Caught on Camera: A Revealing Look at the Juilliard Seniors

Last night was opening night of the Juilliard School’s fall production, “New Dances: Edition 2011.” And don’t let the free tickets fool you… While most college productions are crowded with performers’ classmates, parents and friends, this one is like a who’s who of dance in NYC—choreographers, critics and professional dancers filled the seats. And it’s no wonder; all these talented kids have to do is tendu, and I’m impressed. But with choreographers Monica Bill Barnes, Alex Ketley, Pam Tanowitz and Alexander Ekman on board, the all-original program rivaled that of many major dance companies.

 

Barnes’ The way it feels presented a nostalgic look at a high school dance, complete with disco ball. Ketley’s The Radiant Ocean (of Proud Vanishing Beauty) showed off the technical prowess of the sophomore class. Fortune, choreographed by Tanowitz, gave juniors a chance to truly embody the Cunningham technique. And the finale, by Ekman, shone through them all. Mustache-clad seniors in variations on a tuxedo brought down the house with Episode 31. From quirky to serious in an instant, this contemporary piece was full of intricate choreography with just a dash of sarcasm.

 

But the most compelling part of the evening came before the final work, when we got to see beyond that perfect technique and fancy choreography. A video clip showed an inside look at Ekman’s rehearsal process, giving a glimpse into the lives of these students and an idea of what makes them tick. Footage of a hilarious day in which the students performed on the streets of Manhattan was truly priceless. The passersby’s reactions to seeing Ekman’s quirky choreography while on a subway car or in Central Park were both fascinating and uncomfortable. But what made the video truly spectacular were the student voiceovers throughout. One by one, they described the experience of working with Ekman, the cathartic feeling of dancing, and the hard four years of college that are coming to an end. “You don’t know what we’ve gone through to get here,” said one student. “Or maybe you do.” The video was the perfect goodbye to the Juilliard graduating class. 

 

It was such a simple concept—listening to students speaking about dancing while watching them dance—but it was one of the most memorable works I’ve seen in a long time. And, it’s an easy one to incorporate into any performance. Have you ever used video or a recording of students’ voices on stage? Creating a time capsule to preserve one moment in an ever-rotating group of students can truly make a performance that much more special.

 

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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