Summer Dance Intensive 2011: Energy, Rigor, Commitment

Don’t tell the college students, but the annual Summer Dance Intensive is my favorite event of the year. For summer faculty and students, the energy, rigor, commitment, and enthusiasm does not ebb for a moment during the three weeks of this annual program, which was created in 1997. The 45 high school students who participate come from around the U.S. and the world to experience the best of life as a Juilliard dancer, getting exposure to many aspects of the typical freshmen schedule while enjoying the city that is arguably the center of the dance universe.

The “Intensive” in Summer Dance Intensive is as apt a description as the words that precede it. During his welcoming comments on the first night of the Intensive, July 17, Dance Division Artistic Director Lawrence Rhodes suggested that the students bring notebooks to class each day so that they could write down what they learned. After his master class the following Saturday, the notebooks came out and students added to their growing collections of written corrections and words of inspiration. In addition to daily ballet and modern technique classes, summer students attend workshops in Alexander Technique, improvisation, anatomy, Gaga, ballroom, and music, generating enough information to fill volumes.

After placement classes on day one, each of the dancers was cast in one of four new works to be created by guest choreographers for the workshop performances at the end of the session. They are Pam Tanowitz (who will also create work for December’s New Dances 2011), Norbert De La Cruz III (B.F.A. ’10, whose photographs accompany this article), Bret Easterling (B.F.A. ’10), and Spenser Theberge (B.F.A. ’09). By working directly with the choreographers, the summer dancers get a sense of the focus and responsiveness required to be a professional level dancer. The dancers were asked to improvise, manipulate movement, sing, speak, and stretch their imaginations and bodies in ways that most hadn’t previously experienced. 

By the first weekend, the dancers were exhausted and ready to leave the studios and explore the city, but due to record-breaking heat, planned trips to Governor’s Island and the High Line were scrapped for the air-conditioned comfort of Harry Potter in 3D. 

In the second week of the Intensive, summer dancers were just reaching their stride; class exercises that seemed impossible only five days before were beginning to be understood, allowing the dancers more freedom in their dancing. Another highlight was the teachers’ conference, three days when the home teachers of the summer students are invited to Juilliard to watch classes and have concentrated workshops with the Juilliard summer faculty. This open communication between the summer faculty and the teachers who are training the next generation of potential Juilliard dancers is mutually beneficial. We will see many of these dancers again, as they audition for next summer or for the B.F.A. program, or, further into the future, on stage.

The third week came quickly. The students, now better acclimated to the city, asked their residence dance assistants, current Juilliard B.F.A. students, to take them farther from Lincoln Center, and trips to Jamba Juice were replaced by adventures in the outer boroughs. By arrangement with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, we hosted a young cancer survivor and helped make his dream of experiencing Juilliard come true. The Juilliard college students who had been chaperoning summer dancers presented their own choreography in an informal studio showing. By the last day of the intensive, the workshop programs were printed, parents and siblings arrived, and the summer students showed their faculty, family, and friends all that they had learned. Tears were shed, pictures were taken, and before anyone was ready, it was over. 

Sarah Adriance (B.F.A. ’95, dance) is the administrative director of the Dance Division and the director of the Summer Dance Intensive.