Halfway around the globe—unable to understand a single spoken word, and thousands of miles from any piece of familiar ground—I had never felt more connected to the world. It was there in Dresden, Germany, that seven of my classmates and I gained perspective on our lives.
Dresden is a living billboard for perseverance. Completely destroyed during World War II, the city has been rebuilt to precisely match the original design, right down to the type of stone used for the city’s buildings. Walking through the winding streets, I felt that Dresden seemed to speak. The history was literally palpable. As I stood in the Zwinger Palace courtyard, tears filled my eyes because, for the first time, I wasn’t aimlessly wandering through life. I had stepped into the hundreds of years of history of that building; I had stepped into a lineage. In that moment I became a part of history and, for the first time, I felt connected to a world upon which my feet were planted. My gratitude for having the chance to experience such an instant was overwhelming.
It was the Palucca Schule in Dresden—the only school of fine arts in Germany devoted exclusively to the study of dance—which invited Juilliard, as well as London’s Royal Ballet School, the Rotterdam Dance Academy, and Russia’s Vaganova Ballet Academy, for a week of classes and showings to commemorate the grand reopening of its dance institution. Juilliard students Aaron Carr, Denys Drozdyuk, Carlye Eckert, Anila Mazhari-Landry, Kyle Robinson, and I performed works by José Limón, Martha Graham, and Paul Taylor, as well as original compositions by Juilliard student Lucie Baker, Drozdyuk (with music by Vassilis Varvaresos, a doctoral candidate in piano), and myself. We were thrilled by the reception of our presentation. The audience’s energy was exhilarating, and we could feel their investment in the development of every piece. Following our performance, one of the young Royal Ballet students confessed to us that she once had hated modern dance, but what we did changed her mind. Artists have the gift of being able to change a person’s perspective, be it about art or something else. If we can communicate to one person in an audience of hundreds, that is enough. I often lose that perspective, and I was glad to be reminded of it. I believe that communicative power to be the core motivation in pursuing a career in the arts.
After a week of sausage and Oktoberfest beer (don’t worry; we were all “of age” in Germany), it was time to return home. Our experience had been full of so many wonderful memories. We met new friends from every corner of Europe, shared techniques and philosophies with exceptional dancers and teachers, and saw some of the most beautiful architecture imaginable. Everything was detailed with golden molding and dramatic sculptures. Although all of these memories are remarkable, it’s the fleeting moments I will remember most of all, for I believe that’s what we live for as artists—those moments that are ripe with potential and sensation, anticipating any possibility. This is what performance is all about. The impermanence of these moments is what keeps us striving to create more, to keep art alive. I’ll remember Dresden for the beauty of the city—but most of all, for those fleeting moments of potential my friends and I shared in front of the audience.
As we flew off from our week in Germany, we passed over rolling green hills and tiny villages that really look the way they do in the movies. I’m always very reflective on a plane. Something about the altitude—being able to see it all, in a sense—really puts things in perspective. I left Dresden not with a better perception of who I am, but rather of who I’m not. Spending time in class with the Royal Ballet students, I can safely share that I won’t be pursuing a career in classical ballet—and it doesn’t feel bad to know that that’s not who I am. I’ve yet to define myself artistically, but I think that’s O.K. I feel more able to experiment and try things in different ways. I don’t feel pressured to fit a mold or perfect an ideal. Instead, I’m interested in perfecting my own personal artistry, which is mine alone. It is, in fact, O.K. to be an individual—and that was one of the first things I learned in Dresden. True, I don’t have it all figured out, but maybe that adaptability, that constant search for identity, is what art is all about.
My friends and I would like to extend our sincerest thanks to the Dance Division’s artistic director, Lawrence Rhodes, and faculty member Risa Steinberg, who accompanied us on this trip, and to The Juilliard School for making it possible to attend such an amazing event.