DanceView Times, New York edition
New Dances: An Experiment
Dances at Juilliard Edition 2003
As the program's title implies, this is the start of an intriguing new annual project of Juilliard's Dance Division. Four choreographers were invited to create new pieces, each working with one of the four classes. Unlike the annual February performances by the Dance Division, the cast of each work was not selected by audition. The choreographers were asked to use all the students in their class, either as the full cast or by double-casting the work.
Lawrence Rhodes, director of the Dance Division, explained in a Juilliard Journal article that the impetus for the project was his realization that not all of the student body had the opportunity to work with the choreographers who came in to create dances for the student concerts, or to perform on the Juilliard Theater stage. He established this new program "since I believe that being a part of the creative process and performing are essential to every dancer's education."
Only one of the choreographers took the option of double-casting. Thaddeus Davis, a former Dance Theater of Harlem dancer who has also performed with Donald Byrd and Dance Galaxy, divided the Class of 2007 (freshmen) in half, creating Beyond Two for a cast of twelve. He did not make things easy for them. The music he chose, from four different sources, including Nine Inch Nails, featured a lot of plaintive, spare piano or string notes and edgy percussion and left a lot of open aural space. And he gave them movement that much of the time seemed to cry out for pointe shoes and a more stretched-out line than most of them could muster.
Wearing simple, sporty maroon tops and navy pants or skirts, the dancers launched into Davis' moves with a tough, aggressive air—familiar from many neo-Forsythean works one sees these days. The men seem to dominate this freshman class, and David gave them opportunities to shine. He made imaginative use of the overall stage picture and his groupings and sequences remained unpredictable. But as the work proceeded through its four sections, he had a problem with inconclusive endings; the action tended to just peter out, leaving an aimless rather than strong impression.
Jacqulyn Buglisi, who choreographed Splendor… on the Class of 2006 (sophomores), is very much a Daughter of Graham (with whose company she danced prominently for many years), but one with deeply humanistic bent. Her strong sense of craftsmanship held this expansive, heartfelt, lyrical work together, as did the impassioned, surging score by Daniel Brewbaker.
When the curtain rose, the color and style of the aqua costumes immediately recalled Paul Taylor's Airs, and several times Buglisi incorporated lifts that evoked that beautiful dance. What was impressive about Splendor… was not that it was wildly original, but that it drew on a noble modern-dance lineage and created something vivid and fresh. Brewbaker's opening chords were annunciatory, and Buglisi's choreography for her 24 dancers was similarly evocative of noble aspiration. The dancers surged on and across the stage in waves of couples, arriving to perform movement that flowed with the rhythms of their breath. Their beautifully uplifted torsos communicated pride and aspiration.
Buglisi uses the Graham vocabulary in a more streamlined, at times speeded-up mode. Some of the choreography alluded to Diversion of Angels, with big, open lifts and expressions of tenderness between the couples. The sheer size and expansiveness of the work was a pleasure to behold, as was the control Buglisi had of her materials. There is nothing iffy about the conclusion of her dance: it ended with a triumphant final pose that featured several sculptural lifts.
The ubiquitous Dwight Rhoden (whose work could also be seen during the same week at performances by Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Alvin Ailey troupe) did not do anything new or different in his The Clearing (Excerpts), but he clearly gave the Class of 2005 (juniors) plenty of challenges. His taut, harsh movement calls for a powerful attack and endless extensions. As is his tendency, he assembled several unrelated musical selections as his score, this time with an emphasis on drumming. The 16 dancers wore pale green and brown tops and tight trunks, along with soft slippers.
Rhoden fills the stage with intense, busy action, but gives it very little coherence, not leaving much to hold on to once it's over. The impact of the extremely tall, lanky, imposing Corey Scott-Gilbert was memorable, but the yanking, entwining duet he performed with a woman whose blonde hair swung loosely left a bland impression.
It may have been the diminishing returns of seeing one large-cast, stage-filling work after another, but Zvi Gotheiner's Easy for You to Say, the closing work for the 18 members of the senior class, felt annoyingly quirky and indulgent. What began with a certain folk flavor appropriate to the propulsive rhythms of Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G Minor—two lines of dancers facing each other, some early heel-and-toe steps—went on to include dancers "la la la"-ing for no apparent reason. Gotheiner's movement is robust, often unpredictable, and the dancers came across as fully engaged in what they were doing. But in this case, the "process," rather than the performance, aspect of New Dances at Juilliard—which is a very valid and valuable one—seems to have been fulfilled to a greater extent.
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