Q&A With Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge

Tuesday, Dec 06, 2022
Juilliard Journal
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Jermaine Spivey leads a group of dancers through choreography in a dance studio. They make a gesture with the right arm extended.
Jermaine Spivey

Alums return for a dance residency

The Dance Division launched a new artists in residency program this fall in tandem with the annual New Dances concerts, which take place December 7-11.This residency is designed to allow professional artists to spend a semester teaching, choreographing, and engaging with students. As the inaugural residents, Jermaine Spivey (BFA ’02, dance) and Spenser Theberge (BFA ’09, dance) have brought their experience working as dancers, choreographers, and educators to the classes they’re teaching at Juilliard (Ballet Lab and Solo and Duet Repertory) as well as into their choreographic process creating a world premiere New Dances work for the class of 2023. Both have been members of, guest artists with, and choreographed for leading companies around the world, including Kidd Pivot and the Forsythe Company to name just a few.

It has been “an absolute joy to have Spenser and Jermaine creating with our students while being fully integrated into our curricular program,” said Alicia Graf Mack, dean and director of the Dance Division. “They’re helping the dancers make necessary connections between their classroom material and performance work, and I love watching them bring their talent, knowledge and light to all of our spaces.”

Shortly after New Dances rehearsals began, Alexandra Tweedley, the Dance Division’s assistant director, sat down with Spivey and Theberge to discuss the residency and rehearsal process.

By Alexandra Tweedley

How does it feel to be back at Juilliard?

Spenser: It feels familiar and brand new at the same time—the people are new and the program has evolved. And it’s so exciting to feel change in a place that feels so important to my own history.

Jermaine: It’s been a great chance to put into practice things I’m now realizing I learned at school. I see and hear myself saying things that Risa Steinberg (BFA ’72, dance; faculty 1987-present), Benjamin Harkarvy (Dance Division director 1990-2002), and others were talking about while I was a student. It can take a long time for things to settle in and to understand what you’re learning, but now it feels like I’m part of the lineage.

What’s excited you most about being artists in residence?

Spenser: It’s a huge honor. Jermaine and I have been able to spend so much time in class and in process with the fourth-years—we’re really getting to know each other. We’re just a few days into New Dances, but it feels like we’re farther. And that’s because we’ve already spent so much time working together this fall that we’ve already established a shared value system and community.

Jermaine: It’s been so inspiring to see the students working in the first days of rehearsal. We’re making something on them, for them, and about them, so it’s all about what we realize together. And working with the dancers who are in their last year, when everything they do is so special, is especially fun because we both remember what that felt like. There’s a great energy and movement in the school, and it’s an honor to be here and have the opportunity to contribute. We’re extremely grateful to everyone who’s made this opportunity possible.

How has it been teaching?

Jermaine: It’s interesting to see how the students process information. We’ve been telling them to take this time they have left to practice and train on how to learn. It’s not only about becoming a better dancer but also a way to train yourself how to think. Processing and learning material is so important—this is what I learned here 20 years ago, I now realize.

Spenser: Sometimes I feel I remember exactly what it felt like on a particular day of my fourth year. Knowing when certain feelings come into the picture—excitement, nervousness, anxiousness—I have an impulse to solve that for them, but in reality, we’re all meant to go through these phases, and the fourth year has so many of them in such rapid succession. Patience is really hard, but being patient with your work, your expectations, and your opportunities turns into longevity. I wish that for them.

Spenser Theberge wearing a blue Juilliard tee standing in a dance studio, speaking to a group of dancers who are visible in the mirror behind him, and making a gesture with arms extended wide
Spenser Theberge

How has the start of the New Dances process been?

Jermaine: Fun! It feels like a lot has happened but it’s moving fast. I’m also making the music for our piece, so I’m in a constant loop of thinking about it.

Spenser: We’ve focused so far on ways of moving. Early in the process, there are so many unknowns, so I start to imagine different routes and wonder which one best serves the students and the work. That can be hard moment because there are so many avenues to go down but also an exciting one because it’s full of possibility.

Are there residency takeaways you hope to incorporate into your own artistic practice?

Spenser: I’ve really found the value of through lines and looking for what’s shared between experiences. When you zoom in on what we talk about in Ballet Lab, the rep I’m teaching in my Solo and Duet rep class, and the New Dances rehearsal process, you see connections you might not find on the surface. It’s so amazing combining these different aspects with the same group of people. It’s all a part of our language building.

Jermaine: I’m also noticing there has to be change. Everything feels very different each year of being a Juilliard student. I’m reminded that when you do something and go somewhere else, you leave some things and hold on to others. It’s good to acknowledge we can’t keep everything, and it’s important for your artistic practice and body and life changes that you continue to work with what it is versus what was.

Spenser: The dancers feel nostalgic for the experience they’ve had and nervous for what they don’t know. You can be all of those things in one moment. It’s about kindness for yourself and about realizing you can do the work as you are.

Jermaine: We’re also talking about dancing the specificity. Specificity isn’t meant to lock you in but instead be a frame to expand your artistry. We’re always working on that.

Alexandra Tweedley is assistant director of the Dance Division

Get tickets to New Dances: Edition 2022, December 7-11