Regina De Vera

This December the Office of International Advisement interviewed Regina De Vera for the Eye on Culture blog. Regina is a third year graduate student in the Drama Division from the Philippines. Continue on to read Regina’s career in the Philippines, her experiences as an actress at Juilliard, and her reflections as an international student and a woman of color in the United States.

Photo 2 Regina De Vera Head shot photo by Gregory Costanzo

Photo by Gregory Costanzo

Can you tell us about your first experience with acting and musicals? 

I initially wanted to become a film actress because [of] watching Hollywood actresses in their beautiful gowns during awarding ceremonies. However, my entry point into the world of acting were mainly musicals, because that was what my high school drama club did a lot of. My earliest phases in my artistic journey consisted of an obsession with American Broadway musicals until I got bored trying to copy artistic choices from another culture and realized I wanted a process wherein I can actually create a character using my Self. That is why I transitioned into straight plays and Filipino translations/adaptations of Western work (mostly by playwrights like Shakespeare, Arthur Miller, Brecht, etc.).

Photo 13 Regina De Vera as Maria in Tanghalang Pilipino's San Andres B The Opera_Photo by Kamole Orense

Regina De Vera as Maria in Tanghalang Pilipino’s San Andres B The Opera, Photo by Kamole Orense

According to our sources, you were originally participated in a summer musical theater program in the Philippines, what prompted you to apply to this program?  

You might be referring to the workshops I’ve attended from this theater company in Manila called “Repertory Philippines.” This company specializes in bringing American Broadway Musicals to the Manila Theater industry. Around 2004-2006, which was when I was in high school and stepped in[to] my “musical phase,” I decided to apply to this company’s summer workshops, because it was around that time that I dreamed to be on Broadway like Lea Salonga (the first Filipino to win a Best Actress Tony Award for Miss Saigon).

Earlier you mentioned how you moved away from American musicals because you wanted to develop more of yourself, how do you feel about the integration of American theatre culture in the Philippines?

Photo 8 Regina De Vera as Lam-ang Panganiban in Ballet Philippines' Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Musical (Photo by Reg Aquitana)_1

Regina as Lam-ang Panganiban in Ballet Philippines’ Manhid The Pinoy Superhero Muscial, Photo by Reg Aquitana

American Theatre Culture has been a part of our history even before American Broadway Musicals became popular in the Philippines. We had sarsuwelas (our local version of the Spanish opera zarzuelas) that depicted our rebellion from American colonizers. We also had straight plays that were subversive against American colonizers but it was concealed in images so that the American forces will not put our theater practitioners in jail or censure the performances. All of these even before American Broadway Musicals became popular. American Broadway Musicals are still popular in the Philippines to this day. I am not against integration and I do not inhibit it. There is a plurality of choices in local Philippine theater for our audiences. As an individual artist, however, it was important to me to learn to eventually make something my own. I was not content to watch a dvd of a musical and copy all the artistic choices that the original cast made. I was not interested in that kind of training or process. I want to understand where something comes from so I can decide how I can process something or upend something.

Before attending Juilliard for your MFA, you had already established a career in the Philippines, why did you decide to continue your education? 

Photo 15 Regina De Vera as The Face of Cinemalaya 2013 and host of Cinemalaya 2013 Awarding Ceremonies (Photo by Reg Aquitana)

Face and host of Cinemalaya

Somewhere in the fourth year of my stint as a member of an acting company based at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I felt I had hit a wall, a plateau or a desert not only in my career and artistic growth but also in my personal life. I realized that I needed a stronger foundation to build the next years of my adult life upon. I knew that I’ve always wanted to pursue graduate degree education in acting as soon as I first met Ana Valdes-Lim – the first Filipino to get into Juilliard Drama. After speaking to a trustworthy counselor, I realized that this period of plateau, of “nothingness” would give me time to get my life together and apply for graduate training in the United States.

Photo 4 Family_1

Photo of Regina’s Family

Can you tell us what the theatre culture is like in the Philippines and in your hometown?

Photo 14 Regina De Vera as Portia in Tanghalang Pilipino's Der Kaufmann (The Merchant of Venice Ang Negosyante ng Venecia)_1 (Photo by Reg Aquitana)

Regina De Vera as Portia in Tanghalang Pilipino’s Der Kaufman (The Merchant of Venice Ang Negosyante ng Venecia), Photo by Reg Aquitana

There are specific theatre cultures in different parts of Metro Manila depending on where each theater is situated. The theater company I was based on for five years (Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines), was very far from where I lived so I got to lead double lives. As a whole, it’s a very “choose your own adventure” kind of audience. There are Philippine theater companies who specialize in doing American Broadway Musicals, some in specifically English straight plays, some in devised work, some in more social-relevant theater, and the company I worked for did mostly Western work in translation and some socially-relevant and original Filipino work as well. We have a small number of consistent patrons who review shows in their blogs and we have our own industry award-giving body as well.

If you were to take a reader to your hometown with you, what is something that you think they must experience?

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and I wouldn’t necessarily want to take someone to my hometown since it’s a city and can get chaotic. Instead, I would love to take a reader to one of our provinces on a road trip with me because that’s where I can find what I love most about my country: the seas, the underground springs, the view of the mountains, etc.

Photo 15 Regina on a road trip in Ilocos Norte, Philippines with friends

Regina and friends on a road trip in Ilocos Norte, Philippines

The Philippines is a diverse place. Can you give our readers who do not know very much about this part of Southeast Asia more information about the culture and the atmosphere of the Philippines? And, could you tell us how this has affected your identity?

Photo 3 Regina on a road trip in Pangasinan, Philippines

Regina on a road trip, Pangasinan, Philippines

I cannot speak for the entire Philippines as it is very diverse (each region has its own dialect and culture, natural resources, etc.) but I have lived and navigated my way through predominantly Catholic communities. Religion was a big influence in my upbringing – my family went to church every Sunday and I went to an all-girls Catholic high school and a Jesuit University. It influenced how I thought about love, marriage, and morality, among other things about the human experience. It was theater that allowed me to step back from this way of thinking and expand my perception of humanity. Leaving home to pursue studies in another country and meeting people from different cultures and religions reinforced my perception of the largeness of humanity. I discovered that I did not have to subscribe to the beliefs that might have remained unquestioned had I not liberated myself from just one context or way of living.

Can you suggest a place where curious readers can learn more?

Check out: http://www.cnn.com/travel/article/philippines-best-beaches-and-islands/index.html . 

In your blog, you reflect on what it is to be a person of color in Juilliard’s drama division, could you tell us more about the impact you hope to make in the Juilliard Community? And what diversity looks like to you? 

I feel as if the Drama Division of the Juilliard School is ahead in terms of how it commits to find opportunities for the least heard voices and stories to be heard. The way in which the Drama faculty treats me teaches me how I can treat myself in a more empowering way. I do get frustrated when outside of the Drama Division, people mistake me for a Music Student because there are far more Asian students in the Music Division while there are currently only 4 people of Asian descent in the Drama Division. I do hope that the way I conduct myself outside of the classroom, and in my work after graduating, would expand people’s notions of what a person who looks like me behaves, thinks and stands up for herself and what she wants.

You have used your skills as an actor to do work with UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Can you tell us how you became involved in this work? What this work means to you? And, what impact this work has on your community?

Photo 11 Regina De Vera as Venus Virus in Eeew Nakakadiri ang mga Germs_World Health Organization project with Tanghalang Pilipino

Regina as Venus Virus in Eeew Nakakadiri ang mga Germs for World Health Organization’s Project with Tanghalang Pilipino

I became involved with this work primarily because the theater company I worked for teamed up with these organizations in order for us to be able to teach and share our work with communities in the provinces that were heavily affected by typhoon Haiyan, as well as those communities in cities with high rates of HIV cases. This was part of the mission of our theater company to do work that made an impact on Philippine communities. I embraced this work at the beginning but after a while I was doing this work at the expense of the work and the training that I truly wanted for myself. This was one of the reasons why I decided to leave this company after five years and pursue graduate training outside my home country.

What is some advice you would give to future international actors who hope to further their training at Juilliard?

I would steal a quote from actor Aziz Ansari (Master of None, Netflix), “You can do anything white people can do.” If you want to get further training then go ahead and apply to all the drama schools that you want to apply to. We do need more people of color to get into these programs to help reshape the film, TV and theater industry in the years to come.

Photo 1 Group 48 Year 3_OIA

The Juilliard School’s Drama Division Group 48 Year 3

From the pieces you have performed during your career so far, is there a favorite? Or, is there a piece you felt really attached to while performing and developing your character?

I don’t have favorites. I try to let go of the work once the duration it has in my life is over so I can allow space to grow and move forward. There were some key marker roles that shaped my career and artistic life. The first one was playing Portia in our adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” which got me my first industry Best Actress Award. The second was playing the female lead superhero in a musical called “Manhid: The Pinoy Superhero Musical” that was based on Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” that gave me my first lead in a musical in one of the biggest theaters in Manila. The rehearsal process for that musical coincided with my auditions for Juilliard so that was quite memorable being that it coincided with another major moment in my journey. It was also the last major production I had in the Philippines before moving to New York City.

If you were to pursue a field other than acting, what would it be? Why?

There is no other field I would like to pursue to be honest. Acting encompasses a significant amount of things that I love about being alive: movement, language, song, breath, the divine, as well as a process that requires curiosity, empathy, the need to expand, and the willingness to not know. No other field combines all of this all at the same time.

Photo 6 Regina new to Juilliard 2015

Regina’s first time at The Juilliard School

Advertisements

Can Wang

For November, the Office of International Advisement engaged with Can Wang, a third year student in the dance program from Jinan, Shandong, China.  Read on to learn more about her love of piano and the arts, her experience as a student leader, and her advice for other international students.

Can Dance 4

According to our sources, piano inspired your beginnings in dance. Can you tell us more about how your study of piano and dance have intertwined, and created the performer you are today? 

I started consciously being influenced and attracted by music and dance at the age of 3. I fell in love with the sound of the piano when I heard it in the kindergarten for the first time, and I told my mom that I wanted to learn it (I didn’t know the instrument is called “piano”. My mom figured it out after she went to see the piano in the kindergarten). My parents bought the piano for me when I was 4 years old, and I became the first kid that plays the piano in my neighborhood ( because neither playing instruments nor dance are popular in my neighborhood back then, but now there are more and more kids that are playing instruments and dancing). I was taking dance class in kindergarten too. When the piano and dance started to co-exist in my life, I would improvise dance for the piano music I listened to, and improvise on the piano for the dance I learned. It seemed natural to me to connect them, and they became my best friends.

Playing the piano at a young age not only enhanced my sensitivity for music, but also helped me build my patience, which are a very important skill to have for a dancer. No matter what I do—choreograph, dance or teach, patience and sensitivity for music are always there to allow me to explore deeper into the possibilities, and come up with new ideas.

You’ve have previously performed works by Andrea Miller, Helen Simoneau, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, Nacho Duato, Janis Brenner, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Michael Parmenter, and Jose Limon. Did any of these experiences have a strong impact on you? And if so, how?

Those experiences are significant to my study at Julliard. Working with choreographers and studying repertoires broaden my understanding of dance. There are many reasons to dance, and dance works are made from questioning “why we dance”. Choreographers and rehearsal directors come into the studio and share their interests and questions with us, and we start to explore and develop dance works altogether. As we are on stage, the dance works become languages we use to communicate with audience.

Can Dance 2

In addition to your pursuit of contemporary dance and ballet, you have skills in Chinese traditional dance. For our readers who are not familiar with this form of dance, could you please tell us more about how it is characterized and the style? How have you worked background in Chinese Traditional dance into your work now?

When I was in China, I’ve studied Tai Chi and Chinese traditional dance. Chinese traditional dance is consisted of Chinese folk dance and Chinese classical dance. There are 6 different types in Chinese folk dance which are symbolic of each geography, climate, daily labor, agriculture and religion. Each type of Chinese folk dance has its own temperament, and a lot of the movements have specific meanings because they are manifestations of their daily life.

Chinese classical dance is a revival of ancient Chinese dance. It was mixed with the gestures and postures of Chinese martial arts and Chinese opera, and it emphasizes the use of the focus and coordination of the movement and breath. Similar to Tai chi, the movements are the result of the flow of the energy which are usually circles in different directions and dimensions.

The influence from Chinese traditional dance is strong and visible when I dance and choreograph. The movement patterns are deeply remembered by my body. As soon as my body moves, it would repeat the patterns naturally and unconsciously.

It seems that you’ve had many years of experience of working with teenage dancers in Beijing, how did you become involved with this educational outreach program? What do you like about this program?

Working with teenage dancers and performing with National Ballet of China for their annual educational outreach program are two separate activities I did in China. When I was studying at the secondary school of Beijing Dance Academy, the National Ballet of China needed young dancers to perform with the company for their outreach program while half of the company was on tour. It was a performance we give in colleges and universities all around China. It included lecture on the history of Ballet and also history of Ballet in China, followed by the performance of excerpts from the Western and Chinese Ballet repertoires in a chronicle order. I loved the idea of bringing ballet into campuses to make it accessible for young audiences.

I began working with young dancers when I was a teenage dancer myself. My dance teacher from my hometown Jinan, has always encouraged me to help dancers who are younger than me. I’ve been going back to my teacher’s studio every summer since I was ten, and the students I’ve helped are now professional dancers studying in the secondary schools and dance academies, and working in ballet companies in China and abroad. This past summer, I created two contemporary dance solos for two 12-year-old male dancers for their school’s competition, and I rehearsed a ballet variation for two 13-year-old female dancers for their school’s showing. I’ve been learning immensely from the young dancers I’ve worked with in China. It helps me to refresh and reorganize the knowledge that has been increased in me throughout training and education from different culture. It gives me opportunities to practice my observation and communication with individual dancers, and it makes me feel grateful for the education I’ve had and also responsible for sharing what I’ve learned to the young dancers.

You were an Orientation Leader this year. What prompted you to apply? What was the best part of the orientation leader experience for you? What would you suggest to students who may like to apply to become OLs next year?

can-student-leader-e1508339386269.jpg

Photo by Matthew Quigley

 

When I was a freshman, my first impression of Juilliard was from the orientation leaders. I remember how excited and helpful they were, which made me to be an orientation leader since then.

Being an OL is amazing and challenging experience to me. I learned that I have to think about both positions of being a freshman and an OL before making a decision, so that I can really understand them before helping them with their needs. It also offers a time and space for me to discover what my strengths are as a leader and how I can function in the OL community to make the orientation successful.

To the new OLs: to understand what type of leader you are is equally important as being supportive and selfless in the OL community. Make yourself available for helping new students and let them know that you are happy to be here with them.

In addition to being an OL, you are now a colloquium mentor. What are some of the benefits of colloquium? What is something that you learned? What do you like about being a mentor?

Can Friends

Hiking with friends at Hudson Valley.

I think colloquium peer mentor serves a similar goal as the OL, which is to help first-time undergraduate students adjust their new life at Juilliard. What’s unique about being a colloquium peer mentor is that I’m connecting the faculty and new students, like a trail that connects the top and the bottom of a mountain. It’s hard to get to the mountain top while standing on the bottom and vise versa, but it becomes achievable when there’s a trail in between. I like being supportive, and I enjoy being trusted by people. It was necessary to let new students know that I’m here for them when they need me.

If you were a tour guide of your hometown, which places and what things do you think we should see and do?

 

My hometown is Jinan which is the capital city of Shandong Province (Shandong is also the hometown for the philosopher Confucius and the China’s First Lady Ms. Peng). Jinan is also the “city of springs” as there are 72 springs in the city. It is also why Jinan hasn’t had a subway system, because the government wants to protect the springs underneath the ground.

Can Family

Can teaching her grandma how to use an IPad.

In Jinan, you can visit the natural and historical attractions such as Bao Tu Spring, Qian Fo Mountain/Mountain of Thousand Buddha, Da Ming Lake; eat great food on Fu Rong Street; go to see acrobatic performances of Shandong Acrobatic Troupe and Quyi— a performance art consisted of narrative storytelling, staged monologue and dialogue; shopping and going to movie theaters can be a pleasant and overwhelming experience too.

What is a difference that was shocking to you when you first arrived in the US? Where is your favorite place in NYC?

As I was living in Beijing for school for many years, the tall buildings and city-like life style of NYC didn’t surprise me much. The most shocking and confusing things are the intangible things such as relearning people’s body language and facial expression, processing a different language all day long, interpreting people’s humor, trying to remember the names of people, class, food, concepts and objects, learning the rules of different social situations, understanding a different value system, rediscovering who I am in a new place…I’m still learning to understand them while I’m constantly confused by them. At the beginning, I felt overwhelmed by even the simplest things in my life, and it was so hard to catch them up. Since there hasn’t been Chinese dancers at Juilliard, I understood that it’s my responsibility to learn from the base, and to give myself time to catch things up little by little. I’ve been learning and growing immensely from this process, and I know that I’m in a place where it allows me to be patient with myself and make mistakes, so that I can calmly go through confusions and learn from mistakes.

My favorite places:

MOMA, the MET Museum, Angelika Film Center, Chealsea MarketHighline Park, Chinatown, Korean Town

 

Can Personal

Where do you envision yourself in 5 years, 10 years, 20 years?

In 5 years: Intensely dancing and performing in the US or Europe in order to be familiar with the operation of a professional dance world.

In 10 years: Keep deepening my discovery as a dancer and performer, get a master degree on dance in the US or Europe, to prepare myself for being a teaching artist.

In 20 years: Keep dancing in the US or Europe, and hopefully I can start teaching in China a few times a year to share what I’ve learned throughout my career.

If you were not a dancer, what do you think you would pursue instead?

When I was 4 years old, my mom asked me: “do you want to be a pianist in the future?” I said “yes of course!” Then my mom asked: “if you want to be a pianist, you will have to work hard to go to Juilliard, so that you will be a wonderful pianist to perform all over the world.” I said “oh yes, I want to go to Juilliard to be the best pianist in the world!”

In this case, I probably would pursue a career as a pianist if I didn’t dance. But I also wanted to be a diplomat when I was in elementary school because I really liked English.

Can

Reflecting on your time here at Juilliard, what is some advice you would give new international students?

Be open to the new world and be patient with yourself.

If you make mistakes, have fun with them! They will be your teachers to guide you to a better place. And don’t forget that there are many people who are happy to help you.

Trust that your identity is your energy source and backup. It makes you become who you are today, and it’s always a reference for you while you are adjusting to a new life.

Learn everything from everywhere and everyone, not only in your class and practice room, because everyone is an artist nowadays. What defines you as an artist is how you live your life and whether you’ve developed your own life style.

Can Personal Collage

Photo credit and collage credit: Paul B. Goode. Drawing: “Jia Yi Bing Ding” by Can Wang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kasperi Sarikoski

The Office of International Advisement interviewed Kasperi Sarikoski for the October edition of Eye on Culture. From Helsinki, Finland, Kasperi graduated from Sibelius Academy with his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music. Kasperi began his Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies Fall 2017.  Read on to learn more about Kasperi’s experience playing with Jerry Bergonzi, living in Paris, and his love for coffee.

Kasperi Website Photo

Photo by Teemu Mattsson.

When did you first begin to pursue music? What drew you to jazz?

I began playing the trombone at the age of eight. My dad had been a professional musician and, once I took an interest in the trombone, showed me his collection of jazz records. Also my first teacher was a jazz trombonist, so it was natural for me to pursue playing jazz.

Your Father is a musician too? How has this affected your studies and career? Was there a favorite record for you in his collection?

My father used to be a drummer, but he never intended his children to be musicians. Taking up music my own idea. However, once I started playing the trombone my dad gave me all the help and support he could. He taught me a great deal and I wouldn’t be here without him. I think my favourite record from his collection was Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters.

You received your Bachelor of Music and Master of Music at the Sibelius Academy. When you reflect on your time there which memories stand out to you?

I remember the first years of study when I was really eager to learn more. I had some good teachers and made a lot of progress. Now that I’ve returned to school after working for a few years, being at Juilliard reminds me of the youthful hunger one has when everything is still so new. I feel like I myself get something from that energy and am inspired to work harder.

What prompted you to continue your studies as an Artist Diploma (AD) student? Could you tell our readers more about this program?

I felt like I wanted a change and some new challenges. Living in New York had been a childhood dream so I thought I’d give it a shot. The Artist Diploma in Jazz Studies program is essentially about working with an ensemble for two years. We write music for the band, get together twice a week and perform both on and off campus. I consider it the ideal way of learning to play music.

During your master studies, you partook in an exchange study at the Paris Conservatory; what prompted you to go to Paris? Could you describe some differences between the Finnish and French cultures?

Kasperi_Sarikoski_kuva_By_Jetro_Sarikoski

I had visited the Paris Conservatory before as part of a collaboration with the Sibelius Academy. I really liked the city and as I had studied French at school it seemed like a good idea to apply. I enjoyed my time in Paris. It’s such a beautiful city and there’s a lot happening musically. Concerning cultural differences, I would say the French are more outgoing than the Finnish, at least if you speak the language. They are also more laid-back, which of course has its good and bad sides. But overall I liked the people and felt welcomed over there.

 

You’ve had many interactions with various famous jazz musicians, including Jerry Bergonzi and Joshua Redman. Do any of these experiences stand out for you?

Yes! I remember being excited about performing with Jerry Bergonzi. He came over to play with a group of Sibelius Academy jazz students in Helsinki and it felt grand being the only horn player next to him on the bandstand. Another highlight was performing the music of Michel Legrand with the UMO Jazz Orchestra in collaboration with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and the composer himself.

Nuance_by_Tomas_Whitehouse - Copy

Nuance by Tomas Whitehouse

Can you tell us about your band, Nuance? How did you meet the band members?

Nuance is a five-piece band from Helsinki and the music we play is a blend of jazz, rock and electronic music, composed by myself. I met the lads through the Sibelius Academy and the drummer is my brother Jonatan. We’ve released an album, Essence, and performed a fair amount in Finland.

Your brother, Jonatan is also a member of Nuance? Is he a professional musician as well?  What about your other family members? What do they do?

Yes, Jonatan too is following in his father’s footsteps and plays the drums. We four oldest ones are all musicians/music students while “number five” is doing his military service. My youngest two brothers and my sister are still in school.

If there was one thing you had to share about Finland, what would that be?

It would probably be the sauna, a staple of Finnish culture. We have an old saying: “First build the sauna, then the house.” That’s literally what people did back in the day. Perhaps that explains why there are more saunas than cars in Finland. The way to go is to first build up a sweat in the sauna and then jump into the lake (or the hole in the ice if it’s winter). It feels great and you get a wonderful sensation once you’re out of the water. It’s similar to having a cold shower (which I tend to do here in New York).

When you think of your hometown, what three words come to mind?

Small, sea, cold.

We noticed you came to new student orientation as an AD student even though it was not a requirement. What prompted you to attend? Why would you recommend attending orientation to other AD/DMA students?

I moved into the Residence Hall the day it opened, which gave me time to prepare for school and my new life in New York. As an international student, I thought hearing about various government and school policies twice wouldn’t be a bad idea. I also wanted to attend some of the school events and in general be a part of the buildup to a new year at Juilliard.

During your time before courses, have you been able to explore NYC? Is there anything you would like to do or see in the city or nearby?

Selfie_NYC2 - CopyI’ve done some sightseeing and visited various music venues around the city. I really enjoy jogging alongside the Hudson river! There still are a few things on my to do list. One of them is to attend a baseball game. Until I do I’ll feel like there’s something missing from my American experience.

What is an aspiration that you have unrelated to music?

I used to be an avid soccer fan and would play on a weekly basis. I haven’t kicked a ball yet here in New York, but I hope to do so at some point. I also enjoy cooking and the (meticulous) brewing of coffee.

Brookly_Bridge - Copy

Kasperi at the Brooklyn Bridge

Do you have a favorite soccer team? Have you visited any great cafes here in NYC yet? Do you have a recipe, or favorite meal you like to prepare?

My favourite team is Tottenham Hotspur from London. They’re an exciting team and play with style. I’ve been to a few cafes in New York and my favourite one so far is The Smile in Tribeca. I like cooking all sorts of dishes, but something I’ve been more doing lately is pizza. You can get really deep into that but I’ve just scratched the surface.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 20 years?

Home_grown_produce - Copy

Home Grown Produce!

I truly don’t know! I’m just trying to live a day at a time. I hope to keep making music for years to come, but I wouldn’t mind taking up something else later on in life.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to thank my father and mother for their lifelong support. I wouldn’t be here without them. I would also like to thank The Juilliard School, in particular the Jazz Department and the Office of International Advisement. Being a foreigner, I‘ve been surprised by the welcoming atmosphere and support. I hope to be able to give something to the school in return.

Bros_and_sis - Copy

Soccer with Kasperi’s brothers and sister

Sumire Hirotsuru

For the September edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Sumire Hirotsuru, a second year graduate student studying violin. Raised in Oita, Japan, Sumire studied at Harvard University before enrolling at Juilliard in the fall of 2016.   Read on to learn more about Sumire’s experience studying at Harvard, performing with the Silk Road Ensemble, creating an education program for Japanese children, and much more!!!

NYC

You started your violin studies at the age of three. Do you have a memory of the first time you picked up the violin? 

I don’t remember the time when I picked up the violin, but I still remember when I performed on stage for the first time. I was not so nervous because I was wearing my favorite cute purple dress.

You are currently a member of a Juilliard quartet called The Ansonia and have been the principal violinist for the Juilliard Orchestra. Do you prefer to play with a full orchestra or a chamber group?  In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of the two?

I prefer playing with a chamber group because how you listen to/look at each other has more direct effects on the sound delivered to the audience. I love it especially when each musician plays on stage differently from the rehearsal, and entirely changes the way the group plays the same music; that is when we enjoy improvisational elements of music making and direct human interaction that make performances more fun and interesting. An orchestra is also fun to play with, especially with the variety of sounds that so many people on the same stage can create – but I think smaller groups fit me more.

TheAnsoniaQuartetJapanTour

Sumire with her chamber group, The Ansonia, during their tour in Japan

You have performed with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble on several occasions. What is it like to share a stage with such famous musicians?

Yo-Yo and Silkroad

Sumire with Yo-Yo Ma and Silkroad

It was the experience with the Silk Road Ensemble during my college years that made me continue music after graduating from Harvard. It is not about how famous they are, but it is everyone’s incredibly warm personality and the way they build up performances that appeal the most to me; they are very welcoming, and open to any ideas when we rehearse together. And above all, performances are the most exciting part. Making eye contacts, adjusting to each other’s playing, and sometimes improvising on stage – they have taught me so much on how to listen to each other while playing.

You are also a member of the Video Game Orchestra which sounds like the opposite of the music you play with Yo-Yo Ma and Silk Road. Can you tell our readers a little about?

Tring out pipa

Trying out pipa

As a member of the VGO, I have recorded official video game soundtracks including Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts, and performed video game tunes in several game/anime conventions in the states. First of all, those are very fun music to play because of the nature of video game music, and second of all, joining recording sessions has been a great experience for me because you basically have to learn on the first run-through and then play perfectly on the second run-through when we have hundreds of tracks to finish recording. In addition, performing for completely different audience members reminds me of the importance to reach out to non-classical music listeners. What VGO does sounds very different from what Juilliard students do, but I really learn a lot from them.

 Before attending Juilliard, you studied Music and Global Health and Health Policy (GHHP) at Harvard University. What drew you to this secondary major? Why did you decide to study music at the graduate level rather than pursue global health?

As explained above, playing with the Silk Road Ensemble was definitely a life-changing experience that dragged me into the music world after graduation, even though I wasn’t expecting myself to continue music before. Before I played with them, I was studying Applied Math and Sociology which were very different fields. But then I switched to Music and GHHP initially because I was curious about the big difference of healthcare systems in the U.S. and Japan. As I took more courses, I built more interests in other areas of global health such as virus research and vaccine developments.

Even though you are furthering your education at Juilliard, you haven’t forgotten your interest in global health. You are currently involved with an organization called GUIDE Africa. Can you tell our readers a little about this organization, how you got involved, and what you are doing for them?

On radio in Oita

On the radio in Oita

I am working with two labs at the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Tokyo, mainly helping fundraising for two projects; one is Ebola virus research in Sierra Leone, the other is a development of rice vaccine in Ghana (you will be able to take vaccines through eating rice!). We are trying to let wider population know about what we do, and how important our research is for the future of humans especially in underserved areas in Africa.

You have also volunteered your time with an education program called Summer in JAPAN which you founded when a student at Harvard. Can you tell our readers about this program and what encouraged you to develop it?

Teaching at Summer in JAPAN2

Teaching at Summer in JAPAN

I founded this two-week education program in my hometown during my freshman summer at Harvard. The program consists of several workshops such as Writing, Presentation Skills and Computer Science taught in English by selected Harvard students for Japanese kids aged from 6 to 18. As a girl from a small town in Japan, I have been so fortunate to receive the best education in the world in the U.S., but it is still not accessible to most of the kids in Japan. Having impressed by my fellow students at Harvard, I wanted to build a platform where any Japanese children of next generation are able to learn skills necessary for their future. This year was the 5th year of the program and we expanded to two cities in Japan, which went very successfully.

 You write a blog every day in both English and Japanese and have written articles for Nikkei College Café by Nikkei, the largest business newspaper in Japan. What do you write about?  What made you decide to begin these projects?

I received an offer from Nikkei to contribute articles monthly about my life in the U.S., international relationship and leadership when I was at Harvard. I’ve been writing for them since 2014, but it has been a great tool to let students or young professionals in Japan about my thoughts here. For blog, I just write whatever happens on the day – I made it bilingual so that all of my friends living anywhere in the world can read!

Phew, you are doing so much!!! Do you ever have time to relax?  What do you like to do when you have free time (if such thing exists)?

I do have some free time on weekends! I like hanging out with my quartet and watching Japanese drama when I need to relax. I also love to Skype my middle school/high school friends in Japan so I have some time to use Japanese.

You are the first student from Japan to be interviewed for Eye on Culture. What would you say are some of the greatest similarities and differences between US and Japanese culture (I recognize this is a big question, but a few examples would be great). 

Hanging out with my quartet

Hanging out with the quartet

Japan and the U.S. are quite different and I can list so many things; but the first culture shock I had when I first came to the U.S. for college was j-walking because Japanese people always wait for the lights to change. What I like the most about American culture is that people don’t care what you do (in a good way), so it’s easier to try something that nobody has done before. I feel more support on doing something challenging here in the U.S. more than in Japan.

 Can you tell our readers a little bit about your hometown?

With my high school friends at performance in Tokyo

With high school friends at a performance

My hometown Oita, is on the island in the southern Japan called Kyushu Island. Even though it’s not a big town, Oita has the best fish and the best hot springs in the world. I always miss eating fresh seafood whenever I come back to school. During my summer camp Summer in JAPAN, I always take instructors from Harvard to hot springs and they all love it. If you are interested in hot springs, message me.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers?

My string quartet at Juilliard, The Ansonia Quartet, has just finished our first Japan Tour this summer to kick off our 2017/18 season as a part of Honors Chamber Music Program. The tour was fully-funded by the crowdfunding campaign we launched at the end of last spring, and it was a great success. We are excited to perform more in NYC and beyond this year, so please come hear us perform if you get a chance!

TheAnsoniaQuartetJapanTour2

Sumire with her chamber group, The Ansonia, during their tour in Japan

 

 

Katarzyna Kluczykowska

For the August edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Katarzyna Kluczykowska, a second year graduate student in Juilliard’s Historical Performance program. Born in Krakow, Poland, and raised in Warsaw, Katarzyna studied music in Poland and Germany before receiving a Fulbright Scholarship to continue studying the harpsicord at Juilliard.  Read on to learn more about Katarzyna’s experience as an early music musician, world traveler, and Juilliard student.

DSC03852-01

You began studying piano at six years old. When did you begin to play the harpsichord and what made you decide to focus on the harpsichord rather than the piano?

I began to play the harpsichord when I was 19 years old. I decided to focus on the harpsichord because I simply fell in love in its sound and its touch and also it opened up a new world of the early music repertoire for me. I was totally amazed and enchanted by its charm.

For those readers less familiar with the Historical Performance program, can you explain how it compares to programs focused on contemporary classical music?

The Historical Performance program focuses on the early music repertoire, mainly on the 17th and 18th century. It is very intense and extremely fascinating- we have the opportunity to participate in very interesting projects with the biggest experts in the early music world, for instance Masaaki Suzuki, Jordi Savall or William Christie, just to name a few. We play a lot of chamber music, much more than solo repertoire. Nevertheless, as a harpsichordist I have the opportunity and pleasure to work with three great teachers- Peter Sykes, Béatrice Martin and Richard Egarr. It is a big honor to have lessons with such amazing musicians who have very strong opinions about historical performance practice. We also have many symposiums with both performing musicians and musicologists which are inspiring and helpful. Not to mention history of 17th and 18th century music lessons which give us a lot of important information, but also serve as a platform for us to share questions and doubts.  All of HP students learn how to deal with basso continuo practice which is essential for baroque chamber music. We play on copies of periodic instruments what enables us to sound lighter and livelier and more authentic.

Do you feel there are any misconceptions about early music? If so, please describe.13528060_934978609944143_8936552780574506240_o

I think for some people the early music might be hard to interpret. Most of the time the pieces have no dynamic markings, they are filled with a lot of ornaments, and this is only the beginning of all troubles. Obviously we do not have recordings of musicians from that era so unfortunately we can’t hear how they played then, how they sounded. We can copy their instruments, but it is hard to copy their performance practice. But with help of numerous sources, we can try to imagine how they worked and how they understood their music. I think that nowadays there is more and more musicians interested in the whole context of music-making, not only from renaissance and baroque, but also from classic and romantic period. It is important not to just look at the score and play all the notes, but try to understand deeper layers of the piece and the cultural and historical influences. What I like about playing early music is that sometimes we can perform totally forgotten pieces which beauty and style can transport us a view centuries back.

Even though your studies at Juilliard are focused on early music, you have said that you are also “fascinated” by contemporary music. Can you elaborate?

14114929_978404512268219_8650807268655422190_oI started to play harpsichord mainly because I truly love this instrument. After my huge obsession for early music there came a time for the contemporary music. It was my need to discover and play the whole repertoire written for harpsichord in its entirety– contemporary music is very varied and colorful and gives one opportunity to learn contemporary musical language. Musicians in baroque era only played contemporary music, they didn’t perform early music. To understand their attitude I consider playing pieces written today as a must. We always dream to have the chance to ask composers who died a long time ago about their pieces and style. But very often we miss the opportunity to work with living composers which can be a huge adventure. There are around 10,000 pieces written for harpsichord in the 20th and 21st century. I don’t see any reason why we should not play them and focus only on the early repertoire. We can support with all our heart the forgotten music and give its justified place, but still participate in creating new pieces. When I was studying in Hamburg, Germany I organized a concert and workshops focused on modern harpsichord music. It was truly an amazing experience for me. We had the chance to work with our colleague composers and meet Gośka Isphording who is a prominent modern harpsichordist.

You are at Juilliard on a Fulbright scholarship. What is Fulbright and can you tell our readers about the application process for this prestigious scholarship?fb_img_1475965948962.jpg

The Fulbright Program is a scholarship program of grants for international exchange between Americans and the citizens of other countries. The main goal of it is to increase a mutual understanding between them. It focuses on the educational exchange, but through it the cultural and social exchange is possible as well. The application process takes some time- first one has to do some paperwork and send needed documents, the second step is an interview with the Fulbright commission. Once ready all the documents are sent to Washington DC where the final decision is made.

20170523_123914

What is your favorite aspect of being a Juilliard student? What is the most challenging?

Being a Juilliard student is like participating in a special mission. It is very intense and demanding, but also very adventurous and rewarding. People studying and working here are fascinating and the kind of energy one experiences here is very specific. Juilliard is like New York – diverse, charismatic, but not always easy to be in.

 

Juilliard students are very busy. What do you like to do or where do you like to go to relax and de-stress?

I love discovering New York every free moment I’m given. I take long walks simply wandering around. I like to observe people and birds in Central Park. I go to Polish restaurants in Brooklyn. I write songs. And I try spend as much time as I can with my beloved boyfriend.

You recently went on a tour in India with Juilliard415. Can you describe your experience? What were your impressions of India?

17192008_1158664427575559_6781656193979646745_o

The tour in India was a very interesting experience for me. I always dreamed about going there so I couldn’t believe my luck. We visited Delhi, Mumbai, Agra and Chennai– cities very different from each other which gave us a wider picture of this country.  It is colorful and rich in tradition and monuments. We had the chance to see a world miracle – Taj Mahal which is breathtaking and hard to describe with words. Indian people are very open and warm – we had the opportunity to participate in “Holi” which is a spring festival also called “festival of colors” where people smear each other with colours and celebrate on the streets.  The moments I enjoyed the most was our short cooperation with the Songbound children choir and our concerts which were very warmly welcomed. I also have to admit that Reena Esmail‘s piece “This Love Between Us” which was a newly commissioned piece performed during that tour, will stay in my ears forever.

You were born and raised in Poland, studied music in Hamburg, Germany and New York City, and recently toured in India. Have you had the chance to travel to any other countries for professional or personal reasons? If so, do you have a favorite destination? IMG_2032

When I was younger I used to travel with my family during summer vacation, mainly to Italy and France. I adored all the little cities full of sun and cicadas, the landscape with olive trees and vineyards. My favourite were two islands – French Corsica and Italian Sicily, the cultural mix and temperament of the native people there intrigued me a lot.  My family and I spent also some time in Austria and the Czech Republic.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about your home city of Krakow, Poland?

13497588_934979009944103_4835708983112995644_o

I was born in Krakow, but my parents and I moved to Warsaw shortly after my birth. So my heart belongs to Warsaw more although Krakow is a very important place for me too.  It is a cozy city with an amazing Old Town, many nice cafes and bars, little cinemas and theaters. It was formally the capital of Poland so there is a beautiful royal castle called Wawel. As a young girl I was very much influenced of Krakow’s legends. Warsaw was totally destroyed by the Germans during World War II, its reconstruction was almost a miracle. Warsaw has a very charming Old Town, but its more modern places are very nice too. My favourite spot is Lazienki Park – a royal, big park where I spent many sunny afternoons of my childhood. I love my district too – Stary Mokotow which is very calm, green and picturesque. Near the place I live there is a little cinema “Iluzjon” where I saw my first movie-  “The Lion King”.

Do you feel there are significant cultural differences between Polish and American culture? In your opinion, what are some of these differences? What are some of the similarities?

Both Polish and American people are very warm and spontaneous. We are also both courageous and ready to defend our opinions. The only difference I noticed is that Polish people are much more openly critical towards themselves and others than Americans. We usually don’t hide our emotions, no matter if they are positive or negative, which makes us very easy to understand.

Other than family and friends, what do you miss most about Poland?

I have the ability to visit places I love mentally, so I don’t miss Poland because I spend there a lot of my “inner” time there. I’m under the impression that I never really left it and it is always with me. There is some poetic charm about Poland that is much more spiritual then physical.

Where do you see yourself this time next year after you graduate from Juilliard?

It think I will be in Poland attending doctoral studies, developing my performing skills and travelling around the world looking for inspiration and people to make music with.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to express my gratitude to all the people who helped me throughout my education – my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my dear teachers. Without them I would never achieve my goals and probably would never have the chance to study at Juilliard. I would like to thank also the Fulbright Program – it is a big honor for me to be a Fulbright Scholar and I will never forget their support. And finally I would like to express my gratitude to Bruce and Suzie Kovner who sponsor Historical Performance studies at Juilliard. I would like also to highly recommend to everyone who is eager to gain more knowledge and skill in early music performance to join the Historical Performance program, which is very unique and valuable.

20170519_162114

Hannah Rose Caton

For the July edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Hannah Caton (stage name Rose Caton), a rising third year undergraduate actor in Juilliard’s Drama Division. Born in London, England, Hannah studied at The BRIT School for Performing Arts.  Prior to joining the Group 48, Hannah acted in theater, film, television, as well as a commercial and music video.  Read on to learn more about Hannah’s acting experience as well as her many off-stage hobbies and talents.  Also, be sure to check out Hannah’s movie reel and IMDB page!

Headshot 2 for Rose Caton

When did you begin acting and how did you decide that you wanted to pursue drama professionally?hc19

I have loved performing from a very young age. My parents created this dress up box, full of props and costumes for me to play with as a child. I would spend hours in it, begging friends and family to play with me! I was also a very physically expressive child too, I took figure skating and ballet classes but I was also incredibly shy! My first role was in Primary School playing the Pharaoh in the musical “Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat.”

hc13I remember a defining moment being in a tree house in Norfolk, England and as a little girl, I was playing an imaginary game with Sophie and Rachel, two sisters I grew up with and Sophie turned to me and said, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and I said an actress. I don’t think any of us really knew what that was! I must have only been six but that memory is very vivid in my mind. Then as a teenager, in London, different schools take part every year in ‘Shakespeare’s School Festival’ and I remember that being everything to me. Playing Viola in “Twelfth Night” was the role that made me decide I had to do this for the rest of my life. I also had a teacher who really believed in me, called Ms Vicars and she supported me in applying to the BRIT School for Performing Arts when I was sixteen – I got in!

You have acted in film, television, commercials, music videos and theater.  Is there a particular medium you enjoy the most? If so, why?

hc24My first love is theatre! l have a fervent, passionate love for being on stage. I love the community that surrounds building a play and enjoy the particular type of artistic struggle it brings. Though, film is a very close second. For me, films have that ability to transcend borders; they can be honest and beautifully life altering. I grew up watching a lot of cinema with my Dad, I took to it quickly and would like to direct and write films later on in my career. I’m currently writing a film called “Leilah” about a young Iranian woman who travels to England after the Iranian Revolution in 1969.

As you know, admission to Juilliard’s drama division is highly competitive. Were you intimidated to apply?  When you found out you were admitted to Juilliard, how did you react?

hc21.jpgI actually wasn’t intimidated because my desire outweighed my fear! And I was so adamant that I needed the training because I had sort of hit a brick wall in my craft and I knew that I had to take a big risk. It felt like the next step on my journey. It felt like a calling although that didn’t make it any less nerve wracking! Juilliard was the only Drama school I applied to that year. I kept on saying to myself, how much do you want this?

I had gotten home from a long flight and my family were all very curious about the three-day audition weekend. I told them that it was one of the most enlightening acting experiences I had encountered in such little time. That evening though, I went to sleep with very bad jet lag! The next morning, I was in my room and I had found my lucky necklace on the floor of my bedroom. I had forgotten it during the three-day audition process and was kicking myself that I hadn’t remembered my good luck charm. I picked it up disappointed (I’m aware of how ridiculous this sounds) and then my phone started to ring with an American number. I assumed it was the hotel calling with receipts. I picked it up and it was Kathy Hood! She then announced that I had been accepted for the B.F.A Degree in Drama. It was one of the most tremendous feelings I’ve ever had in my life! I cried and cried – I couldn’t believe it! I ran downstairs and my parents just knew. I screamed, I got in! I got in!

You are half way through your degree program. What do you hope to gain in the next two years?

I hope to delve deeper into the love and ferocity of the work and to keep on growing into the artist and woman I was born to be. I hope to be challenged and to keep on learning from the brilliant teachers and directors that surround me. I hope to strengthen my sense of purpose, gratitude and to not take anything for granted. I hope to gain experiences that best prepare me for my journey ahead.

hc1

It is now summer, one of the rare times that Juilliard drama students can pursue outside opportunities and relax (if such a thing is possible). What are your plans for the summer both personally and professionally?

hc11I’ve just moved into my first ever apartment in NY with Drama graduate Jasminn Johnson! I intend on making it my own sanctuary. Feng Shui and all that! My best mates from London came out to visit me last week and it was wonderful to spend time with people who you have known and loved for so long. They’re great supporters of mine!

Personally I want to eat good food (I love cooking), spend time with friends and get my running shoes on! During July I’ll be involved in rehearsing the play “Hay Fever” produced by Deb Hecht (Voice teacher), alongside a group of Juilliard actors, and we will be performing it in a town called West Fulton. Then, In August I plan to visit my family in Carriacou (it’s a small Caribbean Island off of Grenada – it’s beautiful) my grandparents have retired out there. I’m also hoping to travel to Canada and visit my classmate Maggie! In my spare time, I’ll be writing and trying to finish the movement choreography for the student run-production of Othello next year.

You are able to do a number of different accents. When did you realize you had this skill?  Do you have a favorite? Is there an accent you find particularly difficult?

I was actually absolutely AWFUL at accents as a kid. My friends had this joke that every accent I tried sounded Scottish! My little sister Laura has a magnificent ear for accents though, and I think growing up around her and doing accents for fun made me pretty confident as an adult. I think sometimes you have to go through a period of sounding dreadful to come out the other side…I actually didn’t realize I was any good until I got into Juilliard and realized that I could pick them up pretty quickly.hc6

My favorite! I have two… The Caribbean/West Indian accent because my grandparents are from Grenada and it accesses a deeper, earth like part of myself. Also doing an Irish accent is incredibly freeing for me. I have no inhibition, I just go!

The hardest accent for me is an Indian accent because of the musicality, it’s extremely difficult to find the true authenticity of it.

Other than accents, do you have any other “hidden” talents?

I can wriggle my ears! I can also… figure skate… and I paint very abstract abstract art!

You were a resident assistant this past year. How did you balance the drama’s rigorous curriculum and this time intensive leadership position?

hc25I bought myself a diary and my whole life was in there! And if something took me less than a minute to do I would do it right away in my breaks. Anything longer had to be scheduled in…I also planned a lot in advance during the holidays. Luckily, I’m pretty creative and quick with ideas for programs and display boards. My mother is a teacher and I would often go into her school and put up displays. I once painted the Tree, Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas over the kid’s library.

I also think knowing what’s good for you and what makes a healthy living is very important! I would try the best I could to put my health first and then this meant I could be present with my job and artistry. The other RA’s were also always very supportive and we created a close-knit team of encouragement and support that you could depend on.

I’ve learnt so much from being an RA and hopefully this year off campus will bring new horizons for me! I’ll have different kinds of things to juggle.

From your experience as an international student and RA, what advice do you have for incoming students joining Juilliard this fall?

Soak up everything Juilliard and New York has to offer. Never be afraid to ask for help but also explore your own independence! I’ve been involved in GLUCK and Community Service grants and have loved those opportunities! If you need your best friend, Mum or Dad then call them. That will fuel your reasons for being here and fill your heart.

You are originally from London. Can you describe what it was like growing up in London and how it may have influenced you as an artist?

hc7

Growing up in London I experienced different cultures, religions and economic backgrounds from a very young age. In addition to that, I’m also mixed-race, white and black British and have found that I can pass for many different nationalities. This has always been a bridge in connection for me, people often like sharing stories about their lives with me…I think this has made me a highly empathetic person which has empowered the type of artist I’ve become.

I also have a real Londoner spirit and this comes out especially when I get passionate, it’s a more tough grittiness to stand up for what you believe in. This voice also helps me in my work and is particularly a London influence.

If a friend was visiting London for only one weekend, what would you advise that he/she do in this very short period of time?hc23

Ooh hard one! I would say go during the summer, go for long walks and sit in Hyde Park or Kenwood Park in Hampstead Heath and have an ice cream. Then hit the town, go to Southbank, visit the London eye, get some fish & chips and visit the Tate Modern, watch a show on at The Globe Theatre and definitely go to a British pub! Maybe see if the Queen is home at Buckingham palace? You know just casually. Then, for nights out and rooftop bars head towards Shoreditch!

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Sports played a giant role in my life, and shaped the type of artist and person I am.

I was very athletic and everyone had high hopes that I would make it as a sprinter! I remember telling my dad that, above all, I wanted to be an actress. It was a moment of revelation but also of sadness because I was closing another door and I thought that my family might be disappointed. I was only 15 and I knew that I had made a life-defining decision. I soon got into the BRIT School for Performing Arts and the rest is well not history but definitely the beginning of something wonderful… I was fortunate enough to work as an actress before I got to Juilliard. I played supporting roles in the films “Last Knights” and “The Falling”. And I still very much love monkey bars!

 

 

 

Laura Careless

For the June edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Laura Careless, an alum of Juilliard’s Dance Division.  Born in the United Kingdom, Laura graduated from the Royal Ballet School in London and the Ecole-Atelier of Maurice Bejart in Lausanne, Switzerland before attending Juilliard. In addition to being a founding member and Principal Performer at Company XIV, founder of Alchemy For Nomads, and a faculty member at Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech, Laura has toured around the world as a dancer and solo choreographer.

photo-credit-amanda-tipton.jpg

Photo Credit: Amanda Tipton

When did you begin dancing? When did you know that dance would be your career?

Movement is my first language; I was walking six months before I said my first word, and as an infant and a toddler I was, shall we say, extremely emotionally expressive! Both my parents have an artistic background so putting me in a dance class where I would have an outlet for my need to move was an obvious idea, and it quickly became the only hour in the week when I could be guaranteed not to be throwing a tantrum. Dancing has always been one of the great loves of my life, and I never wanted to do anything else as a career except a teenage dream of being an orchestra conductor, which I now get to do by living through my husband!

Your resume contains a long impressive list of dance, teaching, and choreography credits. Is there one or two projects that stand out among the rest for you? If so, which ones and why?

Photo credit STG Photography

Photo Credit: STG Photography

It was very special for me to perform at The Metropolitan Opera recently in their new production of Rusalka. As a girl, dance was synonymous with ballet, because that was all I knew. As I grew up and branched out into other styles of movement which better suited my adult self, I always carried a little sadness around the fact that moving away from a career in ballet had also meant moving away from big productions in giant opera houses with live orchestras and fabulous costumes. In dancing at the Met I was granted, in my 30s, a childhood dream that I thought I had given up, and dancing choreography (by XIV Director Austin McCormick) that I adored. There were a few minutes in the third act where I knelt still and alone on stage, listening to the orchestra and the offstage chorus, surrounded by a magical woodland set as a conduit for the experience of thousands of opera lovers. Every performance, I felt like my heart might explode at that moment.

 

What project(s) are you currently working on? Can you tell our readers a little bit about them?

My creative life is a real patchwork quilt at the moment! I am writing this in transit from Switzerland, where I have been working as a visiting artist for Juilliard Global Ventures, performing and teaching in schools; I’ll be returning in July to lead the dance faculty for the Juilliard/Nord Anglia Summer Arts program in Geneva. On my return to New York City, I’ll be diving into final rehearsals for The Wild Current, a commissioned work from Eliot Feld for the students of Ballet Tech, with a premiere at The Joyce Theater on June 9. I’ve been teaching kids at the school for nine years now, so it’s been very satisfying to share my creative life with them beyond my role as their teacher. I’m really passionate about advocating for movement and creativity in 21st century life, and in this vein I’m about to launch my project Body Story, a series of short movement meditations suitable for people of all movement backgrounds which will be available for audio download starting on Memorial Day.

Still from a dance film by Jonathan Watkins, filmed in the woods outside my house.

Still from a dance film by Jonathan Watkins

IMG_3195And I’m in the process of developing She-Wolves, my latest one-woman dance theatre extravaganza, in consultation with the historian and BBC presenter Helen Castor. She-Wolves tells the stories of the medieval Queens of England who attempted not only to reign but to rule in their own right. They are amazing, rarely told stories which demonstrate the historical difficulties of women holding power, and each queen will be represented through a different artistic collaboration (with a choreographer, playwright, visual artist or musician) for each queen to highlight the individuality of her story. Transforming a work of non-fiction into a piece for performance (and then getting it seen by anyone other than my cat) is a massive undertaking and I expect to be working on it for several years. I’ll be presenting a workshop version during a residency grant at The Church in upstate New York on August 12, and my ultimate ambition for this work is to tour it throughout the U.K., retracing the footsteps of its heroines.

It does not seem like you have very much downtime, but when you do have a few minutes to yourself, what do you enjoy doing?

My husband Ryan and I are both freelance artists and travel a lot, so our time at home together is precious. Domesticity has become extremely exotic; I dream about things like cooking dinner, painting a room, gardening, even house cleaning! We recently moved upstate to the woods outside Rhinebeck in upstate New York and are loving the opportunity to live in a house for the first time in our adult lives after many years in city apartments. The living room is big enough to double as a dance studio! Other pleasures in my life include saunas, long hikes in the mountains, playing with my nephew, adult colouring books, essential oils, flamenco, and loose-leaf tea from a teapot, preferably shared with a friend.


Since graduating in 2007, you have stayed connected to Juilliard in a variety of ways including programs not directly related to dance.  For example, in February 2016, you participated in OIA’s International Alumni Panel and in March of 2017, in celebration of Women’s History Month, you were a panelist for another event called “Celebrating Diversity, Overcoming Adversity: An Inspiring Conversation with Juilliard Alumni.” Why is it important for you to stay an active member of the Juilliard community?

President Polisi’s vision of the artist as citizen was hugely formative for me during my time at Juilliard, and advocating for the importance of the arts in our culture, in our schools and in our daily living is an essential part of my artistic practice. It is always an honour to be invited to add my voice to these conversations at Juilliard, and engaging with students, faculty, staff and alumni is an important source of community for me. A freelance lifestyle can get lonely, and it is important for me to engage with others who are thoughtfully asserting their personhood through an individualized artistic path.

Additionally, I know from experience that programs such as these can greatly enrich the student experience. I would be a lesser person today if it wasn’t for the Juilliard Summer Grant program, Community Service Fellowship, Student Leadership opportunities, the mentoring program, and many other “extracurricular” activities which ensured that my social awareness and intellectual curiosity kept pace with my artistic achievements. As a student at Juilliard, I was encouraged to create my own version of success by cultivating my interests beyond the technical demands of my discipline, and that’s a gift I would like to pass along.

Womens History Month Panel Photo

Laura Careless and the other panelists at “Celebrating Diversity, Overcoming Adversity: An Inspiring Conversation with Juilliard Alumni”

Graduation took place on May 19th.  What advice do you have for recent Juilliard alums? Do you have any specific guidance for international graduates?

In general, my advice is, don’t ask for advice! Instead, gather as much information as you can, consult with your gut and the hairs on the back of your neck, and then appoint yourself as the authority over your own decisions! This is something that is still difficult for me, so I think the sooner you start, the better!

For international graduates, if you would like to remain in the U.S., here are some learned-the-hard-way tips from my 11 years as a non-resident alien: Start all the immigration work four-six months earlier than you think you need to. Speak with multiple lawyers before you decide to work with one of them. Juilliard’s International Advisement Office is a great resource even after you graduate, and Cory Owen rocks. Keep hard copies of all programs, reviews, and advertisements that carry your name. Be very, very careful about applying for a green card through the Exceptional Ability category; the requirements are different than for an O-1 visa and it’s safer to keep renewing the O-1 until you are sure you have the appropriate materials. And if at all possible, try to fall head-over-heels in love with a gorgeous American person who is also crazy about you.

 

Wedding dance break! Photo credit Franziska Strauss

Laura with her husband, Ryan, on their wedding day.  Photo credit: Franziska Strauss

Where in the United Kingdom are you originally from?  Can you tell our readers a little about your hometown?

I grew up in the little village of Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, a small island off the south coast of England. It’s only a few miles into the Channel, but there is no bridge and so the island has it’s own feeling: sleepy, low-key and small-scale. Some people live their whole lives there with only the occasional trip to “The Mainland”. Bonchurch is the kind of English seaside village where there is a landscaped duck pond, a Victorian hotel where Charles Dickens stayed for a few months, and where the “New Church” was built in the 19th century and the “Old Church” is mentioned in the Domesday Book.

You have lived in the U.S. for a good number of years now. Do you still experience culture shock?  Do you have reverse culture shock when you return to the UK?  If so, can you give some examples?

Fun with my nephew Ted!The wonderful thing about emigrating to New York City is that the population is so diverse, you can consider yourself an authentic New Yorker whether or not you were born there, and without giving up everything from the culture you came from. I don’t identify as American, but if somebody challenged my New Yorker label after 13 years in the city, I would be extremely offended! In retrospect, I believe I was drawn across the Atlantic because Juilliard encapsulates a New York idea of individuation as a way of life. So, any home comforts I missed were more than made up for by being able to create a sense of being at home in myself.

The most difficult things about integrating into the culture were more to do with growing up away from my family than about the culture specifically, such as getting a bank account, finding an apartment, and getting health insurance on my own. I’m experiencing some of this again now that I’ve moved out of the city and have a whole new set of skills to lean – driving a car, for example!

IMG_0522
Nowadays, I feel fluent in the cultural languages of both the UK and New York. My accent is literally trans-Atlantic: I sound British to Americans, and I sound American to Brits – although my husband tells me that my English accent comes back in full force the moment my Mum picks up the phone. There are also some things that don’t feel right wherever I am: when I’m in America, I miss the comfort of polite small talk; when I’m in England, I cannot understand why people will not say what they really mean!

You describe yourself as having “nomadic tendencies.”  Can you elaborate?img_2576.jpg

Living and working on the move suits the same restless streak in my nature that led me into dancing. Although I love my house, I’ve come to identify home as a feeling, not a place. There is of course a sense of liberation that comes with this, but I also find it sad in some ways; I dream of having a family and living in a community of people who know me, and eating dinner around the table every day and sleeping in the same bed every night, but my life is flowing with a different tide at the moment. So I trust that, like performing at the Met, this dream will come back to me when the time is right and in the meantime I enjoy the gifts that my travels offer to me.

When OIA contacted you about participating in Eye on Culture, an auto-reply was received that stated you were “unplugging for vacation.” These days, it is rare for someone to unplug from technology in this way. Why is this important to you?

IMG_0569As a freelance artist, you are a business owner as well as an artistic director and performer, and the email load can get heavy. Add in the demands of media updates, scheduling, production requirements and other planning, and you have yourself a minimum of 2-3 computer hours every day. My inbox is never empty, there is always a deadline a few days away or a double booking to negotiate, and so it can be very difficult to switch off the computer, let alone my mind. This can cause a constant, low-level anxiety which has repercussions on my mental and physical health, and my ability to create. As someone whose physical state is at the center of my identity, my work, my self-expression and my pleasure, it is essential for me to continually break the inevitable dependency I develop with my devices. While I appreciate technology – my life would not function without it – I am in a consistent state of shock at how intrusive we allow it to be. If we had a relationship with a person that was as out of our control as our relationship with email or Facebook, our friends would be staging an intervention!

IMG_0523Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I am very excited about the release of Body Story on Memorial Day! This project was prompted by my own need for a guide to moving my body and transforming my mood when I feel stuck after long journeys, too much computer work or other stressful situations that take me out of my body. I figured I was not the only one with this need, so I drew on my work with a wide range of movers to develop ten-minute movement meditations on seven themes: Return, Flow, Command, Embrace, Express, Clarify and Surrender. They’re suitable for everyone and available through my website.