Arash Noori

For the Office of International Advisement’s May edition of Eye-on-Culture, Arash Noori (www.arashnoorimusic.com/) was interviewed. A graduate student in the historical performance program, Arash is a lutist/guitarist born in Tehran, Iran, who is now a Canadian citizen. Read on to learn more about Arash’s love of Monteverdi, his experience with Juilliard415, and the steps he is taking to be more health-conscious.

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Arash Noori with guitar

You are an accomplished guitarist/lutist. What are some of your first memories of these instruments?

My older brother of 5 years had begun taking piano lessons, when I was about two and a half/three years old, and it was at his teacher’s house that I had my first conscious encounter with the guitar. We had gone by to drop off (or pick up…I don’t remember) my brother for a lesson and there was guitar just laying around this teacher’s studio…and I just couldn’t help but to go over for a closer look. It was like a magnet; I went on over picked it and started strumming away. Luckily no one yelled at me to stop…I wonder if I would have become a musician if they had!

You have won many international competitions, and have been described as “the compelling guitarist” by the New York Times. What do you believe makes your music compelling? Can you tell us your secrets?

Hah. Well, the New York Times quote (https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/14/arts/music/review-cantanta-profana-revives-a-henze-cycle-inspired-by-german-poems.html) comes from a review of a performance of Hans Werner Henze’s Kammermusik, a work that I had been wanting to perform for years. It’s a difficult piece to put together; difficult for all instruments of the chamber orchestra, nearly an hour long, with a devilishly difficult tenor part…it’s almost impossible to manage to put together within the confines of the “chamber music program” of even the finest music schools. I finally had a chance to perform the work with some of my closest friends and favorite musicians, the Cantata Profana Ensemble (www.cantataprofana.com/) and the remarked tenor Tom Cooley (www.thomascooley.com). So how is this for a recipe for a successful performance: find a work that you feel strongly about (kind of work that makes your creative and performance impulses fire on all cylinders), add years of anticipation and ruminating until you finally get a chance to perform it, and surround yourself with dear friends and amazing musicians to do so…and I think the odds are that the resulting performance will be pretty darn “compelling.”

You have completed degrees at Yale, and the University of Toronto. Can you tell about your shift from these institutions to Juilliard? Have you noticed any differences? My training at Juilliard has been by far the most focused—accumulating a ton of professional-level performance experience with world-class directors. By the time we’re through with hours of rehearsals, coachings and performances, gosh, there isn’t much time for anything else. My undergraduate experience at University of Toronto was a reasonably well-rounded liberal arts education with a concentration on music; I was a classical guitarist at Yale which meant a lot of independent practice time and a chance to take in as much as one can on the very special and lively campus. The Historical Performance program at Juilliard has definitely been the most intense training I’ve received.

Can you tell us more about why you decided to pursue a graduate degree in historical performance? I simply fell in love with lutes and early guitars…I mean obsessive. As well as the music that goes along with the instruments; particularly the music of Claudio Monteverdi is very close to my heart. He’s my desert-island composer for sure. I just had to pursue further my training in the field given my love for the music and the instruments and the HP program at Juilliard is the gold standard.

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Arash Noori performing on lute.

 

I’ve seen photos of Juilliard415 online, and it seems like everyone has a lot of fun traveling! What are some of your best experiences being part of this group?

Gosh, at the risk of sounding corny, I will say that every project we do is special; this is a special ensemble and an incredibly special program. But I must say that the “Genius of Monteverdi” program that we did under the direction of William Christie in October of 2017 will be the one that I’ll carry with me with vivid memories for a long time. Everything about the project was seemingly tailor-made for me to have an experience of lifetime: I’ve already mentioned my love for the music of Claudio Monteverdi, the repertoire selection—mainly from the 8th book of madrigals “Madrigals of War and Love”—and working with one of my favorite musicians on the planet, William Christie…this was just a dream come true. And to top it all off, Maestro Christie didn’t conduct the project but rather led from harpsichord, playing basso continuo. And as a basso continuo player on lute-family instruments , I got to play along with him. Without getting too technical about the process, it’s analogous to being in a “band”; it’s that kind of improvisatory music making where you have to be very aware of each other—being reactive and supportive to one another as well as whomever you’re accompanying (in this case, our wonderful singers from the vocal arts program)…when you get it right and are playing with expressive and communicative musicians, there is nothing quite like it. It’s fun, spontaneous, creative and exciting and I still really can’t believe that I got to do it with one of the best, ever, William Christie…you know, we were in a “continuo band” together 🙂

What are some things that many people may not know about you?

That I was raised in Iran until the age of 12. My Iranian/Canadian background is no secret but even some of my close friends forget that I was raised in in Iran until I was almost a teenager. I’m not quite sure why; I suspect it’s because of the absence of an accent, or rather the presence of a strong Canadian accent which people detect more readily than a Persian accent…I sound like I was born and raised in Saskatoon and only left yesterday, so people forget that I went through all of elementary school in Iran. I used to think that the Canadian accent is myth; I didn’t hear much of a difference in the way that I and my American friends talked, but having discovered the field of Historical Performance entirely in the United States as a graduate student, and having encountered certain words for the first time with an American accent, when I go home and I hear a Canadian HP colleague say “viola da gamba,” I say to myself “oh boy…there is a Canadian accent… and it’s strong!”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Performing and teaching primarily the music of the 17th and 18th century; sharing the joy of everything that I think is so incredibly special about this repertoire.

I have heard that you have some strong opinions in regards to probiotics, can you share more with us?

Well, let me start by saying that I love being an instrumentalist—and that I love practicing as much as I do—but one realizes sooner or later that it’s not necessarily the healthiest lifestyle. And I was getting to a point where I was beginning feel the negative the health effects of being an instrumentalist at a high level and I made a choice to start being more health-conscious. And the only way that I could do this was to actually treat the matter as a hobby, rather than some thing that I “should do.” Chores are not sustainable with me, so I tried to have fun with it. And it’s an easy thing to do with all the good material that is now available online, from accomplished, accredited experts who choose to share a wealth of information on blogs and podcasts etc.; it’s really incredible. So it’s not that I’m following health “fads”; the people that I that I read and listen to are noted, published experts. It’s become very much so fun; I like keeping an eye out for information, “super foods” and recipes. Recently I’ve become interested in probiotics—simply put, beneficial bacteria that you carry in your gut that can help regulate and strengthen the immune system along with many other health benefits— and realizing that fermented foods are the best source of getting more of these probiotics inside you, I bought a fermentation kit and started making my own sauerkraut! I haven’t been brave enough to attempt kimchi yet but I’ll get there. It’s taken me a while to get any good at making sauerkraut itself; the first couple of batches were, well, not good! In any case, sauerkraut the side I’ve become so fond of this new passion/hobby and I genuinely enjoy doing it; it’s a nice break away from the profession of playing and practicing and it’s an enjoyable way of remedying some of the negative health effects of being a professional musician.

 

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Alexander Andison

For this month’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Alexander Andison, a third year student in the Juilliard Dance Division.  Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, a city he calls “magical,” Alexander came to Juilliard in the fall of 2014 to study contemporary dance.  In addition to being a dedicated dancer, Alexander has excelled outside the dance studio in his role as a student leader.  For the past two years, Alexander has been a Colloquium Peer Mentor and Diversity Advocate (DA).  Don’t miss the opportunity to see Alexander perform in the upcoming Juilliard Dances Repertory. He will be performing in the 7:30 pm shows on Wednesday, March 22nd and Friday, March 24th, as well as the 2 pm show on Saturday, March 25th.  Also, don’t miss the chance to celebrate Women’s History Month at Alexander’s upcoming Diversity Advocate event entitled “Celebrating Diversity, Overcoming Adversity: A Panel Discussion with Women Alumni.”  This is a Foundations Program which will take place at 7pm, on Wednesday, March 29th in the Student Multipurpose Room.

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Billboard for New Dances 2016 on 65th and Broadway

At what age did you begin dancing? What attracted you to dance initially?

I have been dancing for as long as I can remember.  My parents recognized my natural intuition for movement and started putting me in dance classes at age 3. I was a kid with a lot of emotions and energy, mixed with a desire to entertain, so dance seemed to be the perfect outlet.

Did you always know you wanted to study dance and pursue it professionally? Did you have other ideas for what you wanted to do when you “grew up” and if so, what were they?

Growing up, my parents were extremely supportive of my artistic ventures.  I think they saw that aspect of me at a very young age. I was really interested in singing, instruments, acting, photography, as well as dancing. I was fortunate enough to get to try out these different creative mediums. Coming out of elementary school, and looking at high schools, I had to decide what program was right for me.  It was at this point that I decided to narrow in and focus on dance.  High school was when I started my taking my training quite seriously. It was then that I knew that I wanted to pursue dance professionally.

See Alexander dancing in a short dance film by classmate, Mikaela Kelly.

The focus of the Juilliard Dance Division is contemporary dance in which students are trained in both classical ballet and modern dance. Do you prefer one dance form over another? Are there other forms of dance in which you have been trained? 

When I started dancing, I was taking creative movement, tap, jazz, even hip hop. My focus has definitely shifted since then. I started ballet later, when I was ten.  I have a special place in my heart for ballet technique and it really informs my work. I think it’s important to have a strong classical base to build on.  It’s contemporary dance where I really feel at home, although that can mean so many things. I think it is the vast scope of what is being generated under the domain of contemporary dance that makes it so exciting.

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Photo from “Still in An Interrupted Time” by Yin Yue at Springboard Danse Montreal. Photo credit: Michael Slobodian

During the summer of 2015 and 2016, you had the opportunity to dance at the Netherlands Dans Theatre Summer Intensive (https://www.ndt.nl/en/participate/ndt-summer-intensive/homepage-summer-intensive.html) and at Springboard Danse Montreal (https://www.springboarddansemontreal.com/). In your experience, is the approach to dance and dance instruction in the Netherlands and Canada different from that here in the U.S.?

Being from Canada, I was accustomed to a more European based training. Coming to Juilliard, I had to familiarize myself with the vocabulary of American modern dance because, yes, there are differences. In the summers, it has been important for me to revisit some styles and repertory that I grew up doing. Summer also provides opportunities, not only to study, but to go out and experience things that interest you. I am glad that I can go and see the work that is happening in Canada and in Europe – to gain some perspective on the companies there. This will be important for me when looking at my career after my training.

You are originally from Vancouver, Canada. Can you tell our readers a little bit about where you are from?

It took leaving Vancouver to realize how magical it is. The landscape is unique as it incorporates both the city and nature. The West Coast is in my soul; the ocean and the rain are grounding for me. In spite of being so close, America and Canada are different places. Canada has strong European roots, as seen in things such as its official languages, French and English. There is the presence and influence of First Nations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations) throughout the country. America’s cultural influence can be seen in our entertainment and artistic community. At the same time, the country has some decidedly Canadian features. It is the unique combination of elements that makes it very special.

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Picture from Alexander’s childhood in beautiful British Columbia

If someone was to visit Vancouver for a weekend, what would you recommend they do?

I would tell people to spend time amongst the trees and on the water, but also to enjoy what the city has to offer. Stanley Park is the an incredible city park in North America that is actually larger than Central Park; residents and visitors love to walk, run, or bike its seawall.  I would also recommend that people make sure to get some of the amazing ethnic food. My favourite spot is a Lebanese restaurant called Nuba.

During your time at Juilliard you have held two student leader positions, Diversity Advocate and Colloquium Peer Mentor. What initially made you want to become a student leader?  What have you gained from these experiences?

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Alexander helping with International Student Move-In, Fall 2016

Over the last few years, I have realized how important it is to stay engaged with the world beyond the dance studio. With the demands of the schedules at Juilliard, it is easy to get caught up in your discipline. Another aspect of deciding to come to New York was to experience new people and cultures. Being a student leader has been an important way in which to interact with my peers and to engage  with broader world topics.  Part of my decision to come to New York and study at Juilliard was so that I could be exposed to the unfamiliar. These leadership positions have been important for my own education – to make a contribution, but, more importantly, to learn from others.

 

Next year will be your third year as a Diversity Advocate. What have you accomplished as a DA over the past year and a half and what do you hope to accomplish next year?

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Alexander with Cory Owen, fellow Diversity Advocates, and OIA work study students at OIA’s 2016 International Festival

As a Diversity Advocate, I have been able to plan events that have celebrated different cultures and brought attention to backgrounds that the student body might otherwise not get the chance to learn about. Coming up this spring, I am planning a panel discussion in which alumni address the adversities faced by women in the performing arts. I find events like these particularly informative because these are experiences that I don’t have first hand exposure to. Going into the future, I want to continue to have students contribute to the diversity initiatives of the school so that we can collectively continue to explore the different facets of diversity.
Check out Alexander in the Office of International Advisement’s DA Video

 

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Alexander at Garret Mountain, New Jersey

When you are not dancing or being a student leader, how do you like to spend your time?

Outside of dance and civil engagement, I get a lot out of the simple pleasures in life. You can find me in a coffee shop, reading a book while drinking an Americano. I also really enjoy getting out in the neighborhoods of New York. I love going down to the East Village for a meal and to do some thrift shopping. I have also taken the time to experience many of the cultural offerings of the city. Students are encouraged to do this by the faculty, and I have been very fortunate to see some phenomenal productions.

What is one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

This is a difficult question to answer. Dancers by their nature are quite expressive. I don’t tend to talk about myself a lot, so people may be reading about some things I have alluded to here for the first time – that I played the violin, that I have formal training in singing, and that I take a lot of photographs, but I am not sure any one of those things would be surprising. Actually, people would probably be surprised if I started speaking to them in French, but I can do this, although I am admittedly rusty.

Left: Alexander with classmates Simon and Taylor
Center: Alexander and his sister at the Frick Collection
Right: Alexander out in New York City with dear friends Paige and Christina

You are expected to graduate in May 2018. What do you hope to do post-graduation?

After graduating, I hope to join a professional dance company. I want to perform different contemporary repertory to learn a variety of work. Eventually I hope to work under one choreographer, to focus in on their vision and understand the depths of their work. This is my ideal dream, but with a profession like dance, you have to be ready to roll with the punches. Kerry Nicholls (http://www.kerrynicholls.com/), a guest teacher we recently had at school, advised us to embrace the counter-narrative to our lives, because it can be the most exciting aspect. That thought really resonated, and I’ve been trying to carry it with me.

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Photo from “Return to Patience” by Aszure Barton. Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor.

Do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

I would like to extend a thank you to the people who have shaped my experience here at Juilliard: my amazing family and friends; Meg Popick and Cory Owen from International Advisement; Laura Lindsay from the Concert Office; Lawrence Rhodes, the Artistic Director of Dance, my instructors Charla Genn and Espen Giljane, and the rest of the dance faculty. There is always a risk in naming individuals, because so many people have contributed to my development and positive experience here at Juilliard.

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Alexander with best friend Sasha in Seattle, Washington

 

Daniel Fung

For March 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Daniel Fung. A native of Vancouver, Canada, Daniel began his studies at The Juilliard School in fall of 2008 as a master’s student majoring in collaborative piano.  In fall of 2011, he began a doctorate of musical arts, and he is expected to graduate this May.   Performance highlights include concerts with the Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton symphonies, and recitals at Alice Tully Hall, Peter Jay Sharp Theater, and Carnegie Hall. 

Daniel Fung Headshot

Eye on Culture has not featured a DMA student before. Can you tell our readers a bit about the DMA program at Juilliard?  How would you say it differs from other programs?

The DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree at Juilliard is a five year program where admitted students are in residence for the first two years. They take classes and qualifying comprehensive examinations at the end of two years. Then they have up to the next three years to research, write, and complete their dissertation. The seven admitted C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellows represent a broad range of instruments and that is one way in which the program differs from other programs. We stick together for nearly every class for the two year residency and our group is a wonderful and somewhat kooky one. I enjoy each and every one of them. Another difference about the DMA is that it is most likely the last degree that one pursues in their academic careers unless they decide to do post-doctoral work. For me, though, the DMA will most certainly be the last bit of schooling that I undertake.

What advice would you give to current Juilliard students considering a DMA program?

At every significant juncture in life, one should carefully consider their future artistic and career goals. Deciding to do a DMA would be a major undertaking that opens the road to a certain path of future possibilities. The current job market is one that often requires a DMA in order to be considered for an academic position and that is an important detail to consider. That being said, academia is not for everyone and putting one’s time and energy into a DMA may not necessarily be the right fit. Having commensurate professional and performing experience, even without a DMA, would allow one to be considered for such positions should they arise. You alone will know what you want, what you aspire to, and what feels to be the right option for you in that moment. Seek the advice of your mentors and colleagues but ultimately you have to go with what you feel is right for you. I’ve wanted to do a DMA since I started my undergraduate degree as I welcomed the intellectual challenge balanced with the continued playing opportunities. One jokingly says that those in the DMA program spend all of their time in the library. That may be true for some but I have found it extremely feasible to strike a balance between academics and performing without sacrificing the quality or time for either.

You started at Juilliard in 2008 as a master’s student, and now eight years later, you are graduating with a doctorate degree. Do you think Juilliard has changed during this period of time? If so, in what ways?

DSC06331This question makes me sound like I am either an ancient being or I entered the school as a 2-year-old prodigy! Has it already been eight years? I remember that I entered just as Juilliard was finishing the renovations and upgrade to the building. The scaffolding was still there and we saw a lot of the eastern side of the building (Career Services, the famous red stairs, the fifth floor orchestral room, etc.) behind plastic and marked with “Do not enter” signs. In addition to the educational enhancements these spaces allowed, we also gained some desperately needed practice rooms. Being an arts institution, we could add three more floors of practice rooms (at least) and still be needing more but those who remember the period before the renovation remain thankful for everything we gained. Another significant change is seeing Juilliard defining our brand and figuring how to make a mark in the world. The following years will be interesting ones indeed.

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After graduation, what will you miss most about Juilliard? What do you think you won’t miss about being a student?DSC04232

I will most likely miss getting to see and meet the concentration of wonderfully talented people that make up Juilliard. I am not only speaking about the students, but also the faculty and staff. How often, outside of school, can you get a couple of your friends together and read a piano quartet? I don’t necessarily think there is any specific thing I will miss about being a student but I am looking forward to having the last training wheels come off. Then I can take what I’ve learned here and go use it as needed as I continue on my career and life journey.

If you had to choose one, what would you say is your greatest career highlight so far?

I think one would have to define “greatest” in order to answer this question and I would substitute “most touching” instead. I still remember the last degree recital that I gave in Calgary and it was a poignant end to that chapter of my life. I had, as one does, invited all of my friends, family, and colleagues and knew that many of them would be in attendance. The concert hall seats 384 people and when I walked out onstage, I remember seeing the entire hall filled. There were maybe 15 empty seats. I remember thinking about how much love and support I felt when they applauded my entrance. Once I had finished the performance, my teacher Marilyn Engle asked where everyone came from since she had never seen such attendance for any event there student or otherwise. There were friends from school, church, the residence hall, as one might expect but there was also the cleaning lady (Mrs. Chan) who brought her family, the chefs (Allan and Amy) who worked in some of the on-campus restaurants and many others like them. That moment showed me how powerfully music could bring people together. I played a challenging program for the listener that did not feature any “standards” but they were there with me every note of the recital. That realization told me how classical music is relevant to the human experience and the importance of us to continue to bring it to people who have never experienced it. We would all be the richer for it.

One of my favorite questions to ask Juilliard students is what they would have studied or pursued as a career if not performing arts. So, what do you think you would be doing if not being a pianist?

I wrestled between music and science when I thought about which path to take for university. In deciding that it would be wiser to do a year of music (continue the momentum) and return to science rather than going at it the other way. I haven’t looked back since. But if science won, I would have pursued medicine as I am passionate about people and would want to do my part to heal others. I would probably want to be a GP (General Practitioner) so I would have maximum contact with people or I would do surgery so as to keep my hands fleet.  I also enjoy languages and other cultures so I possibly could have been a translator or perhaps even a diplomat. As I shared earlier. I’ve already seen how music is a language that allows for instantaneous connection and it’s opened up new places, cultures, and experiences that I never imagined. So, I guess I’m already a diplomat or ambassador through music!

After doing a little investigative reporting (okay, it was just Google), I found that you enjoy traveling the world. Do you have a favorite travel destination?  What makes this place stand out?

DSC00436I have enjoyed every place that I’ve been fortunate to visit but a couple stand out to me. I love Florence and would go back there in a heartbeat. The culture, the history, the food, the scenery, and the list goes on and on. I love Munich for the culture and the energy of that city. Southern France is amazing (I can’t pick a city!) because of the golden way that the sun glows in the sky. It’s impossible to describe unless one has visited but the light is warm and captivating at the same time. There is also the wonderful smell of lavender that is present in the summer. I also love Hong Kong because of my own personal connection (I was born there) and it also has a rich history and delicious food. There are many more places on the bucket list and I know that music will continue to take me to delightful and unexpected places.

During your travels, have you done anything particularly adventurous?

I think an element of adventure is present anytime one leaves their base. One of the earliest adventures that I’ve had was my first time in Salzburg in 2002 and going to the Eisriesenwelt (“World of the Ice Giants”) in Werfen. These are the largest ice caves in the world and extends for more than 42km. We took a train from Salzburg (about 40 minutes), then a bus up the mountain, and climbed the last leg by foot up to the cave’s entrance. We were there during the summer but we wore all of our warmest clothing. I remember sitting in a bench that was carved on the side of the mountain and looking down into a vast chasm. It’s probably not a good idea if you’re afraid of heights but there was a mini thrill before the ice cave tour. We all wore headlamps as we trekked through about 2km of the caves. It was absolutely breathtaking and since the ice melts and refreezes, the formations are constantly changing. They are also beautifully lit and pictures do not do it justice. I also remember a family trip in 2007 where I was in the Maritime Provinces in my native Canada and visited Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island (P.E.I. for short). We had many wonderful experiences there but I vividly remember being in Saint John, NB (not to be confused with St. John’s, Newfoundland) and seeing the beach area go from low tide to high tide. I was actually standing in the water and dared to stay in as long as I could. It was exhilarating. I also remember something involving a can of Coke, a plastic bag, and a lobster but that is for another time. There are many more stories that I would gladly share over coffee or a glass of wine.IMG_5871

Google also told me you enjoy preparing new cuisines. Is there a dish or cuisine you have mastered?  If so, feel free to bring it in to OIA to share 🙂 

I cook a lot of Chinese food because those are the flavours that are familiar and relatively quick to make. The secret is about preparing and marinating things well in advance of the actual cooking time. My roommate has most certainly seen me up at midnight chopping garlic, dicing onions, and cutting ginger slivers so I am all set for the next day. I am always open to trying new foods and there are certain dishes that I will make on special occasions. I can make a mean roasted shoulder of lamb with accompanying vegetables and a chocolate lava cake (crunch on the outside, gooey on the inside) with a dollop of homemade vanilla bean gelato. I also used to bake quite a bit but there isn’t the time for that anymore.

Is there anything else you want to share with our readers?

While the interview anDSC06042swers might suggest that I lead a life firing on all cylinders, I am actually a homebody. I prefer my cup of tea (Earl Grey with a thin slice of lemon) and a good book. Despite what might seem to be an inordinately busy schedule, I relish these quiet times and it’s even better when I get to share it with a familiar or new friend. I always love connecting with other people and hearing their stories. Thank you for taking the time to read!

 

See Daniel Fung perform with Pureum Jo during a master class taught by renowned soprano and Juilliard alumna,  Renée Fleming.

Jessica Moss

For February 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Jessica Moss, an award-winning playwright from Toronto, Canada.   Jessica is a first year Artist Diploma student in the Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Program (http://www.juilliard.edu/degrees-programs/drama/lila-acheson-wallace-american-playwrights-program).  Her works have won many awards including the 2015 Toronto Fringe Festival Best New Play Award for her play CamBaby, and the 2013 Fringe Festival Patron’s Pick Award, Best of Fringe Award, and the Ed Mirvish Award for Entrepreneurship for her one-woman show Polly Polly.  She has also been recognized by the Playwrights Guild of Canada and during the RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwriting Competition (http://tarragontheatre.com/news-events/artists/rbc-tarragon-emerging-playwrights-competition/).  Additionally, in 2013, she was one of NOW Magazine‘s Artists of the Year.  In her interview with OIA, Jessica shares not only her passion for playwriting, but also her love for acting, dance, improv comedy, and Canadian potato chips, and her experience dealing with the subtleties between Canadian and U.S. culture.   

Jessica Moss

Eye on Culture has not featured a student in Juilliard’s Playwrights Program before. Can you tell us a little about it and what attracted you to this specific program?

The Playwrights Program is an Artist Diploma program and part of the drama department. It’s a fellowship led by Marsha Norman and Chris Durang. There are ten of us currently in the program, and we write plays and bring them in and read them and talk about them, and occasionally the actors read them for us and then we talk about them more. It’s a very small and focused program and the most supportive academic environment I have ever been a part of. The other nine writers are the most talented people I know, and I remain in awe that they let me come from learn from them.

I very much wanted to be in New York: I had visited and come down to train briefly before and it’s an exciting place to be if you love theatre. I have a B.A. and then did conservatory style training for acting, so I had done a lot of school already, and wasn’t so interested in doing something where I had to take theatre history classes again, and do lots of writing assignments to try different styles. This program has a lot of freedom in it: there is a lot of time to write. And Chris Durang and Marsha Norman were very big influences on me (honestly, on almost every theatre artist I know), so to get to be in a room with them was a bit unreal…

Are there specific themes you like to explore in your writing? If so, what are they? What draws you to explore these particular themes in your pieces?

I think that everything I write is a comedy, and I think loneliness is at the centre of everything I write. My ideal piece of theatre would be where the audience is laughing along and then spontaneously weeps. And then laughs again. I really like dance numbers: I feel like I sit through a lot of plays silently hoping that the whole cast will dance together! And then I get afraid that they will dance into the audience and there will be audience participation and I will have to dance in front of everyone and that is my nightmare, but also my secret ambition.

Polly Poster Just Polly

I really love the limitations of theatre and the freedom that’s allowed by these limitations. You can’t do everything: so you can do anything. One of my favourite theatre things ever is in the notes to Angels in America, Tony Kushner writes (in regards to how to rig the angel’s flying entrance and how to do the other effects in the play): ‘The moments of magic…are to be fully realized, as bits of wonderful theatrical illusion – which means it’s OK if the wires show, and maybe it’s good that they do, but the magic should at the same time be thoroughly amazing’. I love that: maybe it’s good if the wires show. I like the idea that things can be epic and intimate at the same time: that you can see the actor making the effect, and it can still be transformative. That the audience participates in the illusion and helps the performers make it. I feel that’s what I’m chasing.

You are at Juilliard for playwriting, but you have an extensive acting resume as well. Do you have a favorite role, and if so, what makes this particular role stand out?

I did a production of Alice in Wonderland in Sudbury, Ontario, which is a mining city about five hours north of Toronto. It was December, and the snow came down and just did not stop. We did two shows a day for school kids that were bussed in from all over northern Ontario, many of whom had never seen a play before. Our calls were 8.30 a.m., and I had to walk from my billet and it was so freezing. In my day, I literally had to walk every morning in the snow to get to work! BUT! I played Alice’s sister, the Mouse, the Caterpillar, the Duchess, a talking Tiger Lily, part of the Jabberwocky, and The Queen of Hearts. The Queen of Hearts! She was so much fun. And backstage we were just running around and opening doors and moving the set and tearing from costume to costume and it was a total theatrical joy.

LDN magnifying eyeI’ve written two solo shows for myself, and performing those has been the scariest, most sickening thing, but also incredibly rewarding. I created those shows physically, working by myself in front of a mirror to find the physical language and the running back to my computer and writing the lines to go with it. Throughout the whole process, I kept telling myself, ‘You wrote yourself into this mess, now act your way out of it’. I wrote those parts to do things that I loved doing and do things that I never got to do onstage, and so they were very ‘me’, and also very not: they were both what I knew I could do and what I didn’t think I ever could. I felt so exposed doing them, but it was incredibly gratifying.

But, oh man, when you do a one-woman show that you wrote and produced on your own, you sit in that dressing room before you go out and there is just no one else to blame if things go badly, and in those moments, you are looking into the abyss, and the abyss is looking right back and saying, ‘Don’t you mess this up, Jessica Moss. Don’t you mess this up’.

If you had to choose, would you rather write plays or act in them?

Let’s not kid anyone, I’m just going to cheat at this question and say both, and also produce them. I have a touch of Nick Bottom disease: I just want to do the whole thing.

Last semester you started taking improv classes at Upright Citizens’ Brigade (https://www.ucbtheatre.com/) in New York City. Can you tell us a little about UCB and your experience with the classes?

Jess!lI was doing improv on and off for years in Toronto and it’s just so fun and a great way to write and to practice being onstage. I really think it’s an incredible artform that cuts to the quick about what’s great about theatre: imagination, freedom, specificity, humour, commitment. I love that you build words out of nothing and immediately destroy them. I have really liked going to UCB and doing their method, which is a pretty specific thing all based around an improv format called the Harold. I really hope to keep continue working with them and exploring other improv groups in New York.

Okay, let’s see if those improv classes have paid off. Tell us a joke (clean joke). One, Two, Three, go…

How do you think the unthinkable?
……
With an ithe-berg.

I love that joke! I have a slight lisp so it is very personally relevant to me.

When you are not writing or acting, what do you like to do in your free time?

Looking at writing and acting and thinking about it, mostly. I am trying to explore New York as much as I can. I used to bake a lot and I’m pretty good at it, but my oven in my apartment doesn’t work too well, so I’ve just been looking at a lot of pictures of cake on the Internet.

Can you tell our readers a little bit about where in Canada you grew up? Do you feel that this environment has influenced you as a writer and performing artist? If so, how?

I’m from the west end of Toronto, an area called Roncesvalles. There is a great line on 30 Rock where a reclusive character played by Steve Martin says ‘Toronto is just like New York, but without all the stuff!’, and that is kind of unfair and kind of really true. But it’s my home and I’m very devoted to it, although I do not care about our hockey team.

I think one thing that has been important to me is that Toronto was a big filming destination for movies: but it never played itself. It’s just a big city so it plays Boston, or New York, or wherever. And I always really wanted to see stories that happened in Toronto, so most of my work has been set there, and referencing very Toronto/Canadian things.

Canada has so much influence coming up from the States, but also over from England. Sometimes it’s to the detriment of being able to create our own national voice (particularly in film and TV, where Canadian content kind of gets drowned under bigger American stuff), but it also means there’s kind of a cool melding of the best parts of both worlds. And, there’s a lot of French and European influence coming from Quebec, which is pretty amazing. I went to acting school in Quebec and took class in French, and did a lot of Lecoq-based jeu, Gaulier clown, physical theatre….so there are a lot of really wonderful things that you can be exposed to up there, and I think a lot of that ended up being in the things I aspire to make.

I saw this cartoon recently (below), and it made me chuckle, but do you think there is some truth behind it? Do you sometimes experience this sense of familiarity in NYC but simultaneously, a somewhat “strange” feeling?

cartoonYeah, we are different and the same. It’s weird! I really feel New Yorkers are the greatest, and especially being a part of the school I have felt very welcome. But every now and then there will be a little difference, or I won’t know about something everyone is laughing about, and I remember that I come from a whole other country.

Although home is not too far away, what part of Canadian culture do you miss most while you are in the U.S.?

Canada has better potato chips. There. I said it.

Really the only thing that bugs me about New York so far is how fast people are to put things in plastic bags. Back home we were charged for plastic bags in stores for a while, in an effort to reduce waste, so I (and most people I know) got into the habit of carrying reusable bags around, and trying to not use plastic bags. And here I feel I am constantly saying, ‘PLEASEI’MSORRYIDON’TNEEDABAG’ very quickly and loudly and irritating every retail person I engage with. But it doesn’t work, and I am quickly losing the plastic bag fight, they are taking over my apartment, please help me.

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

I’m so grateful to be a part of the Juilliard community, to be able to live in New York and be surrounded by so many dedicated and exciting artists. It’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I am so deeply in love with (and endlessly frustrated by) the theatre, and so it’s incredible to go to school in a place where that love is nurtured, and believed in, and then to walk down Broadway and see that it can be made into a reality, that a passion can be a career, a way of living. I’m so lucky. I’m just a lucky little Canadian. (Sorry).

Click the play button to watch highlights from Jessica Moss’ one-woman show, Polly Polly; winner of the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival’s Patron’s Pick Award, Best of Fringe Award, and the Ed Mirvish Award for Entrepreneurship.  Polly Polly was also nominated for Best One Person Show at the Canadian Comedy Awards.

Note: This video contains some adult language.

 

 

 

 

Brennan Clost

This month’s Eye on Culture interview allowed me to interview Brennan Clost, a rising senior in the Dance Divison who hails from Canada.  This interview was particularly fun as I get to learn more about his hectic schedule balancing Juilliard during the school year and filming a tv show during the summers at home!

YouIMG_2967 do a lot of different types of dance styles—what’s your favorite and why?
It’s a toss up between contemporary and jazz.  Contemporary has the freedom to explore and borrow from any dance style, which I love.  I’ve found in my time at Juilliard that contemporary dance, because it is limitless, enables young choreographers to find their niche and voice through their own natural style of movement.  I have loved jazz since I first started dancing, there’s just no other dance class I’ve felt the same ecstatic energy through the room as I do when I’m dancing in a jazz class.

You’ve had a very busy career so far (Canada’s Got Talent, Degrassi: The Next Generation, and your current show, The Next Step)—what made you decide to leave Canada to come to Juilliard? 
My parents have always emphasized how important it is to have an education, and they instilled in me a belief that university/college is not only great for your mind, but for finding yourself as a person and learning how to navigate being an adult.  I’ve been lucky that The Next Step films during my summer vacation in between academic years at Juilliard, so I’ve been able to balance doing both.  First of all, getting into Juilliard is beyond imaginable, so deciding to go was the easiest decision to make.  Getting an education, while pursuing the arts is, and it hasn’t taken away from my other passion for acting and commercial work.  Win, win, win!

Are the fans of The Next Step surprised to find out that you’re actually a Juilliard student since your character didn’t get into the school?  
It’s entertaining to see the fans of the show comment on my social media because they’ll share their candid thoughts about the story of an episode or my character’s storyline.  Since a lot of the viewers are younger they don’t understand that me, Brennan, lives a different life than my character, Daniel.  However, the older fans don’t hold back when they assure the other fans, “Yes, I know I’m right, he actually goes to Juilliard in real life”.  It’s adorable imaging these younger kid’s rational minds exploding at the confusion that I got cut from Juilliard but wait… I actually go there.

How is prepping the dance scenes for the show different than how you prepare for a Juilliard show? 
Well since film and television is time sensitive and quick-paced we rarely have more than five minutes to warm up before doing a dance scene, and then we will shoot the dance at least six times, if not more.  At Juilliard, this would be unheard of, the faculty is very adamant about having a full ballet warm up class, and ample time to get in the right headspace before a performance.  Even the rehearsal periods are so different between the show and at school.  Time is money in TV land, so we usually only will have two or three hours to set an entire dance.  At school we have about two or three months with hours upon hours of rehearsal to prepare a piece for a big performance.  There’s definitely a lot of pressure on the performers in both circumstances, but an entirely different experience.

I know a lot of people don’t think that Canadians aren’t “real” international students—tell me about something that surprised you about US culture when you moved here. 
The glorified holidays are something that surprised me in my first year living in the US.  There must be a statutory holiday every other week – no wonder Juilliard doesn’t observe all of these holidays, we’d never be in school!

What are the challenges of being an international student that your US friends don’t have to deal with? 
Having double of everything.  Two phones, with two phone plans to pay for.  Filing two sets of taxes.  Two health insurance plans.  Two banks and two debit cards, that won’t connect through online banking.  There are a lot of hidden challenges of living in another country, and it definitely helps to be organized.

What is your favorite trivia about Canada that most people don’t know? 
Once a year Tim Horton’s has an event called “Roll-up the Rim” and it is the single most exciting coffee event of my year.  After drinking your hot beverage from Tims, you roll up your coffee cup rim and have a chance at winning tons of awesome prizes – from small items like free coffees, or a donut, to larger scale prizes like a car, or a camping trip.  Usually, I catch the end of it when I come home for spring break!

Please share a funny or interesting story about your time in the U.S. (a language misunderstanding, something you found strange or unusual in the U.S., etc.): 
One time while my class and I were rehearsing for our New Dances performance, I asked the choreographer if I could run out to the washroom quickly.  I remember the look on the choreographers face as she tried to not laugh at my use of “washroom”.  This of course has added to my classmate’s supply of Canadian phrases I use.  They always poke fun at me whenever I come back to school after being home for a while, and I tack on “eh” to the end of all my sentences!

What is the most common misconception about Canada? 
The most irritating misconception about being from Canada is the assumption that I shouldn’t feel the cold in the dead of winter.  First of all, New York’s climate is not any different than my home in Toronto.  Secondly, just because I grew up with snow outside during the winter, in no way means I’ve evolved a cold-weather-armor over top of my skin.

What advice do you have for other international students? 
Find a place that makes you feel like you’ve found a piece of home.  For me that was Starbucks!  My mom and I used to always have outings to go book shopping and we would always get a Starbucks together, so being as home sick as I was moving to New York City I visited Starbucks probably six times a week to get that little bit of home that I needed to make it until Christmas break.  Perhaps, find a cheaper piece of home than a $5 latte…

Kara Chan

Kara Chan, a fourth-year dancer in Juilliard’s Dance Division, has illuminated the stage of many a Juilliard dance performance I have attended. In the course of our interview, she exuded a wisdom and poise far beyond her years. Her generosity of spirit graces the questions below.

4 year old ballerinaI’ve been fortunate to see you perform in many Juilliard dance performances over the years. How did you come to study dance?
Well, I was always one of those kids that would turn on the music on the stereo and dance and skip around the couch – there are so many recordings of me just doing my own thing. I was always an active child so that’s why my parents decided “Oh, she loves dance. Let’s put her in dance classes.” So I started recreationally at the age of 5. I relocated to a pre-professional training studio at age 10. I later went to high school that had a half day program, so it allowed me to do my academics which was a very important part of my life and do my training in the afternoons. It fulfilled so much for me and there was never a question of not dancing after high school. Dance has always been a really important part of my life.

IMG_1356Tell us about your native Vancouver.
I’m from North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Vancouver is very beautiful. It’s very green and it’s just a beautiful place with lots of mountains and trees and nature. It rains a lot which helps with the beauty of Vancouver, but I love it. I miss that aspect of it while being here. It’s a place where you can disconnect into the peace of nature. There is hiking and during the winter, all winter sports: skiing, snowshoeing, cross country (which I really love doing).

Who inspires you?
In general, I find inspiration from people who really have a drive and a passion for what they’re doing. It’s their outlook on life, their optimism, and making the most of it, for sure. Being surrounded by so many wonderful human beings as well as artists, I definitely can say that I’ve been inspired every day. It is so wonderful to be in an environment of people that want to be pursuing their art form and are wonderful human beings as well. I think the arts bring people together. I admire people that share the same work ethic and anyone who brings the best out of you; any mentor or person who sees the best in you and believes in your potential to grow and to continue evolving and learning.

Juilliard_Kara Chan_019

richardcorman.com

Is there any one person that has been especially mentoring of you at Juilliard?
Charla Genn, who teaches ballet class at Juilliard. She embodies all of these things I just mentioned. She’s very demanding of course, but it’s all a part of wanting the best from you and she’s so generous, so caring, and really wanting to invest in you. She sees everyone as a unique individual and makes them feel special – I think that’s a really special quality to have.

What other endeavors do you feel passionately about?
Being at Juilliard so many of my memorable experiences have been outside the dance studio. Participating in Educational Outreach, doing Gluck, as well as teaching with the CLIMB fellowship and Arts Enrichment. I think it’s really important to develop and hone the skills as a teaching and performing artist as well as focusing on the pursuit of your career, because it informs what you do so much by being in the front of the studio. I really love teaching and sharing what I know with the New York community. I also really love Yoga. When I go back home for spring or winter break, it gives me a sense of groundedness, balance, and the ability to tap into my inner strength.

Juilliard School of the Arts

rosalieoconnor.com

What do you think is the main challenge of being an international student?
Definitely the costs. Traveling home to here, and finding scholarship opportunities, which ties together. As a graduating student I’m starting to deal with visa things. Dance companies sometimes specify in their auditions that they only can look for dancers who either are U.S. citizens or hold a valid green card, so that ultimately cuts you off from being seen. This limits the options as an international dancer looking for work. I’ve come to realize that if a company is interested in you they have to take on that financial burden of your visa if they want to have you be a part of their collective. So that’s another challenge that is sort of new that I’ve discovered.

IMG_0245What was your transition like to the U.S.?
Before coming to Juilliard, I never spent a long period of time away from home, so the transition going into a big city was very exciting for me. I really loved being independent and finding what that was like to live. I actually wasn’t home sick my first year at all. I think it’s just the nature of being here and finding a community of people where you feel like you built a family. I do love the fast pace of New York City because I’m a very quick walker, but I think that has come from being in the city too. Coming to the U.S. I’ve definitely developed a broader perspective and an open mind. The diversity that exists in this city is so wonderful and so unique, so I think that’s special.

What are the differences you’ve noticed between Canada and the U.S.?
The holidays are much more commercialized and blown up here [in the U.S.]. Definitely, we know the U.S. as in larger portion sizing, so that was interesting. Canadians are often teased for being too polite, saying “sorry” when it’s not necessary. Oh, and I apparently have a Canadian accent in pronouncing words like “bag,” “bagel,” and “sorry.”

IMG_1244What aspect of Canada do you miss the most?
I love seeing the mountains, fresh clean air, and fresh water. Vancouver has the best water, I think. And being in nature. Central Park is beautiful, however, it’s amidst the tall buildings. Vancouver offers the sites, the nature, the greenery, the mountains and all the things you can do in terms of being outdoors – hiking, taking walks, etc.

What is the most common misconception of Canada?
I get this a lot: “Oh, you’re from Canada. It must be so cold”, or “Oh, you’re used to it here” as though you shouldn’t even be complaining it’s cold. It depends on where – of course if you’re living more back east like in Montreal and Toronto it can get cold in the winters. However, Vancouver is very pleasant – it’s a rain forest. Everyone thinks if you’re from Canada, you are used to wearing a parka all year round. That’s not the case and people think that you’re really talky and I’m not. What else? The temperature thing, Fahrenheit to Celsius – that was an adjustment. I haven’t converted to knowing what Fahrenheit is in relation to Celsius. I still look at my phone.

TheSchoolAtJacobsPillow_ContemporaryProgram_2014JamieKraus_69

jamiekraus.com

In reflecting on your experience in the US, what are the first three words that come to mind?
Opportunity. Diversity. Learning.