Waverly Fredericks was on the verge of quitting dance when Chanel DaSilva invited the LaGuardia Performing Arts High School freshman to audition for the inaugural cohort of Young Professionals. Standing 6-foot-2, he'd been told that he looked too awkward and was "too big" to be a dancer. "I didn't like having long limbs that stretched from here to there," Fredericks says. "So I stood in the back, too scared to dance full-out."
In March 2018, Jennifer Knostman got a call from her son, Harrison. When she picked up, all she could hear was sobbing on the other end. After a brief second of anticipation, she finally heard him exclaim "Mom! I got into Juilliard!"
Lawrence Rhodes passed away on Wednesday, March 27, at age 80. Rhodes, best known as Larry, had a long and celebrated career as a dancer, teacher and director, most recently heading The Juilliard School's dance department.
I first met Rhodes in 2017, when we started work together on an autobiography charting his life and career. Over countless hours spent seated at the kitchen table of his Upper West Side apartment, Rhodes often reminded me that his dance career, both on and off stage, had spanned over 60 years; his passion for the work remained his driving force.
Buddy and Glenda Ann performing in Detroit
Courtesy Rhodes<p>Though Rhodes took dance classes from Ruth Miltimore, he didn't start studying ballet in earnest until seeing a performance of Ballet Theatre at age 14. Combined with a love for <em>The Red Shoes</em> and all things Hollywood glamour, watching Alicia Alonso and Igor Youskevitch in <em>Swan Lake </em>sealed the deal. He started training with Violette Armand, and spent the summer of 1956 dancing on a tour of midwestern state fairs with the Chicago-based teacher Dorothy Hild.</p><p>Determined to make his way to New York, Rhodes finished high school early; he was the first man in his family to graduate. He worked for six months at the Chicago Theatrical Shoe Company to earn money to support himself, and on July 4, 1957 (a date he found particularly fitting), Rhodes arrived in the big city with $400 in his pocket and walked straight to the Ballet Russe School.</p><p>While studying at the Ballet Russe School under teachers including Leon Danielian and Frederic Franklin, Rhodes soaked up as much art as the city could offer. He and his friends frequently "second acted" shows, sneaking in at intermission and snagging empty seats. In 1958, only one year after arriving in New York City, Rhodes was accepted into the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo as a corps dancer, and adjusted to the grueling schedule of one month of rehearsal followed by six months on the road. At the end of his second year, Rhodes started studying with Robert Joffrey, and was invited to join his company.</p>
Rhodes and Isaksen in John Butler's After Eden
Courtesy Juilliard<p>Rhodes' time in The Joffrey Ballet was marked by its founder's focus on creativity. In 1962, the heiress Rebekah Harkness came on board as its primary sponsor and brought in a host of new works, most notably Brian MacDonald's <em>Time Out of Mind. </em>Tensions between Joffrey and Harkness grew, and two years later they parted ways; Rhodes, along with many other Joffrey dancers, accepted an offer to join the new Harkness Ballet. During these years Rhodes flourished on the stage: He received rave reviews in Stuart Hodes' <em>The Abyss</em>, John Butler's <em>Sebastian </em>and <em>After Eden</em>, and Rudy van Dantzig's <em>Monument for a Dead Boy</em>. In 1967 <em>The</em> <em>New York Times </em>critic Don McDonagh wrote of <em>Sebastian, </em>"Mr Rhodes's intensity is allowed full sway and he dominates the ballet. Emotion is the life blood of the work and no one on the ballet stage is capable of generating as much of it as Mr. Rhodes." In 1967, at the age of 28, Rhodes took over as the director of the Harkness Ballet, balancing responsibilities onstage and off until its demise in 1970. Shortly after, Rhodes married his longtime colleague, the celebrated Danish ballerina Lone Isaksen.</p><p>Rhodes and Isaksen spent the following year dancing with the Dutch National Ballet before returning to New York for the birth of their son, Mark. For the bulk of the 1970s, Rhodes worked as a guest artist. He danced for Pennsylvania Ballet, Dennis Wayne's Dancers and the Feld Ballet, and toured with the ballerinas Naomi Sorkin and Anne Marie de Angelo; for two years he was the co-director of Milwaukee Ballet. In 1974, he began touring with Carla Fracci in Italy, as the Albrecht to her Giselle and as Mercutio in <em>Romeo and Juliet</em>. During this time, Rhodes gave daily class to Fracci's dancers<strong> </strong>and developed a keen interest in teaching. In 1978, after a particularly spirited performance of Mercutio, he retired from the stage.</p>
Rhodes graced the cover of Dance Magazine three times between 1966–75, and was awarded the Dance Magazine Award in 2015. In this 1975 cover story, John Gruen writes, "Dancers admire Rhodes, because, without seeming effort, he unwittingly shows the complexity of dance. They glimpse the methodology of dance, and come into contact with hidden aspects of the art."<p>Rhodes spent the next decade at New York University, first as a faculty member and then as the chair of the dance department. He focused his efforts on professionalizing the program, condensing the undergraduate degree from four years to three and revamping the MFA offerings with the help of Deborah Jowitt. Rhodes also revived the Second Avenue Dance Company and made it mandatory for all students in their final year; his legacy remains today. Rhodes relied on his vast network to bring in new choreographers, including, in 1986, a young Ohad Naharin.</p><p>In 1989, Rhodes segued back to ballet, and became the artistic director of Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montreal, where he remained until 1999, working to cultivate relationships with choreographers including James Kudelka, Nacho Duato, Jiří Kylián and William Forsythe. He spent his summers guest teaching around the world, namely at Nederlands Dans Theater, Ballet Frankfurt and Lyon Opera Ballet, where he returned each year until his death.</p>
Teaching at Juilliard
Courtesy Juilliard<p>In the summer of 2002, Rhodes became the head of The Juilliard School's dance division, a position he held until 2017. He worked to streamline the curriculum and increase performance opportunities by creating New Dances, a yearly concert giving each dancer in the school the chance to engage in the choreographic process. The <a href="https://www.juilliard.edu/news/124096/new-dances-tangible-legacy" target="_blank">list of choreographers</a> that Rhodes brought to Juilliard reads like a who's who of the contemporary dance world. In the early years of the project alone, Rhodes welcomed Jessica Lang, Robert Battle, Dwight Rhoden, Aszure Barton and many more. Another highlight of his Juilliard tenure were three major performance tours both around the US and in Europe. Rhodes was feted for his immense contributions to the school after 2017's New Dances program.</p><p>Just a few weeks before he passed away, Rhodes emailed me with an idea for the title of his memoir: "I remember a woman in Mexico saying to me after a performance, 'nacido para bailar,' which translates to 'Born to Dance,'" he wrote. "I thought it was as good a compliment as one could receive."</p>
Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."
Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.
Show Up Prepared
Setting an agenda for each rehearsal shows your dancers that you respect their time. In return, they may be more likely to respect your leadership. "With peers, you can't walk into the room and say, 'I'm the teacher; you're the student,' " says Pierce, who can currently be seen in the Broadway revival of Carousel. "Authority has to be earned."
Preparation can also ease nerves about your new role. When Maddie Hanson, a dance major at The Juilliard School, began choreographing on her classmates as a freshman, "I always came into rehearsals with a movement phrase and goals for the day," she says. Now a junior, Hanson has become more confident creating on the fly. Still, she strives to be organized, and to bring something new, like a particular image, to each session.
But preparing doesn't mean being inflexible in rehearsals. Elizabeth George, who teaches composition at the University of Arizona, explains, "You never want to be so rigid that if something spontaneous happens, you're not willing to explore it." A collaborative environment can keep everyone invested in the process.
Communicate ClearlyMCB dancers in Pierce's Acantilado. Photo by Leigh-Ann Esty, Courtesy Pierce
Last semester, George and her co-teacher Sam Watson asked their composition students what helped them most when choreographing on classmates. The top response: communication. "Dancers want information about what they're doing," Watson says, "whether they're working with a guest artist or a fellow student."
Communication should be a two-way street, Pierce adds. If a transition looks awkward, ask what would make it feel better. If your dancers seem exhausted, see if they have the energy for another full-out run.
Frame Feedback Wisely
To avoid hurting friends' feelings, frame criticism to be both positive and constructive. Rather than saying "That's not right" or "I don't like that," try acknowledging what a dancer is doing before asking to see it another way. "Then, you're offering options instead of barking orders," Pierce says.
When it comes to behavior issues, you may need to put your foot down. Pierce advises approaching the dancer the same way you would if you were having a non–dance-related issue. "Make it a conversation, not a confrontation," she says. "It can help to find out where they're coming from. Everyone is a human with emotions and a life outside the studio."
Juilliard students performing Hanson's work. Photo courtesy Hanson
Casting from a group of peers can feel fraught. What if your best friend isn't a good fit—or a strong enough performer—for what you have in mind? Hanson advises putting your vision first. "The people who support you will understand that you have to do what's right for your choreography," she says.
If the dancers you want aren't available, be open to what others have to offer. "I've worked with dancers I initially didn't see myself using," Pierce says. "They've always brought something surprising to the table." Stand by what you're looking for, but be ready to find the best in every dancer.
Lead with Confidence
Maddie Hanson in the studio, Photo courtesy Hanson
Even if you're new to running rehearsals, you already know what works for you when you're dancing for someone else. Call on those experiences when you're in charge.
Remember that you aren't the only one who wants the process to be productive and fulfilling. Your dancers—your classmates and colleagues—are on your side. "If you're considerate of your cast's needs and confident in your own abilities," Hanson says, "you'll have a better piece in the end."
When Espen Giljane teaches rond de jambe en dehors, the accent is always in second position, not to the front—and it's the same for en dedans.
2017 was a big year for Columbia Performing Arts Centre alumna Kaylin Maggard. Not only did she graduate from high school in Columbia, Missouri, and begin her studies at Juilliard, she won the title of Senior Female Outstanding Dancer at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, was one of 22 YoungArts finalists in dance and was named the Dance Spirit magazine Cover Model Search Winner. Now on tour with NYCDA, Maggard shares some of her CPAC teachers' best advice and training tactics that helped her achieve her goals.
A Juilliard faculty member and anatomy expert, Dowd teaches movement-based anatomy/kinesiology classes to help dancers use their bodies safely and efficiently. She recently shared her knowledge with our readers on topics like core strength and outward rotation. Dowd told DT, “I hope [my students] will go out with a lot more anatomical knowledge. I want them to become their own best teachers, so if they run into difficulties later, they will be able to figure out what to do on their own.”
ADF will present the award on June 15 at Duke University.
Watch the anatomy guru at work:
How I teach Cunningham technique
The young students at the Complexions Contemporary Ballet summer intensive exchange uncomfortable glances when Banu Ogan walks into what, for most, is their first-ever class in Cunningham technique. “Please take off your ballet shoes,” she says, after eyeing their feet. As the group—a mix of comp kids and bunheads—begins pliés and tendus in center, it’s obvious they’re struggling with the curvy, twisting Cunningham torsos. Their upper bodies are loose and disconnected, and their movement is timid.
By the time they’re moving across the floor, the dancers have gained more confidence. They lunge deeply into position and play with their balance in off-kilter shapes. They initiate leaps from stronger cores and grounded transitions. “What do my arms do when they aren’t choreographed?” says one student. “How do you know how much your body should curve?” asks another. A girl observes aloud, “The timing is different from ballet because of the weight.”
By the end of class, they’ve made marked progress with the style’s demand for technical precision. The biggest contrast, however, was evident in the chances they were willing to take. “It’s about going for the impossible,” says Ogan later, after the dancers leave. “Merce wanted dancers to not be afraid of failure.”
Ogan, a former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, now teaches at The Juilliard School and Marymount Manhattan College. She says she loved the risk Cunningham demanded in company rehearsals. “There was one time Merce wanted us to do a crazy jump. He held himself up with the barre and rattled off eight movements that had to happen: Twist, curve and make these shapes with your hands and legs just before landing,” she says, imitating an older Cunningham’s hunched shoulders and gruff voice with complete admiration. “He walked away to sit down and we all started eyeing each other. It was impossible! Then, he turned around and started chuckling. He knew it wasn’t going to work, but it was his way of trying to make something that hadn’t been done before.”
It was this fearlessness that allowed Cunningham, who passed away in 2009, to flip technique on its head. His modern approach to space (using all facings of the proscenium), timing (combining counts of say, five, seven and nine in the same portion of choreography to discover new phrasing) and chance operations (like rolling dice to determine the order steps are performed in) were radical in his day. “I try to teach a class close to Merce’s, but he had a sporadic quality I can’t re-create,” says Ogan. “Most important for me is helping students understand that the technique teaches you how to make choices, even in a non-Cunningham work. And that they should feel emboldened by that independence.” DT
“At its most basic, Cunningham technique uses a classical lower body with an upper body that is influenced by Martha Graham,” says Banu Ogan. Here, student Gia Mongell demonstrates basic and advanced versions of a Cunningham tilt. The exercise promotes core strength and correct placement, while teaching students to use weight to take risks and find power in transitions.
Photo by Matthew Murphy