In August, Juilliard’s Dance Division made its debut at the Edinburgh International Festival, where 24 students and recent graduates performed José Limón’s Waldstein Sonata, Nacho Duato’s Gnawa, and Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31. Administrative assistant Lauren Brotz accompanied the dancers and a handful of administrators, including Dean Ara Guzelimian; Larry Rhodes, artistic director; Francisco Martinez, faculty member and tour ballet master; and Keith Michael, production coordinator and tour production manager.
Despite delays in New York, we landed in Edinburgh on Thursday, August 23, only an hour behind schedule and were greeted by our festival artist liaison, Ernesto Berardino. After months of planning this tour together, it was really great to finally put a face to the e-mail address. Once we’d dropped our bags at the Holiday Inn Express—across the street from the 3,000-seat Edinburgh Playhouse, where we’d be debuting in just 48 hours—we explored this beautiful city and its cuisine (no haggis for me, thanks).
Rehearsals began on Friday, so after completing tour particulars and squeezing in a little more sightseeing and shopping, I headed to the theater to check in on the production crew, who were very hard at work.
After introductions, a safety walk, and a tour, the students had a run-through and I sat with Larry, Francisco, and eventually Alexander to take notes for each piece; I liked being able to see the works from the choreographers’ and stagers’ eyes. While we ran out of stage time during Alexander’s piece, he was thrilled with the energy on stage and Larry and Francisco agreed that Waldstein and Gnawa looked incredible, too.
At the dress rehearsal, which was on Saturday, the media crew was very appreciative of our generosity, and they told us we were the “dance event to see,” which was exciting. A much-needed break after the dress allowed everyone time to eat, shower, sleep, rehearse—and me to do that plus confirm details about the reception after the performance. We reconvened at the theater at 6 p.m., and for me, the excitement began to really build as I watched the company take to the stage for their opening-night class. With my chin on my hands atop the red velvet balcony railing, my mind wandered to the first time my parents took me to a dance concert and I was overwhelmed by how much I loved the feel of an empty house just hours before show time. The sounds of a production team moving equipment around, finalizing light and sound cues, the smell of stage curtains, and the sight of dancers going through their pre-performance rituals. And then I realized I still needed to change clothes before the performance, so I ran back to the dressing room, changed, and picked up my tickets and my phone.
Opening night was one of the strongest performances I’d seen from this group, and the boisterous applause and bravos went on for quite some time. Before long, though, we were on our way to the City Chambers for a reception (see article at left). There were nice speeches, many photos, a wonderful time—and then the party was over and, after some pleading, I was finally able to get everyone back on the bus and back to the hotel.
On Sunday after tending to tour-related duties, I enjoyed my last few hours of free time by visiting Edinburgh Castle and then went back to the hotel to rest and get ready for our call, which was in three hours. On my way through the hotel lobby, I learned that third-year dancer John Harnage hurt his ankle, and while he was keeping it wrapped, iced, and elevated, it was still pretty swollen and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to dance. I was about to start making calls when Keith, Larry, and Ara all appeared at once. John was instructed to head over to the theater and see what he could or couldn’t do (unfortunately, the answer turned out to be couldn’t), so Ernesto Breton stepped in to honor his role as cover in Waldstein. After a quick warm-up at the barre, Ernesto took to his laptop to reacquaint himself with John’s role and then he and John engaged in an intense but efficient one-on-one session. They were able to run through nearly the full piece, and Larry encouraged Ernesto’s partner, Michele, and the entire cast, to “talk to him, let him know what to do, help him through it.” It’s never easy, but injuries happen, and it was incredible to see how the company and cast pulled through. And then, as the dancers walked out the stage door, they were greeted by a handful of fans wanting autographs. This was apparently a first for our dancers, but they easily rose to the occasion.
On the last day, following yet another fantastic performance and our final curtain call, we headed out for a farewell cast dinner. The production team arrived late as they were striking the stage and laundering costumes in preparation for our departure early the next morning. With each arrival, huge rounds of applause and screams of appreciation filled the restaurant. In the meantime, Ara and Larry made speeches thanking everyone for their extremely hard work, attention to detail, and poise in making this tour a wonderful success, and Larry also said final goodbyes to the recent graduates who made the journey. It was an emotional evening to say the least, and the final packing up and trip home were a blur.
Back at Juilliard, I realized that I learned quite a bit in a short time. I was able to work with members of my division in ways not part of my daily job, I met and connected with members of other departments, and got to know everyone beyond their Juilliard personas. All in all, it was incredible. My only question now is, “Where to next?”