Off-Off Broadway and this month, there will be previews of a project she spearheaded called EDWIN: The Story of Edwin Booth. Its main character was part of a family of famous American actors, all of whom were overshadowed when Edwin’s younger brother, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated President Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago.
When did you know you wanted to be a dancer?
I always knew. I started telling people when I was 3.
What dance performance have you attended that changed the way you think about dance?
In 1960, longtime Juilliard faculty member Martha Graham’s Clytemnestra showed me the depth and profundity of a true theatrical imagination. Before that I had a young dancer’s attraction for movement that was lyrical, musical, and more conventionally physical. Graham taught me the power of quiet.
You’ve described the Booth project as a “musical, theatrical, historical adventure that moves elegantly from the spoken word to the heightened text of Shakespeare to song.” What was the genesis of it?
I thought it would be wonderful it there were a vehicle for my Neighborhood Playhouse colleague Gary Ramsey, a baritone and classically trained actor, in which you could see him act in Shakespeare and sing. He suggested that it be about Edwin Booth and that it take place in his dressing room just as he is about to return to the stage six months after his brother has assassinated Lincoln. And so we began. We wrote a synopsis and began looking for the right composer and librettist to bring our glorious idea to life. Eventually, we teamed up with a very Juilliard-centric group. Our composer is former faculty member Marianna Rosett (Pre-College '65; B.M. ’69, M.S.’70, piano), a classical improviser, who has written music that is rich, melodic and emotional. The librettist is author (The Joy of Living) Eric Swanson (Group 14), and the director is Ben Donenberg (Group 10), artistic director of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles.
We came together to honor one of our own, a performing artist, an actor, a man whose own life read like a Shakespearean tragedy. He faced hardships both public and private and responded with great courage, and he can be an inspiration to us all. At this time of great divisiveness in our country, we look to our history and look to the healing power of what we do to bring attention, once more, to what is possible. This is the job of the artist as citizen.
Our first previews of script and score will be on April 8 and 9 at the Players on Gramercy Park South, Edwin’s last home and a club he established. The April 8 preview is open to members of the Juilliard community (if you’re interested in coming, let me know). The preview on April 9, the 150th anniversary of the last day of the Civil War, will be a fund-raiser (we would welcome you there, too). The show is slated to open in the late fall.
What happens after the previews?
Going into rehearsal, kicking off our social media campaign, raising money, creating invitations, programs, and prizes. Even a simple preview needs professional help—a stage manager, a graphics designer, a working relationship with the staff at the Players. And after this month, the real work—putting the piece on its legs—begins as we start working with the music director, Hugh Murphy, designing lights, costumes, and the set, and continuing the publicity. It’s like cooking a huge meal!
What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment I have two full time jobs—Juilliard and EDWIN, so watching and listening to my students is about all I can handle at the moment, but two books that are sitting patiently waiting to be read are All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and The Brain’s Way of Healing by Norman Doidge, M.D.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I love reading murder mysteries, and I belong to a book club and no one in it is in the performing arts!
What are your non-dance-related interests or hobbies?
Reading and friendship, and pets. I live on the dog-friendly Upper West Side, where I can get a doggy fix just by taking a walk.
If you weren’t in the career you are in, what would you be doing?
I would probably have a Ph.D. in English and be writing essays and poetry.