Life Below the Stage
One of my favorite things about Juilliard is the fact that we have three divisions—music, drama, and dance—all under the same roof. Although our training in our respective fields is so specific and we spend many hours each day studying our own art forms, Juilliard provides some amazing opportunities for collaboration. Most recently, I got to play in the pit with the Juilliard Orchestra as part of the annual Juilliard Dances Repertory performance.
I’ve always admired what the dancers do as I pass by their studios in the hallway or see their performances, but getting to actually collaborate with them was an eye-opening experience. I got to play Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, a massive work for a violin- and viola-less orchestra with two pianos and a choir. The orchestra members were invited to observe a staging rehearsal with the dancers, and the sharp angularity of the music was beautifully reflected in the choreography by Jiri Kylian. The orchestra rehearsed for a few weeks on our own, while the dancers practiced with a recording. When we put it all together, the result was pretty incredible.
Working with artists from a different field revealed an entirely different set of priorities: the smallest fluctuations in tempo made huge differences to the dancers performing the intricate steps, and balance in the orchestra was crucial so that the pulse could be clearly heard. Getting to perform the work in this context definitely reshaped my concept of the piece and gave me a greater appreciation for it. Over the course of five performances and two dress rehearsals, I also felt like I got to know Stravinsky’s music so much better and really enjoy performing it. Usually, the orchestra only performs a program once, so having multiple chances to make some incredible music was an awesome experience. I would hear a new detail in the orchestration each time we performed it that I hadn’t noticed before. Overall, performing down in the pit was a total blast, and I walked away with a much greater appreciation and understanding of what was going on above me onstage.