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.
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Tiler Peck, Christopher Grant and Roman Mejia in Peck's choreographic debut: Lincoln Square. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy Vail Dance Festival
Last week, Dance Magazine's owner Frederic Seegal visited the Vail Dance Festival. He was so excited by what he saw there that he wanted to share with Dance Magazine readers a few of the highlights that made the biggest impression on him.
Having been fortunate enough to be on the board of New York City Center when Arlene Shuler introduced Fall for Dance in 2004, I never thought that I would see anything that could rival its inventiveness, assemblage of talent and audience enthusiasm. That is, until this week when I spent fours days at the Vail Dance Festival.
Tiler Peck is coming to Hulu. Fans everywhere can catch her new documentary, called Ballet Now, starting on July 20. But Seattle residents will get a sneak peek at the Seattle International Film Festival starting tonight.
The film follows the New York City Ballet principal during her time directing the BalletNOW series at The Music Center in Los Angeles last July. And it's got some legit names behind it: The director is Steven Cantor, who's mostly known in ballet circles for directing Sergei Polunin's DANCER. And the producers include Paul G. Allen's Vulcan Productions, Cantor's Stick Figure Productions and none other than actress Elisabeth Moss, who stars in Hulu's hit "The Handmaid's Tale."
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.
Damian Woetzel rehearsing Misty Copeland at Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy Vail
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.
New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck is working through a tap combination—in pointe shoes and a gray bowler hat. Nearby in the same New York City Center studio, the comedian and actor Bill Irwin goes over a note with Damian Woetzel, then rejoins Peck to practice a phrase together. They count aloud as they play around with a sequence of salsa steps, but quickly break into laughter.
The unlikely pair have come together for Time It Was/116, a work they co-choreographed with Woetzel (who originally commissioned it for the Vail International Dance Festival, which he directs), and performed for New York and DC audiences at last year's Fall for Dance festival and at the Kennedy Center. Much of the work is set to the beat of a metronome, and the idea of time is present in everything from its title to the age difference between Peck and Irwin.
The initial spark came when Irwin—known for his vaudeville-style clowning and acclaimed theater and film performances—saw Peck dance at the Kennedy Center Honors, and approached Woetzel with the idea of a collaboration. “I was trying to draw inspiration from what it would be to hybridize my movement and Tiler's," Irwin says. “There's an implied story of, 'A character does what he does. A different figure does what she does. They see each other and have an influence on each other.' "
And that influence has delightful results—as when Peck breaks into a rollicking Charleston step, or when Irwin strolls in his jaunty, disjointed way across the space, his entire body lifting in surprise when his character sees Peck's balletic movement for the first time.
“Laughter is all about context," Irwin says. “You juxtapose a corkscrew movement from vaudeville with a perfect développé, and one or the other is possibly going to be funny—and it might be the développé." Peck adds that, often when they were first creating the piece, she wasn't actively trying to be funny. “Just the fact that I was trying to look like Bill was funny," she says, “and we didn't really know that until we had the audience."
Much of their rehearsal time involves bouncing ideas off each other and seeing what sticks. “I have sort of an order, like a storyboard in my head, but it's not my first nature to set choreography exactly," Irwin says. Each time they run through a section, it's as though they are experiencing the “pure mash-up of movement," as Irwin calls it, for the first time. And when their characters meet in the middle to dance a combination in unison, it's a joyful discovery of common ground. As Irwin says: “Unison has a power that's like singing in harmony."
This summer's Vail International Dance Festival features the biggest stars in dance.
Lil Buck and Tiler Peck at Vail 2013. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail.
Since Damian Woetzel took over Colorado’s Vail International Dance Festival in 2007, audiences have come to expect novelty: diverse styles of dance, collaborations between of-the-moment stars and re-envisioned classic works with unusual casting. The 2014 festival, which takes place from July 27–August 9, is even more high-profile than previous years. It will showcase some of dance’s most in-demand artists, including New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and American Ballet Theatre’s Herman Cornejo, Vail’s artist in residence this year. “The idea of collaboration is central. What happens when two worlds collide?” says Woetzel. “The works themselves are brought alive in new ways by having new people dance them. It’s a unique experience for the artists and the audience.”
Woetzel’s approach is one of many reasons why performers look forward to spending a portion of their off season, up to two weeks, in Vail, year after year. “It’s like an exchange program,” says Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Carla Körbes, who will dance at the festival this year for her seventh time, in a work by Brian Brooks. “You learn about other companies in a more in-depth way, and they learn about you.”
This summer, as usual, the dancers will take on unconventional repertoire: Peck, Fairchild and Cornejo will perform a new version of Martha Graham’s Letter to the World (1940), with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Cornejo will also make his “Rubies” debut alongside Peck in the ballet’s leading roles, with Pennsylvania Ballet dancing the corps. Other highlights include the Royal Ballet’s Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Golding; crewmates Lil Buck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles; and a TV evening with “Dancing with the Stars” pro Anna Trebunskaya and “So You Think You Can Dance” alums Alex Wong, Amy Yakima and Du-Shaunt “Fik-Shun” Stegall. In choosing the pieces for each evening, Woetzel says, “it’s a real matter of stretching the work and highlighting how dancers in the 21st century adapt to different challenges. We’re showing the range of what dance can be today.”