On Stage at Juilliard: The Martin Luther King Legacy

by Kerry Warren, 4th-year actor

At Juilliard it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the pressure to give your best performance. As a drama student, I remember looking at the strenuous class schedule every week and wondering how I would save my energy for rehearsal at the end of the day. I was always rehearsing for something in the Drama Division, be it Shakespeare, Chekov, or a Lorraine Hansberry scene. Yet as the weeks went on during my first year I kept having the urge to collaborate with people outside the drama halls. I became curious as I watched a ballet class on my way to Liberal Arts. I would stop on the fourth floor and listen to a musician practice their scales.

This curiosity led me to a dancer who introduced me to the Black Student Union and the Martin Luther King Celebration. I still marvel how first year I performed choreography by a fourth-year dancer and then sang in a choir led by a Jazz Trumpet student. Year after year I find students creating their own work from dance solos, reenactments of speeches, or honoring the black composers who rarely get recognition.

This year I decided to perform a speech by Coretta Scott King. After participating in the celebration for the past three years, I noticed that the woman behind this great man had never been recognized on stage. I was determined to honor her during the celebration in hopes that a curiosity for her story would emerge. I remember going over a certain line in the speech, “My husband arrived somewhere to his strength and inspiration from the love of all people who shared his dream, that I too now come hoping you might strengthen me for the lonely road ahead.” This idea of sharing a dream I related to, and when I read those words, I could not help but apply that metaphor to the meaning of Juilliard’s MLK celebration.

Every student at Juilliard has the dream to be a master at their trade. And I would also say that during their time in school each student has felt lonely in the struggles of conservatory life. This loneliness, I have found to dissipate when I reached out to fellow students. The MLK celebration created an opportunity for me to share and collaborate with different divisions. Which can be refreshing in between hectic semesters at school. It was a chance for me to create as an individual and be a part of a community of different artists. I got to perform pieces that I was passionate about and without the pressure of impressing faculty. Even the Sunday dress rehearsal had its perks. Laurie Carter, VP and General Counsel/Executive Director of Jazz Studies, gets the best fried chicken this side of New York and there are always left overs. Who doesn’t enjoy good food and the company of new people after a dress rehearsal?

Then something special happened after the performance this January. An alumni pulled me aside and thanked me for my work. He was a part of the first Martin Luther King Celebration, and was proud to see it in it’s 25th revival. I felt connected to something bigger at that moment. I was also a part of a tradition and a remembrance, that many before me and after me will continue. I always felt it important to honor my history and to pay homage to those that paved the way, and I believe that’s the main reason why I participate in MLK. However, that alumni reminded me that I also perform to keep that narrative alive. I mean, I chose to be an actor because I want to tell incredible stories, to work with extraordinary artists, and to make an impact with my art. Through MLK I think all the above is possible.

Introducing the Juilliard Experience

It’s interesting – before coming to work for the School, I didn’t know much more about Juilliard than its word-of-mouth reputation. Like many other people, I regarded Juilliard as one of the world’s greatest performing arts schools, and really didn’t know why. The name JUILLIARD has a powerful connotation, and is a name to which many young artists aspire.

Now, with my Admissions hat on, it’s my job to know the ins and outs of Juilliard’s one-of-a-kind education. I come to work every day and join a community that works tirelessly to create as many experiences for its highly ambitious students as possible. It is Juilliard’s mission to provide the highest caliber of artistic education so that students may reach their fullest potential as artists, leaders, and global citizens.

I take a step back every day and wonder what it is that a prospective Juilliard student should learn about the School. Since September, we’ve been talking to our applicants all about the process for admission – and believe me, we’ll keep doing it – but what about the Juilliard experience? What happens once you actually become a student here that gives Juilliard such a notable name? What kind of life can you expect as a Juilliard student? What does it mean to be an artist, leader and global citizen, and how does this education prepare you?

We’ve made it our goal to answer these questions right here on the Admissions Blog. For the next seven weeks you’ll hear directly from current students about everything from student-produced performance activities and cross-division collaborations to professional development and community outreach programs. Over the next two weeks we’ll commence this theme with two topics: On Stage at Juilliard and Things I Didn’t Know About Juilliard.


My Dance Audition – A Day Unlike Any Other

by Leslie Williams, 2nd-year dancer

Usually I tend to “enjoy” auditions. Because of my strict classical ballet background, doing summer program auditions at the start of the year was like blinking…it was just something you did. I had spent summers at Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet and Carolina Ballet all based on tough summer auditions and received partial scholarships at each. It was something that I knew the ins-and-outs of. I knew that ballet program auditions consisted of a ballet technique class, with maybe some pointe or partnering at the end. Before the audition everyone would “stretch,” or rather, compete to see who was more flexible. But I knew that the Juilliard audition was going to be different. An audition that lasted ALL DAY with five different parts including an interview at the end seemed mind-blowing and intense to me!

I traveled from North Carolina to Miami for my audition. It was nice to get away and have 80 degree weather for a bit. In NC, in the middle of February, that’s hard to come by. The night before my audition was slightly stressful. Thinking back on it – who am I kidding – it was horrible! I had forgotten that we had to wear all black for the audition and of all the leotard choices that I packed in my suitcase for the big day, NONE of them were black. And to make it worse, this fatal realization came upon me around 8pm, when stores were starting to close. My family drove me to all the dance stores we knew of in the area, but they were all closed. We drove to all the places we could think of that would sell dance wear but there was nothing appropriate for an audition. We went to Target right before closing time. The dance wear section looked as bleak as ever. A young lady was standing next to us.  She looked like someone that knew about dance wear and at this point I was desperate. I told her my problem. She said, “Oh, you’re auditioning for Juilliard. That’s amazing! They’re actually having a sale on dance wear at American Apparel!” Aside from being totally surprised at the fact that they even sold dance wear at American Apparel, I was overjoyed by this pure miracle that had sprung upon me.

So there I was on audition day, standing in line for registration wearing, not Yumiko or Danskin, but my American Apparel leotard.  The leotard was on the verge of crossing the line between high-cut and HIGH-CUT, and throughout the audition I made “adjustments” to avoid a massive wedgie. I pushed forward – happy that I made it to the audition, and in dress code.  (That’s all that mattered at that point). I walked in and set myself down in a dark corner of the warm-up studio. It was the first time in a while that I had been to an audition where I didn’t know or recognize someone. Walking into the audition studio was a bit surreal. The studio was completely black with an awkwardly positioned short mirror at the front. In front of that was the panel table, and there sat Risa Steinberg, Larry Rhodes, and Alphonse Poulin. I looked at Risa, a petite lady with a blonde pixie haircut. She seemed nice.  Larry stared at everyone warming up with a very stern and professional look on his face. His demeanor screamed “I am the Director.” I could tell that Alphonse was our ballet teacher just by the way he was postured in the chair.

The ballet class was more challenging than I expected; lots of developpe’s and rond de jambe’s that I wasn’t expecting to hold for more than a four count…we held them for seven. It also didn’t help that Larry decided to walk around with a clipboard. It was a norm for the panel to walk around and stare at you with clipboards, but at the EXACT moment when I was doing a very slow and difficult grand rond de jambe en l’air, Larry was standing directly in front of me. I don’t have the best extension in the world so all I could do was try to keep my hip down and point my biscuit foot as hard as I could. He walked away. I exhaled. Overall, the ballet class went really well. We then moved on to the modern portion of the audition that was taught by Risa. I really enjoyed her class. I thought to myself how I would enjoy having her as a teacher if I got in.

Finally, the first cut. I remember it feeling like the longest wait ever. We all anxiously gathered in the hallway around Katie Friis, Associate Director of Admissions, as she called out numbers…one by one. Oh boy here we go….

My number was the third to the last to be called. When Katie called it out my mother screamed so loudly they could hear her all the way back in North Carolina.  We began to go over our solos. I watched one of the boys whip out at least ten turns and finish with an illusion. I tried to stay calm. I saw all of the parents trying to crowd around a small crack of the studio’s back door to get a peek at what was going on inside. It was my turn to go. I walked in and it felt surreal all over again. The studio space seemed much larger, now that it was without 100 other dancers. I was slightly nervous, but was pretty confident in the solo that I had choreographed. I gave it my all. I put my whole heart into dancing for them! When I finished, I was satisfied. I looked at the faces as I walked out, and they all had smiles on them. That was all the validation I needed.

It’s time for cut number two…my number is called. Everyone was unsure of what we were going to do for the next portion of the audition. I felt that since we were all basically in the dark about what was going to happen, there was no need to be nervous. We went in and Risa taught us a combination from the Juilliard repertoire, and I really enjoyed it. She took it pretty slow with everyone until they got it, and gave us individual feedback on what we needed to think about or fix. Even though it was basically a test to see how well we could retain information and corrections, I felt that it was almost like a rehearsal. For the next thirty minutes, I felt like I was actually rehearsing a piece at Juilliard…as a student. It was really nice.

We finished that section and it was time for another cut…my number was called again. My mother actually managed to keep it together this time. I think she had cried enough. There were no more tears. There were 6 of us left. Four of them are in my class today, including the guy that did ten pirouettes. At this point, I couldn’t have been more relieved and happy with myself. I had made it through all the dancing portions. The way I looked at the interview was to just be myself and to answer the questions as honestly as possible.

I interviewed with Larry. We started off by chatting about Ethan Stiefel and his amazing dance career. That was a subject I literally could talk about ALL DAY. I was proud to call him my Dean of Dance at North Carolina School of the Arts. One of the questions I vividly remember Larry asking was what book, movie, concert or other art related thing I had recently seen, read or been inspired by. I totally could’ve said something completely made up like, “Oh, recently l read (insert extremely intense art/dance title of book here that will make me sound really intelligent and smart), but instead I decided to talk about when I saw the rock band Radiohead LIVE in concert. Radiohead is one of my most favorite bands in the ENTIRE WORLD, and I think I freaked Larry out a bit because my mouth was moving at least 50 miles per second while describing this awesome concert. But he just smiled and wrote something down on his clipboard. The interview was pretty long and some of the questions required a lot of thought, but as I said before, I just answered them in the best way I knew how…the honest way.

And that was it. The audition was over. Katie, in her very pleasant manner, said that she would call us soon and to have a good day. I remember Poulin giving my mom, with her dried tear marks on her face, a big hug as he was leaving. She was relieved. I was relieved. All everybody could be at the end of such a long day was just relieved.

Reflecting on this experience now makes me realize how lucky and blessed I was on that day. Sure, I was used to the intensity of auditions, but at the time I don’t think I truly realized the gravity of the audition. I wasn’t auditioning for just anything; I was auditioning for JUILLIARD!  I actually think going into the audition without having that added pressure made all the difference. I just went in and did the best I could.  I gave all that I had in the most genuine form. So, when you audition, just concentrate on being you and hopefully your love for your art will come alive with a spirit that is uniquely YOU. They totally see through the pretense. They see through all the make-up, slicked back hair, and fancy leotards. All they want to see is YOU and who YOU are.  Give them YOU. If you do that, you’ll be one step closer to being at a place that will totally and completely change your life… The Juilliard School….NO PLACE like it.


My Dance Audition – Traveling from Abroad

by Ellie Swiatkiwski, 3rd-year dancer

My Juilliard audition was not one out of the ten colleges I was auditioning for like many other auditionees in the room… Nor did I travel via the subway or by car to arrive at the audition like many others… I had traveled from the other side of the world, Australia, to be there that day and it was my one and only audition. In other words, the stakes were pretty high!  Juilliard had been my dream since the moment my dance teacher/mentor in Sydney had told me about the school, three years prior to my audition. Nothing was going to stop me from being at the audition that day, not even my severe jet lag or all the nerves in the world!

It was one of the most intense days of my life! I was so overwhelmed to be at JUILLIARD in NEW YORK with so many amazing dancers around me that I couldn’t eat or speak!! At the warm up, prior to the first class, I urged myself not to look at everyone else stretching and practicing around me because it made me feel sick with how talented everyone looked!

The audition consisted of a ballet class, modern class, solos, choreography, coaching, and finally interviews. At the start of the day there were 56 dancers and at the end there were 3. I couldn’t believe I had made it to the end of the audition, I was so happy!!

For dancers who are looking to audition I advise you to not compare or judge yourself to other people in the audition, it will just distract and intimidate you! Focus only on yourself and all of the special qualities that you have to bring.

Good luck!