Juilliard Dances Repertory

The dance division presents classics by Cunningham, Robbins and Taylor.

For its spring repertory show, the Juilliard School has prepared a program of three classics: two vastly different dances from 1958, Jerome Robbins’s N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz and Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace; and Paul Taylor’s harrowing Last Look, from 1985. Even though they’re stellar, Lawrence Rhodes, who has directed the dance division since 2002, isn’t focused only on the audience: “I keep trying to imagine a student’s life being a four-year period of time—what kind of exposure can we give them? This is one year for them, and it’s a huge variety of dancing.” Rhodes, along with three Juilliard seniors, spoke about the evening.

Summerspace Music: Morton Feldman. Staged by: Banu Ogan and Carolyn Brown
Quick shot: A work for six dancers, the stunner features Robert Rauschenberg’s pointillist decor and costume.
Rhodes: “Summerspace has been on my list forever. It takes wonderfully strong dancers to do it and it has a kind of ease and serenity that is very special.”
Donald Borror, student: “It’s probably the most interesting process in terms of assembling a dance and learning about the theories of any I’ve been involved with. When we first started, Banu taught three separate phrases to three girls that were totally unrelated; there were triplets and little hops, but whatever. She says, 'Okay, let’s try them all together,’ and the dancers did them in a flurry of movement and she was clapping and all of a sudden they all stopped at the exact same time. I thought it was the most remarkable thing in the entire world.”
On a different note: Juilliard is using Feldman’s 11-piece instrumental score rather than the frequently heard piano duet.
Borror (again): “It’s still so abstract for today and totally different than any other repertory that I’ve experienced—even the Ohad Naharin dance we performed last year, which everyone was all about, 'It’s today.’ Summerspace seems even more contemporary. And it was made in, like, 1958! This man really knew what he was doing.”

N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz Music: Robert Prince. Staged by: Gary Chryst
Quick shot: In some ways a distillation of West Side Story, the dance explores alienation among a group of young people.
Stephanie Amurao, student: “It became very apparent that to execute the movements with the same [choreographic] intention was going to be the biggest challenge—we could all do the moves and the kicks, but we learned very quickly that it wasn’t about the execution of the steps. It was about where it was coming from. We could definitely relate to the same issues. The difference was the way we reacted and interacted with each other. Now, we’re used to being really up-front and open about our feelings; Gary had to explain to us that it wasn’t always like that. Young people weren’t necessarily able to express themselves so freely.”
Dressing down: Inspired by Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi’s recent film of the ballet, the Robbins Trust requested that Juilliard alter the costumes from the originals (boxy sweatshirts and black tights) to something more modern. “It’s a very similar look,” Rhodes says. “They are color coordinated, and the dancers will wear matching sneakers, but they have black stretchy jeans instead of tights. It’s not quite so formal.”
Once a dancer: Rhodes performed the ballet from 1968 to 1970 with the Harkness Ballet.

Last Look Music: Donald York. Staged by: Linda Kent
Quick shot: A frightening dance about anguish and hopelessnesss.
Rhodes: “I love that it’s Paul Taylor in another groove. It’s very powerful and at the same time ambiguous: You don’t really know who these people are. There’s no story that develops and there are no tales to be told. It’s really about a state.”
LeBaron McClary, student: “I do the last freak-out moment in the piece, where it’s a bunch of flopping and throwing yourself onto the floor and pounding and shaking. You have to be able to let go to really experience the fullness of the movement.”
Why Juilliard is still the shit: Taylor attended a rehearsal and gave the dancers notes. “He actually said to us that his inspiration behind the piece was that it was an emotion that he had not messed with yet,” McClary says. “He had done happy pieces and sad pieces and he actually hadn’t done a piece about being present within despair.”

Juilliard Dances Repertory is at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater through Sun 28.