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.
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.