Juilliard Dances Repertory has become an annual spring extravaganza featuring students performing classics from the dance repertoire. This year’s edition, which runs from April 3 to 7, kicks off with Murray Louis’s Four Brubeck Pieces (1984), a collaboration with Jazz Studies, which is followed by Sunset (1983) by Juilliard alum Paul Taylor and William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced (2000). Here three of the dancers write about the pieces: third-year Eve Jacobs, fourth-year Ingrid Kapteyn, and third-year Magdalyn Segale. Jacobs is dancing in Brubeck and Kapteyn and Segale are in One Flat Thing.
Four Brubeck Pieces
Four Brubeck Pieces is a modern dance piece about “the joy of dancing to jazz,” according to faculty member Janis Brenner, who performed at the premiere, in 1984 at New York City Center, and who is assisting Alberto “Tito” del Saz in the restaging at Juilliard. Choreographed by Murray Louis, the original piece showcased an eclectic partnership between the Murray Louis Dance Company and the Dave Brubeck Quartet. At Juilliard, it’s a collaboration between the Dance Division and Jazz Studies. “It’s really about the musicians and the dancers jazzing each other up throughout the piece [and] spurring each other on,” Brenner toldThe Journal.
Since the music will be performed live by a jazz quartet, the dancers (I’m one of 16 and we’re divided into two casts) can’t expect to rely on musical cues as we would with recorded music. Russell Gloyd, Brubeck’s longtime manager and conductor, visited a rehearsal in February and asked us to take an oath. We raised our right hands and repeated after him, “I do solemnly swear that I know I will be working with jazz musicians. This means that the music will sound different every time, but I know it will be the same length.”
The musicians will improvise at times, but each of the four pieces—“Unsquare Dance,” “Koto Song,” “Three to Get Ready,” and “Take Five”—must adhere to a set number of measures so as to remain in sync with the choreography. And while the choreography is set, the dancers will have some freedom of interpretation. When Louis created Four Brubeck Pieces, the eight dancers all choreographed their own solos for “Take Five,” the finale, and the solos showcased each dancer’s personality and distinct virtuosity. For the restaging, del Saz and Brenner will encourage the Juilliard cast to mold their own concluding solos.
When the programming for Juilliard Dancers Repertory was announced a year ago, we all hoped that Brubeck could attend on opening night, but, sadly, he died in December, just before his 92nd birthday. Despite the misfortune that he can’t join us in April, everyone involved in the project is taking this wonderful opportunity to honor the jazz legend’s life and celebrate the joys of his music. —Eve Jacobs
Perhaps no dance piece offers as much potential for downright contradictory interpretations as the second one in this spring’s dance program, Sunset, the at-once frolicsome and foreboding classic by American dance pioneer Paul Taylor (B.S. ’53, dance).
Longtime dance faculty member and Taylor expert Linda Kent (B.S. ’68, dance) is setting the piece. Taylor entrusted her to begin restaging his works on ensembles worldwide just two years after she started dancing in his company (she stayed for 14), and her understanding of the poetry inherent in his choreography clearly runs deep. “What I love about Paul’s work is its layers,” Kent told The Journal, going on to describe how gracefully his pieces set contrasting elements and sentiments one on top of the next to create worlds ripe with suggestion. And while Taylor’s work allows for interpretations as varied as his audiences, Kent explained that she had never heard him so much as hint that one reading is more accurate, more intentional than any other. “He never told us which was right,” she said.
Two casts of 10 students will perform the work here. What first appears to be an afternoon’s playful meeting of young adults in a park (gently indicated by designer Alex Katz’s abstract branches and fencelike set pieces) shifts ominously when the men, who wear red berets, take on regimented formations reminiscent of soldiers’ ranks, or cemetery rows. In a particularly haunting middle section accompanied by recorded loon calls, Kent sees the “moving tableau” of bodies as a “nostalgic and bittersweet” look at what “could be the girls’ and boys’ last time to ever dance together” before the boys go off to war.
In Kent’s mind, “The piece does not describe specific events” so much as amorphous “memories,” with its tender and mutable atmosphere of reverie softening the clear-cut fact of history. Taylor drew much of his double-edged poetry from his experiences growing up during World War II, but, as Kent reminds us, war is still an ever-present part of people’s lives. She connects Taylor’s imagery to her own experience—her vague uneasiness at any planes flying overhead when she was 5, her husband’s being a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, the R.O.T.C. station posted outside of her son’s high school. “Young people are still cannon, or now I should say I.E.D., fodder,” she said. With its ever-shifting layers, Sunset is as eloquent a commentary today as it was at its 1983 premiere.
Kent looks forward to giving new audiences a chance to “lose themselves” in what she calls Sunset’s “banquet for the eyes and ears.” She knows the piece so intimately that when she imitated the guttural coos of the soundtrack on an island near Seattle years ago, real loons called back to her. No doubt her dancers and audiences, like those loons, will feel a visceral connection to her restaging of Taylor’s work. —Ingrid Kapteyn
One Flat Thing, reproduced
The prolific William Forsythe choreographed One Flat Thing, reproduced on Ballett Frankfurt 2000 with an original score of electronic music by Thom Willems. In its simplest form, it’s an ensemble piece involving 17 dancers who move individually and in small groups, aligning themselves through a fascinatingly complicated cueing system. One dancer rotates his arm in a particularly Forsythian fashion, and spins like water down a drain, indicating that another dancer should enter the space. She circles her leg in the air, just as he arcs his elbow. The two rounded movements align to create a relationship between the two dancers. For the attentive audience member, One Flat Thing, reproduced is a feast of visual coordination. Forsythe has called this element of the piece counterpoint, adding that “a certain intermittent alignment of flows and forms add interest for the viewer.”
Oh, yeah, and all of this rotating, arcing, cueing, and aligning happens on a stage that’s otherwise crowded with 20 tables each 3-by-6 feet, and the dancers duck below, swing over, and squeeze between these impressive set pieces.
Since its premiere, the dance has taken several new forms. Its density, physical difficulty, and Forysthe’s own vast interests have led to a groundbreaking expansion of the work into such varied arenas as film, animation, video abstraction, graphic design, and architecture/furniture design. Forsythe collaborated with Maria Palazzi and Norah Zuniga Shaw, researchers from Ohio State University, to create an interactive Web site called Synchronous Objects that sheds light on Forsythe’s choreographic structures and makes their patterns more perceptible. The site pulls apart the dance, and uses video footage and Forsythe’s own voice to narrate the complicated choreographic structures.
The prospect of performing this piece is an honor, an excitement, and a question mark. How will we learn such individually complicated movement material? What will it be like to dance to live electronic music? How on earth will we all fit in a studio with 20 tables? Come to Peter Jay Sharp Theater to find out! —Magdalyn Segale