Reflecting on the Semester
Yesterday I completed my final class of the first semester of junior year. After my day of classes I spent the evening with a high school friend exploring the Christmas decor of the Fifth Avenue shops, and cooking Indian food. As we walked we reminisced. We talked about our shared experience in the tiny utopian society of our arts high school, and we discussed our current state as college students in NYC. My friend is a linguistics major at Columbia, and his daily life is always a fascinating topic for me to discover, for his experience is a contrast to my own artistic, bizarre life. Anyways, my evening with my friend forced me to begin to unpack some of the lessons I learned this semester.
This semester I was able to finally see my favorite dance company: Tanztheater Wuppertal. This company hails from a small town in Germany, yet it is one of the most renowned dance companies in the world. Tanztheater Wuppertal was started by the choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch. Her inventive approach to choreography melds dance and theater, to create a performance which is visceral in a physical, emotional, and visual way. The program featured two of her most famous works: Cafe Mueller, and The Rite of Spring. Cafe Mueller takes place in a stark room, filled with spindly black chairs, and inhabited by ghostlike women, frenetic men, and an old woman with skittering high heels and red hair. The Rite of Spring is a terrifying, yet beautiful dance comprised of around 16 men and women, set on a floor covered in soil. I witnessed physicality, and emotionality at its peak. I found myself shook to the core. It is a feeling of insurmountable inspiration, and hope. I say hope because I feel as though I have witnessed the most perfect expression of art I can imagine. The endless days in technique classes, conditioning, and intellectualizing dance (aka life as a preprofessional dancer), have the potential to result in a spectacle as evocative as the performance of Tanztheater Wuppertal. It was a moment when I saw all that I wanted my life and my career as a dancer to become: a depiction of humanity, and inexplicable at the same moment.
A huge development in my life this semester is my living situation. Since I went to a boarding school, I have been living in some sort of dorm situation since I was 15 years old. This year I decided to move off campus, and to live in a tiny apartment uptown with a voice major, and a fellow dance major. Taking care of a household, cooking, and commuting, are full time jobs. Yet I’ve learned the value of dorm work orders (in the form of an overflowing toilet, and burnt out light bulbs), as well as a feeling of adulthood. I love coming home to my own space, as well as being forced to leave the 100 foot radius of Juilliard. Yet there have also been hard times of getting home late, NYC apartment drama, and the pure fact that my room is 56 square feet. I’ve learned to appreciate my roommates on a new level, as wonderful people beneath their existence as wonderful artists. I have also had to enlist new levels of compromise, as well as stand up for what I value in my daily life. Having a separated home life has certainly taught me the value of getting out of my comfort zone, yet also of the tight knit community at school which is always there to support me.
This semester, I had the opportunity to work with the choreographer Roy Assaf for New Dances. The three month process was one of the most enlightening and difficult times I have faced at Juilliard. Roy involved us all intensely in the process (something which I seek in a choreographer), but also imbued the piece with his own aesthetic accent. The largest lesson I learned from the weeks of confusion, and at times frustration, was the value of being a human onstage. Before we went performed Roy gathered my class backstage and said, “People, you have already made it. You are already successful. Be you onstage, you are enough.” What he meant was that he did not want to see a trained dancer onstage, an amalgamation of perfect posture, calculated focal choices, and inherent drama. He wanted to see us communicating in an authentic way through our movement. He wanted us to be human because that it what an audience will connect to. During rehearsals he often spoke of the importance of shedding the “motivated dancer,” and instead simply revealing ourselves in the movement. I did not fully understand this until the opening night performance. I stood on the blinding white Marley floor, clothed in nothing but a nude leotard, with my mouth wide open singing a solid drone of an “Ahh” tone. I felt an overwhelming need to prove myself, to show my care, my handwork, to impress, and ultimately resort to full performance mode. Yet as the dance progressed through the strange world of singing, speaking, and screaming, I remembered Roy’s words, and for the first time I fully understood the need to simply be, to not perform onstage, but to live.