The Juilliard School presents its annual New Dances show as an opportunity for acclaimed choreographers to explore original work with some of the nation’s finest young dancers and to grant the student body time to perform on stage. Comprised of roughly two dozen dancers from around the world, each Juilliard class rivals the roster of nearly any professional company, albeit with more room to grow. For New Dances: Edition 2019 (which ran from 11 through 15 December), these students were assigned, by class, a choreographer whose work they’d premiere over a four-night run. The class of 2023 learned from alumna Amy Hall Garner; 2022 dancers undertook a piece by Jamar Roberts; members of the class of 2021 collaborated with Andrea Miller; lastly, Stephen Petronio provided movements for the outgoing seniors.
The Juilliard School’s first black dance director, Alicia Graf Mack—who assumed the position just before that start of 2018’s fall season—oversaw the pairings. The quality of the dancers’ work and the choreographers’ commitment are testaments to Graf Mack’s ability to maintain morale through a grueling curriculum and vouch for her students’ talents.
“Juilliard dancers speak the language of movement fluently, are grounded in classical ballet and modern techniques, and have structure and discipline in their bodies,” Graf Mack says of the current body of students—while also setting a benchmark for hopeful ones. “They are also creative thought leaders who can deconstruct those techniques and develop their own original artistic voices to answer challenging questions through music and movement exploration.”
While Hall Garner‘s Sight & Sound, Roberts‘s This Great Wilderness, and Petronio‘s #PrayerForNow all showcased the various strengths of the students—the complex dichotomy of strength and suppleness portrayed by the second year performers especially enchanted viewers—it was Miller‘s collaborative work, Desde, under her title Andrea Miller Movement Creation, that stole the show. The title is a stylistic choice that clarifies that Miller worked on the choreography in collaboration with the third year students, rather than prescribing them something she’d thought of prior.
On stage, an orb, an almost sun-like array of lights (conceptualized by Nicole Pearce) set the tone for a mystical, ceremonial performance. There were moments of students standing on the shoulders of others, marching toward the audience. Sometimes, students jolted from one wing to the other, seemingly centimeters away from collisions with one another at top speed. In the piece’s most intimate seconds, the dancers engaged in floor work, elongating limbs and bending their torsos to unimaginable angles. Music by Nicolas Jaar only emphasized the fervor. As it neared its end, realizations swept the theater: this piece not only warranted recognition as the most impressive performance of the evening, but as one of the most memorable to be set this year.
Images by Rachel Papo, courtesy of The Juilliard School