The event is New Dances, now in its 12th year, and this edition takes place December 10-14. Lawrence Rhodes, the artistic director of the Dance Division, started the series in part because he’d found that not all of the students were having a chance to perform on the Peter Jay Sharp Theater stage. This would give them that opportunity—and also a wonderful chance to work with an up-and-coming or established living choreographer.
This year’s quartet of choreographers includes two Juilliard alums, Austin McCormick, who’s working with the first-year dancers, and Loni Landon, who’s with the second-years. The third-year dance is being choreographed by Kate Weare while Larry Keigwin is working with the fourth-years. The Journal asked one dancer from each class to write about his or her first day of rehearsals for New Dances, October 6. (The fourth-years ended up starting earlier this year due to scheduling challenges, so senior Michael Marquez wrote about an earlier day.)
The process is an intensely creative and kinetic one as these reports show—and it continues to be that way throughout. A few weeks into the rehearsals, The Journal spoke with Keigwin, the only one of the four to have choreographed for New Dances previously. Asked what he had learned from his earlier experiences, Keigwin said one thing is that he knows to “trust the process and remind myself that it will all come together.”
McCormick and the 1st-Years: Past and Present Collide
Room 334 bustled with energy today as my fellow first-year dancers and I joined our choreographer, Austin McCormick (B.F.A. ’06, dance), and his colleague Laura Careless (B.F.A. ’07, dance) for our introduction to New Dances: Edition 2014. To start, Austin had us form a circle and tell each other our names and something interesting about ourselves outside the world of dance. He shared with us his background, gave us a brief history of Baroque dance, and informed us that we will have live music at our performance, courtesy of students in Juilliard’s Historical Performance program.
Then he had us form a group behind him to teach us our first Baroque dance, and you could feel my class’s excitement. He explained that Baroque dancing has an emphasis on “back space” because it was first performed in a court setting where the audience encircled the dancers, completely different from the proscenium theater that most dancers are acquainted with today.
Moving forward, he and Laura had us choose partners to learn a contemporary pas de deux. The tone for that relationship was set by the contrasting luxurious and tense moments. Passion and power struggle side by side as the punching of a fist to another’s chin results in a brief moment of impact, and then a release transforms the clenched fist into a caress of the neck. The strong undertones of mystery and conflicting human sensuality hold the viewer captive until the last moment, when the dancers break apart. Austin’s choreography creates an opportunity for dancers to portray and mold with their bodies these intense humanistic passions.
Our first rehearsal came to a close, leaving us with the feeling that while we were reinventing and creating a relationship between Baroque and contemporary dance, we were also taking part in something larger than ourselves, stepping back into time with each movement—with the realization that these steps were birthed long before us and long before the genres of dance that we participate in today.
Katerina Eng, who’s from the San Francisco Bay area, holds Juilliard and Edward John Noble Foundation scholarships.
Landon and the 2nd-Years: Finding Intention in Movement
New Dances could be a very competitive environment with 24 hungry students giving everything they have in order to be in the spotlight, but our first day didn’t feel like that to me in the slightest. Coming in, I was very nervous and carried a lot of tension, and I could see that the rest of my 23 classmates felt the same way, but our choreographer, Loni Landon (B.F.A. ’05, dance; Greene Fellow), began rehearsal by guiding us through a kind of meditation. I don’t think there is a better way to begin a rehearsal process than connecting with your innermost self and creating a calm bond between everyone in the studio.
Loni and her assistant Nicole von Arx were very supportive and created an environment in which I wasn’t afraid to try new things, things that might seem easy but in the moment can be rather intimidating, like allowing two people to manipulate your body across the floor and deciding whether to give them full control. Another exercise we did was picturing 100 fish swimming inside your stomach and allowing yourself to let go and truly experience that feeling rather than falling into habitual ways of moving. Loni told us that her process is not about making pretty movement with the body, it’s about allowing your body to let go and move with a clear intention.
She is an amazing, knowledgeable dancer, and in our first three hours, I felt as though she gave me a new perspective on how I can go about creating and picking up new movement. She pushed us to help us find our own individuality within her movement. We’re all in this process together to better ourselves and to learn new things about who we are as dancers. Loni definitely pulled me out of my comfort zone, but this is about how in seeing our individuality through dance, she will see through us how she wants to create the piece.
The amazing support and collaboration of Loni, her assistants, and my 23 wonderful classmates makes me so grateful, and I’m sure the experience will be a pleasure.
Second-year Alex Larson, who’s from St. George, Utah, holds a Juilliard Scholarship.
Weare and the 3rd-Years: Giving Birth to a New Dance
In the third-floor dance hallway, the minutes before 4 p.m. strikes on the first Monday of October are filled anticipation, to put it mildly. As juniors, we’ve gone through this twice before, so we know that the moment when the choreographer walks into the studio with us for the first time will be loaded with insight into what the next 90-plus hours in that studio might hold. It’s a moment when the world of one creator collides with that of 23 already closely connected bodies, 23 autonomous interpreters and shapers, ultimately 23 other creators who are suspended in a state of open readiness, like perfectly softened clay, moldable and yet colored by their own individuality. The first moment even provides some indication of what the nature of that yet-unborn product of mutual collaborative effort—due for its big premiere on December 10 after a two-and-a-half month gestation period—might be.
So my class was practically buzzing with the imminent, spring-loaded setup as Kate Weare and her assistant, Doug, walked into the studio. And after a sweaty three-hour courting, the consensus of our class seemed pretty clear: We would all be delighted to return for our second date (Wednesday, same place, same time), and the topic of baby names felt not too far down the line.
The message Weare conveyed from our very first encounter was a welcome one. I think we all sense that she is deeply curious and interested in what each of us has to offer, and what all of that individuality, when given space and a platform to combine, can bring about as a whole.
What more could the Juilliard dance class of 2016 hope for from the first New Dances rehearsal of the year? Well, it would always be a nice bonus if we all enjoyed and felt good in the actual movement we were learning. Wonderfully enough, every one of my classmates looked, to me, just as magnificent and fascinating in the exploration of the movement as every other—a somewhat rare occasion for a group of dancers so distinct and individual. So I guess that means we’ve got plenty of reasons to look forward to our third child together. For now, we can just call her New Dances 2014.
Cleo Person, who’s from San Diego area, is a third-year dancer.
Keigwin and the 4th-Years: Adding Just the Right Amount Of Spice
Unlike in previous years, the Class of 2015 started our (last!) New Dances adventure early in the season. By the time the other classes were filling the dance hallways with vibrating excitement and curious energy for the beginning of their processes, the seniors had already been immersed in the world of our choreographer, Larry Keigwin, for a few weeks. Fast and sparky footwork, loose arms and quirky coordination, light jumps and darting steps are common in Keigwin’s choreography. Side by side with his voice, the personalities and individual qualities of our class accompanied the creation of the choreographic material.
In one of our earlier rehearsals Larry had used Throw and Catch as a playful device to make up movement. After he improvised a movement, we had to rely on our memory and kinetic empathy to re-create a similar version of the improvisation. The spontaneous patterns did not lose their vitality in the structured phrase that everyone embodied.
On this particular afternoon, Larry (who was touring at the time) wasn’t in the room but his vibe was. After a quick chat with current Keigwin + Co. dancers Brandon Cournay (B.F.A ’09, dance) and Emily Schoen, we gathered in small groups to review what Larry had “thrown” us, enhanced by Brandon and Emily’s suggestions. Next the ladies and gentlemen recalled two separate phrases: the gentlemen travelled audaciously with large steps and patterns and the ladies approached the circular feeling of the motions with daring quality. We eventually moved into more complex material. Each group was given a set of verbs to generate an elaborate composition that involved intricate partnering. Literal interpretations of the actions were combined with sophisticated choreographic choices that made the relationships among the dancers intriguing to observe. Actions were transported outside of their natural habitat as busy movements crackled across multiple bodies. The last part of the rehearsal was a review of fast footwork that combined sharp changes of direction and unexpected shifts of weight. The tribal and percussive drumming of the music guided the juxtaposition of the concise lower limbs and the spontaneous and free upper bodies.
We are slowly discovering every ingredient of this recipe, tasting the nuances of each phrase and adding some salt and pepper, or sugar in some cases. Keigwin will direct us in writing the recipe and putting the right amount of ingredients in the pot. It will be up to us to spice up the piece on the big stage and serve it steaming to the audience.
Michael Marquez, a fourth-year dancer from Italy, holds a Jerome L. Greene Fellowship.