BWW Review: Juilliard's 2017 Edition of NEW DANCES Celebrates the Legacy of Lawrence Rhodes
The 2017 edition of the Juilliard Dance Division's New Dances program celebrates the legacy of its creator and curator, Lawrence Rhodes, who is now artistic director emeritus after an impactful 15 years at the helm as artistic director beginning in 2002. Every annual edition offers four world premieres by emerging choreographers. Each dance is choreographed with and for one of the current Juilliard classes, and the mandate is that every student participates in order to benefit from the opportunity to be part of the creative process.
On the evening of December 7th at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater in the Juilliard School at Lincoln Center, I was entranced by the first-rate performances of the young dancers, all of whom came on stage together at the end for a joint curtain call. Clearly the Juilliard Dance Division, now in its 66th season, succeeds because of a long-standing commitment to creating world-class contemporary dancers with a curriculum that offers training in both classical ballet and modern dance.
The class of 2021 danced the opener, The Sky Seen From the Moon by multi-award-winning choreographer Bryan Arias to a mélange of music that included the unexpectedly appealing "Improvisations for Coughs and a Cell Phone" by Nils Frahm. Before the performance began, the dancers were onstage in semi-darkness with the curtain raised while they did individual warm-ups and occasionally interacted. As the house lights went down, the dancers moved seamlessly into the actual chorography. I found this ploy to be clever and engaging. Lighting design by Nicole Pearce and spare gray and black costumes by Marion Talan were integral to the success of this piece. Half of the class, six men and six women, were cast for Thursday and Saturday, with the other half cast for Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday.
Next up was This Silence, choreographed by Albanian-born Gentian Doda for the class of 2020 to original music by Joaquin Segade. The work began with the entire class in monochrome costumes clustered upstage right moving almost imperceptibly at first as a unit and then bursting apart to form patterns as they walked and ran and leaped and executed lifts. They were flawless, unaffected, and totally immersed in their work.
After the intermission, we were treated to 25 People, a delightfully humorous work by Israeli choreographer Roy Assaf performed with the requisite style and wit by the class of 2019 in nude-look leotards. At one juncture, a group caught the audience by surprise and elicited giggles as they expertly performed a typical ballet sequence including echappes, passes, and even gargouillades. The work also involved speaking by the performers, some of which was too soft to be heard clearly throughout the house but most of which was effective and often funny.
The closer, for the graduating class of 2018, was A Thousand Thoughts by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano who is currently choreographer and director of Titoyaya Dansa, the company he founded in 2006 in Spain with Veronica Garcia Moscardo. The dancers wore gender-neutral blue and black costumes and proved to be agile and expert in all that they did. The accompaniment, another musical mélange, included "Softly as I leave You" with Matt Monro singing the heartbreaking lyrics. Was the choreographer referring to the fact that these students would be leaving the school next spring? I like to think so. Four years of intense training in the Dance Division, a kind of nurturing cocoon for these hopefuls, will end when they become fledglings after graduation. I wish them the best as they embark on careers in the dance world. They are certainly well prepared!
Following the final performance of New Dances 2017, a private event will honor Lawrence (Larry) Rhodes. Taryn Kaschock Russell is now the very able Acting Artistic Director of Juilliard Dance while the search for a successor for Rhodes continues.
I encourage you to catch a performance of New Dances 2017, which runs through December 10th. You'll be glad you did!
Photo credit: Rosalie O'Connor