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Choreographers and Composers Join Forces

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Oany weekday afternoon in October on the third floor of the Juilliard building there was likely an artistic birth taking place: the beginnings of a new dance, set to new music, created, rehearsed, and performed entirely by current Juilliard students.

Left to right: Dancers Kyle Scheurich and Madeline Swenson work with choreographer David Norsworthy and composer Aaron Severini on preparing their piece, one of the six works on this year’s ChoreoComp program, which takes place on December 2 and 3. 

(Photo by Juilliard Journal)

Choreographer Lilja Ruriksdottir (left) works with dancers Kristen Bentz and John Harnage on the piece she and composer Jan Stoneman are creating, which draws inspiration from East Indian rhythms. ChoreoComp takes place December 2 and 3.

(Photo by Juilliard Journal)

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These students are a part of the semester-long Choreographers and Composers course, informally known as ChoreoComp. Each year, through a competitive application process, six pairs of third-year Juilliard dance students collaborate with mostly third-year composition majors on the creation of six original works for dance and music. The course will culminate in four public performances of all six pieces, each involving multiple dancers and live musicians, to be held on December 2 and 3.

This year, for the first time, the performances will take place in the intimate Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater rather than the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (or, before that, Alice Tully Hall). Composer and ChoreoComp co-teacher Daniel Ott told The Journal that Sharp restricted the number of placements possible for musicians while Willson “allows much more flexibility in terms of how music is going to function, not only aurally, but visually.” Another advantage of the smaller theater, he added, is that every seat will be akin to being in the front row. The productions this year will also involve less elaborate costumes and lighting:  “By concentrating less on the theatrical aspects of the performance, [students] are able to focus more on the creative aspects,” Ott said. 

David Norsworthy, one of the six student choreographers, said that the new venue “offers some new possibilities, but also some complications.” His composer counterpart, first-year Aaron Severini, added, “The [Willson] theater is very intimate, so I thought the sound should have an intimate quality to it.”

Severini is no stranger to the dance world. A School of American Ballet alumnus, he danced with the New York City Ballet for a number of years before changing career paths and deciding to become a composer, and his experiences as a dancer greatly influence the way he writes music. “I can’t help but look at it from a dancer’s perspective,” Severini told The Journal. “Even though I don’t know what the choreography is going to look like, I still listen to my music and see what it would be like to move to.”

Norsworthy, noting that he had never had the opportunity to collaborate with a composer before, told The Journal, “The realm of possibility is larger. You start with a blank slate, and you can talk about ideas without having the limitation of needing to find music to go along with your ideas.”

Composer Jan Stoneman is writing his piece for electric bass, amplified acoustic guitar, and two percussionists. “We’re not expected to bring the ChoreoComp pieces into our [for-credit composition] lessons every week, so I thought this was a great place to experiment,” he told The Journal

Stoneman’s choreographer partner, Lilja Ruriksdottir, decided to take the class because she was intrigued by the challenge of choreographing a new work. “I just wanted to see what would happen if I tried,” she told The Journal. One of the challenges she said she has encountered is managing to convey everything that she and Stoneman want to communicate. “It’s a struggle to know how to make movement do that.” 

“It’s a very different process,” Stoneman said about composing for the collaboration. “When I’m working on my own, I have to find the motivation on my own, and when I’m working with a choreographer, there is no issue of motivation because we’re working together. It’s a conversation with a very open-minded and creative person, whereas usually it’s me and the blank paper.”

Stoneman and Ruriksdottir’s piece draws inspiration from East Indian rhythms, while Severini and Norsworthy’s collaboration deals with the feeling of vast spaces. “Every year presents its own unique artists, works, and personalities,” Ott said. The other composer-choreographer pairs whose work will be presented are Yuri Boguinia and Jason Collins, Jared Miller and Ingrid Kapteyn, Jules Matton and Garth Johnson, and Sayo Kosugi and Lea Ved.

 

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