Damian Woetzel Named Juilliard's New President
A dancer is taking over Juilliard: Damian Woetzel will be the school's next president, starting in July 2018.
It's just the latest feat for the former New York City Ballet star who's racked up an impressive list of accomplishments since retiring from the stage in 2008. After earning a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (while still dancing), he became director of both the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Vail Dance Festival. He's also taken on wide-ranging side projects—from producing shows featuring Lil Buck, to being a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School, to serving on President Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Now, he'll be leading the country's most prestigious performing arts conservatory and its $110 million annual budget. He's only the seventh person in Juilliard's 112-year history to hold this position—and the first to come from the dance world. We spoke to him today to learn more.
Woetzel at last year's Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan.Congratulations! How did this opportunity come about?
I've known Juilliard my whole life, essentially. I took my first class at School of American Ballet when it was still in the Juilliard building, and it's been ever-present in many ways ever since. I've had quite a lot of intersection with Joseph Polisi, the Juilliard president for last three decades. In fact, his book "The Artist as Citizen" inspired my going to the Kennedy School and a lot of the work I've done.
The school asked what I thought about taking on this position. My instant reaction was that this is an unbelievable culmination of so many different things I'm passionate about.
What excites you about Juilliard?
The combination of music and dance and drama in one place. And training the new creative forces of tomorrow, working towards what I would consider the golden age of creativity. I believe passionately that collaboration is how we are at our most creative. We can do things together that we cannot do alone.
I remember being in the cafeteria when I was at SAB, and the music and the acting and the people rehearsing in the common rooms. The feeling that it was all part of one big creative enterprise always stuck with me as some sort of beautiful ideal.
Will you still be involved with Vail or Aspen Institute at all?
Over the next year, I will be listening and learning and discussing strategies for the future here at Juilliard. But I will stay with Aspen until June 2018.And I'm going to do Vail this year and next year as planned, and am in conversations to see if there are ways to maintain my relationship with the festival in a new form in the future.
Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild rehearse at the 2009 Vail International Dance Festival with Damian Woetzel. Photo by Caitlin Kakigi, courtesy Vail.
Any ideas yet about what you want to bring to Juilliard?
My focus is very much on maintaining the incredible level of both excellence and citizenship that Dr. Polisi has created here. I want to take the history that is embodied in this building and in Lincoln Center and work toward creating a new generation of citizen artists.
You have created such an incredible post-performing career, and have been such an example for other dancers in that way. Do you feel any pressure?
Not so much pressure as fortune. I feel so incredibly lucky in have had these opportunities. And frankly, that is a huge part of the philosophy I bring to the arts education work I've done: Providing opportunities, because the possibilities are exponential the more opportunities there are.
I always think that I just happened to be introduced to ballet. And if I hadn't, I would have been walking around my whole life with this thing that I was ultimately so suited for. And I think we all have those things within us that we don't even know about.
The opportunities of learning, of experience, of experimentation, inquiry and being curious, providing those platforms is what I dream about doing here.
What does it feel like to be back in the Juilliard building again?
I stood on the stage today to greet the faculty, staff and students, and I remembered that I did my workshop performance here 32 years ago this month before joining City Ballet. And I just remember the magic of the place. It feels extraordinarily inspiring.
From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.
New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.
A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.
Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.
In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.
When London-based perfume company The Beautiful Mind Series was looking for a collaborator for their next scent, they skipped the usual celebrity set and brought in prima ballerina Polina Semionova instead. "I was fascinated by what goes on in the mind of a great dancer," perfumer Geza Schoen said in a press release. Semionova's ballet-inspired scent, Precision & Grace, celebrates the intelligence and beauty behind her craft.
Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series
Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.
"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.
After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.
Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org
In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."
She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."
Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.
Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.
Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!
We caught up with Abraham during a recent rehearsal where he revealed what he is tired of hearing in the dance community.
Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.
Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."