Honoring Female Composers and Choreographers

Monday, Feb 28, 2022
Juilliard Journal
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A dancer is mid-air while five others watch during a rehearsal in a rehearsal studio
Fourth-year Jada German (BFA ’22) in an early rehearsal for return to patience

This year, Juilliard Dance celebrates the 70th anniversary of our founding, by Martha Hill in 1951. Hill was a true visionary who set the standard of dance education by placing equal emphasis on ballet and modern dance forms. By doing so, she engendered the model for what I call the “hybrid” dancer, who embodies various styles and movement ideas while contributing to the work through scholastic research and discussion. Following the legacy of Martha Hill leading the field, this year’s Spring Dances—our annual repertory production, which runs March 23–26—not only demonstrates the versatility of our program, but also celebrates female-identifying, groundbreaking choreographers and composers.

Spring Dances consists of three works. Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset/Reset is a contemporary response to Brown’s own iconic 1983 work Set and Reset. The dancers who are performing it were tasked with learning Brown’s original phrases and resetting the structure of the work, making it unique to Juilliard in 2022. The second dance, Shelter (1988) by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, which was premiered by Urban Bush Women, challenges the dancers to work as a collective to share stories of displacement and faith in oneself to push forward. And the final work, Aszure Barton’s return to patience (which premiered as part of Juilliard’s New Dances in 2015), set to music composed by another trailblazing artist, Creative Associate Caroline Shaw, reminds us to savor the rich beauty that lies in simplicity.

This Spring Dances demonstrates the versatility of our program and celebrates female-identifying, groundbreaking choreographers and composers

At Juilliard Dance, we strive to reach a deeper understanding of the genius of these choreographers by exploring their work and movement philosophies. Thank you to Trisha Brown Dance Company, Jawolle Willa Jo Zollar and Urban Bush Women, and Aszure Barton for taking such care of the education of our dancers and for trusting us with your greatest treasures.
—Alicia Graf Mack is the dean and director of the Dance Division

Each fall, the second-, third-, and fourth-years audition for the Spring Dances pieces. A few days after rehearsals began, in late January, three dancers wrote about their experience thus far.

return to patience

By Jada German
Walk past almost any dance studio and you may hear “process over product.” In our first rehearsals for Aszure Barton’s return to patience, this was definitely the theme. Her rehearsal director, Jonathan “Jojo” Alsberry (BFA ’06, dance), explained how vital this mindset is and that the piece demands “scrupulous sensitivity” in the entire body. “There is an attention to detail and form, and a way of working,” he said. “With Aszure, it’s never about the end product, it’s always about being in process. The dancers will be in process constantly and learn to be patient with it. It will continue to evolve, and in that evolution is where the beauty lies.”

Although return to patience was made pre-pandemic, it is being molded as our cast grows into it. In the time we’re in now, everyone seems to be in a mad rush to get back to work, back to “normal,” back to creating at a rapid pace. This piece holds a vital reminder to be patient and functions as an occasion to come together, to breathe together. The performers and audience can build a collective experience, sit with each other, and return to patience.
—Jada German is a fourth-year dancer

Group of dancers rehearsing in a dance studio while other dancers look on
Front: third-year Connor Freeman and fourth-year Nicole Leung and back: second-years Mykiah Goree and Kailei Sin in rehearsal for Set and Reset/Reset

Set and Reset/Reset

By Lindsay Phillips
In the first rehearsals for Set and Reset/Reset, we began to learn Trisha Brown’s choreography and explore her movement language through improvisation. I’ve never danced her work before, and I’m realizing her choreographic aesthetic—which has a simplistic and pedestrian approach—challenges my current movement understanding.

In most of my dance experience, I’ve performed works that have pushed my body vigorously, demanding a greater range of motion and use of extremities. Now I must surrender these tendencies to embrace the minimalism of Brown’s work, reminding myself not to embellish or execute the movement. Rather, the movement must be experienced simply, for the volume of the work is found within us and the structural choices we’ll make together as the piece builds.

After we learn the rest of the material, we will begin to rearrange the movement through an improvisational exploration. We’ve already begun to experiment with this, and the whole intention of the movement changes once it is shared with others. What was a simple phrase will develop into a form of communication. As we continue to immerse in this process, making ourselves available to listen and respond to one another, we will ultimately achieve a version of this work that is unique to our cast—embracing both Trisha Brown’s voice and ours as dancers.
—Lindsay Phillips is a third-year dancer

Shelter

Two dancers are in mid-air while a third dancer looks on during rehearsal in a dance studio
Third-years Raven Joseph and Matthew Johnson in an early rehearsal for Shelter

By Raven Joseph
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s masterwork Shelter (1988) is the first existing piece of repertory choreographed by a Black female choreographer to be selected for Spring Dances. This is a historic moment for our school, and I am beyond humbled to take part in it. When I entered the studio to audition for Shelter in the fall, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar stood right in front of me and shared her motivations for creating this signature work with all of us. Her words inspired me, and I secretly hoped that I would be chosen to dance this piece!

Shelter is a response to the struggles of homelessness and displacement. It was originally set to bring awareness to the homeless who lived on the streets of New York City, but in its current iteration, Shelter explores the crisis of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Shelter was the first of the three dances I auditioned for that day, and I was anxious to see what Ms. Zollar had in store yet ready for whatever came my way. From the very start of rehearsals, with our high kicks marching forward with such power and the sound of the drums filling the room, our spines responding in unison, I knew being in this piece would be a once in a lifetime experience.

That feeling was new to me; not in life, but in the Juilliard environment, and I loved every second of it. I felt seen and represented in a way that I had not often experienced during my time at Juilliard. To be chosen to perform this work of art this spring brings me nothing but joy. There are so many elements I have yet to explore with Shelter, and as we continue to go through these rehearsals, I am ready to be a part of the change I wish to see.
—Raven Joseph is a third-year dancer

>Click here to watch a preview of Spring Dances. In this video, Juilliard Dancers rehearse under the guidance of choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and stagers Stacy Spence, Cecily Campbell, and Jonathan Alsberry.