Sometimes, change happens all at once. Last year, The Juilliard School, one of the country's top conservatories for music, dance and drama, got not one new leader but three.
Damian Woetzel, a former star at New York City Ballet, took the reins as Juilliard's new president, the first in the institution's history to come from the field of dance. (The previous six have been musicians.) Evan Yionoulis was named director of drama. And Alicia Graf Mack, an exemplary dancer at both the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, became Juilliard's incoming director of dance—the first African American, and, at 39, the youngest person to ever take up the position.
On Monday night, a memorial was held at Riverside Church to honor the life and achievements of Dance Theatre of Harlem co-founder Arthur Mitchell. With nearly three months to process and grieve (Mitchell passed away on September 19) the atmosphere was not that of mourning as much as reflection, reverence and admiration for who he was, what he built and what remains. (Watch the full livestream here.)
The church filled with family, artistic friends, fans and admirers. What was most gratifying was the volume of DTH alumni from the school, company and organization who traveled across the globe to pay their respects, from founding members to present dancers and students. The house of worship was filled with the sentiment of a family reunion. As Mitchell was sent home, it was a homecoming for many who have not shared air together in decades. What was palpable was the authentic bonds that Dance Theatre of Harlem and Mitchell fostered in all.
Alicia Graf Mack becomes Juilliard's director of dance in July. Photo Courtesy Webster University.
July 1 marks an exciting new era for The Juilliard School. Vail Dance Festival director and former New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel steps into the role of president, and the dance division will also have a new leader: Alicia Graf Mack, 39, will take over from Taryn Kaschock Russell, acting artistic director for the current school year.
Gil Stroming, owner of Break The Floor (which produces epic conventions like JUMP and Dancer Palooza), has pledged to donate $25,000 directly to studio owners directly affected by the storm. On top of that, he will match dollar-for-dollar the next $25,000 donations in a fundraiser he's hosting on GoFundMe.
Commercial dance celebs like Misha Gabriel, Al Blackstone and Kirsten Russell have already pitched in with donations of their own. The campaign has already raised more than $37,000 in just four hours. Anyone is invited to add their donation here.
The pair take on Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s roles in Alvin Ailey’s Pas de Duke.
Simkin and Mack in costume for Pas de Duke. Photo by Jade Young, Courtesy YAGP.
If any two dancers could generate the buzz of Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the original couple in Alvin Ailey’s flirtatious Pas de Duke, it might be Ailey’s own Alicia Graf Mack and American Ballet Theatre principal Daniil Simkin. The duo will bridge the worlds of ballet and modern dance—as Ailey intended when he made the duet in 1976—at the Youth America Grand Prix gala, April 10 at Lincoln Center. Siobhan Burke caught up with Mack and Simkin while rehearsals were well underway.
How did you end up dancing this piece together?
Daniil Simkin: I actually suggested it to Larissa Saveliev, the co-founder of YAGP, and she was like, Totally, we’re going to make this work, and I want you to partner Alicia.
Why did you suggest it?
DS: I’m always looking for new things to try. It’s a challenge, because, I mean, it’s Ailey, it’s an iconic piece, and especially because Mikhail Baryshnikov and Judith Jamison first danced it.
What’s challenging about it?
Alicia Graf Mack: While it’s very dance-y and jazzy, it’s still extremely technical. So you can have a good time, but you’re thinking, Okay, I gotta execute this. Also, it was designed to be a play on the classical pas de deux, but it’s not supposed to be a satire; it’s not supposed to be funny. That’s a challenge, because you have to walk a thin line between entertainment and comedy.
DS: It shouldn’t look cheesy or cheap.
AGM: Yeah. Class. All class.
Coming from different companies and backgrounds, how is dancing with each other?
AGM: It’s been amazing to watch Daniil in the studio because I’ve admired him onstage and in YouTube clips. His work ethic is incredible. I told him at the end, “You’re like a sponge! You soak it all in so quickly.”
DS: I have a lot to learn. The first series of hip rolls is my favorite step. It might be the simplest in the whole piece, but for me, it’s the hardest. When Baryshnikov danced it, he said that he felt like a cow on ice. The groundedness, the use of the hips. It’s a different kind of coordination. So I watch Alicia not to imitate her, but to really get at what she’s doing and make it my own.
What is it like to perform at a YAGP gala?
DS: The kids are so enthusiastic. There’s a lot of screaming [laughs]. Sometimes it’s like there’s a storm coming.
AGM: The first time I did a YAGP gala I was starstruck, just looking around and thinking, I can’t believe I’m taking class and performing with these people I’ve admired for so long. Like, Wow, I feel like I’ve arrived.