Tal First

For the August Edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Tal First, a third year violinist from Israel. Read on to learn more about Tal’s passion for violin, his approach to adapting in NYC, and his experience with Musethica.

Tal First sitting with violin.

Tal First sitting with violin. Credit Ilan Spira.

You began your violin studies when you were six in Israel. What influences were there for you to pursue violin?

Tal playing violin as a child.

Young Tal playing violin.

I started playing the violin after attending a concert played by the school’s violin and cello teachers. I remember listening to the violin’s sound and being amazed by how beautiful it is. During lessons I loved when my teacher (Geri Ferber) demonstrated on his own violin (probably because he made the sound that I still couldn’t fully produce), and very early on he started giving me [Itzhak Perlman’s] tapes and CDs, so Itzhak Perlman quickly became a source of inspiration.

What are some of the differences you’ve noticed while studying violin in Tel Aviv compared to your time here at Juilliard?

My own mentality. These two different situations are more than just two different institutions. In Israel I studied in a music school that is part of the Tel Aviv University, so there was that. Also, I served in the army at the same time. I simply couldn’t really devote my entire life to my studies at that time. However, when I came to Juilliard everything has changed immediately: I wasn’t in the army, I wasn’t with my family, my life started being in English, I left my comfort zone. All these changes and sacrifices were made in order to achieve a new mentality: everything for the violin and music. This is the biggest difference between my time in Tel Aviv and my time here at Juilliard.

Can you explain more about the IDF for those who are unfamiliar with this commitment in Israel?

So, basically everyone in Israel has to serve in the army at the age of 18. There are many different programs and paths in the army; and, I got into what is called the “outstanding musican program”. The musicians in the program get the chance to keep practicing their instrument on a daily basis (otherwise they can’t practice regularly for 2-3 years, and that is… bad) while serving in the army.

Are there any cultural aspects in the U.S. that you weren’t fully prepared for when you first arrived for your studies?

Yes! I remember having to get used to public transportation’s existence on weekends!

What advice do you have for students who have difficulties overcoming culture differences? What have you found helpful?

Adjusting is part of us, and part of this world. Don’t be afraid from the cultural differences you notice. Remember that at the same time when you live within a new culture, your new environment is curious about you and your culture as well. So be yourself and share your own culture while you embrace others’ cultures- it goes both ways.

What do you miss most about Israel/your hometown?

Friday night dinners with my family.

Tal with his cat, Steak

Tal with his cat, Steak

Where do you suggest our readers visit in Israel?

Caesarea and Tel Aviv. Caesarea has this beautiful “old city” part that was built 2000 years ago, and in Tel Aviv you can just walk around, enjoy the unique vibes and eat some of the best food.

What do you think some of the best food is?

First of all, if you come to Israel you have to try some of the Mediterranean cuisine. We have wonderful dishes of fish, salads, hummus, falafel… Besides that, in Tel Aviv there is a large variety of restaurants of different cuisines that one should not miss.

Do you have any favorite places or things to do in NYC?

I came to NYC mainly for the cookies and banana pudding…

Can you share more about your involvement with “Musethica”?

Tal performing violin.

Tal performing violin.

Musethica is a foundation that organizes chamber concerts in places for people with special needs and circumstances. [Learn more about Musethica here: www.musethica.org/ ]They create a once-a-week-group from a few students and a teacher, and after a few days of rehearsals we go and perform in these different places for about 10 concerts in 3-4 days. I started my journey with them the year before I came to Juilliard; and, I participate in a “Musethica Week” almost every time I go back for a visit in Israel. This project is so important to me because of its unique combination of professionalism and humanity. On the one hand I receive the opportunity to play with some of the best teachers and students, dealing with stage fright, as well as pushing myself to the limits as a performer: when you have 10 concerts in such a short time, it is easier to achieve the feeling of “I have nothing to lose. Let’s try this and that”. As I got familiar with this feeling, I can now better feel it when I have a one concert opportunity as well. On the other hand, when playing for those people one can really understand the power of music. We play in many different places, such as: schools, hospitals, Alzheimer Centers, Mental Health Centers, prisons, and more. So many people in those concerts are being touched by the music in a way that we don’t see in “normal” concerts. One of my favorite memories is from when we played Mozart’s famous string quintet in G minor in an Alzheimer Center. A 90-year-old was sitting in the first row, and he was in a very late stage of the disease. The doctors told us that he used to be a professional violist. As soon as we started playing he became still, quiet. As soon as the viola came in with the famous theme he started doing the fingerings on his knee!!!!. The music gave him inner peace for a little while, and we were unbelievably moved with what we just saw.

If you were not a violinist, what do you think your life pursuits may be?

I used to play tennis quite a lot, so this might be one answer. This year I discovered my love for cooking. With some practice, this could have been another option.

Do you have any favorite tennis players?

Definitely Roger Federer. Besides the fact he is just a player from another galaxy, he seems to be charismatic, respectful, modest, and a nice person. I guess it is just very easy and natural to become his fan.

What is something that many may not know about you? Is there anything else you would like to share?

I am Israeli, but before the holocaust my entire family lived in Poland. So, I grew up with my grandparents’ polish cooking. A lot of Pierogi.

Tal with friends from Juilliard

Tal with friends!

 

 

 

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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 Wang in performance

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 (http://www.bda.edu.cn/english/index.htm), 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, Chelsea Market, Highline Park, Chinatown, Korean Town

 

Can with an ice-cream filled treat

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joanie Hofmeyr

For the October 2016 edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviews Joan (Joanie) Hofmeyr, a second year vocal arts student from South Africa.  After years of music training in South Africa, Joanie spent a year of high school as an exchange student at the Episcopal Academy (http://www.episcopalacademy.org/) in Newtown, Pennsylvania.  Her time in Pennsylvania motivated to continue her musical training in the United States.  In her short time at Juilliard, Joanie has been in the chorus for the opera, La Sonnambula, and has participated in Juilliard’s annual Choreo-Comp.  However, her interests extend far beyond being a vocalist.  She is an avid attendee of Workout with Darryl, holds two work-study jobs during the academic year (usher and mailroom clerk), and has served as a Summer Conference Assistant, Audition Monitor, and Orientation Leader.

Listen to Joanie sing her intrepretation of”Estat ai en greu cossirier” written by the Comptesse de Dia.  The recording was used by second year dancer, Moscelyne Parkeharrison, for her solo at the annual Juilliard Dance Workshop Series performance.

When did you begin singing and music training? When did you realize that singing was more than a hobby and something you wanted to pursue professionally?

Music training was like this extension of the Hofmeyr family… it was somehow never a question in my mind. I started taking piano lessons at age 5 I think? (Have very little to show for it on the actual piano now, of course… hopefully that knowledge has been translated theoretically). I also took recorder and violin lessons for a bit – neither of those did it for me.

open-mic-nights

Joanie at a Open Mic Night

And neither did piano in the end. The singing lessons happened way later. Thinking about it now, I realize that singing was very much my own thing until I got to the age where people started asking me what I wanted to be. I used to write songs with a little recorder that I’d hum tunes into and a book for lyrics. I remember sitting my dad down around that time in my life wanting to discuss the prospect of being a pop star. For him, there would be no discussion about the pop. He said if I was really considering this whole singing thing then I’d have to be serious and realistic about my options: being a pop star would be impossible for someone in my circumstances, and frankly he didn’t see what set me aside from other aspiring pop stars.

me-and-my-bestie-attempt-a-2-man-indie-rock-band-named-jucy-which-is-of-course-a-combination-of-our-names-joanie-and-lucy

Joanie and her best friend, Lucy, playing in their indie-rock band, “Jucy”

Obviously I had a classical voice and he would 100% support my training for that. I knew so little about this “classical” genre except for the fact that it suited my voice and I thought that, once I studied it and got into it, I’d foster a love for it. And so the “real” vocal training began. At one point in ninth grade I was juggling so much – I also took ballet lessons almost all my life up until that point – and school was really becoming demanding. I wanted to prioritize. School was number one for me. I love learning and studying. So I stopped practicing as much for my piano lessons and in my (what turned out to be) last lesson I admitted to my teacher that I identified as a singer, not a pianist; that I’d choose singing in front of people over playing piano in front of them any day of the week and that there was no point in learning to play these hard pieces if I didn’t feel confident enough to perform them for anyone. Whether positive or negative, I think that was a defining moment for whatever my career turns out to be.

See Joanie play the role of Marianne in a student production of an abridged version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Woman in White.”

What was your initial reaction to the news that you were accepted to Juilliard?

at-the-airport-on-my-way-to-audition-at-juilliard-with-a-good-luck-present-from-my-sister-i-still-wear-the-ring-today

Joanie at the airport in South Africa on her way to Juilliard for her audition. Her sister gave her this ring for good luck. She wears it to this day.

I thought, “Okay! So now I can die, right?” I wanted it so badly that, honestly, I didn’t think there could be anything more that I wanted to achieve in my life. Ridiculous, right? I mean, of course I had hoped it would happen, but I never allowed myself to
think about or picture my life beyond getting accepted… I think I’ve always thought that thinking I’ve got something before I really have it is bad luck, or that I’m setting myself up for disappointment, so I honestly didn’t want to consider the reality of getting in, in case that would jinx it. So, after the news, I was really surprised to find that life still went on and I was expected to keep living.

After you were admitted to Juilliard, a member of the South African Parliament made a “Motion Without Notice” to congratulate you on your acceptance (http://tatamachancesa.blogspot.com/2015/08/joanie-hofmeyr-achieves-early-stardom.html). Can you tell our readers about that?

*A Motion Without Notice is an opportunity for Members of the South African Parliament to table matters of local or national significance in Parliament. 

I’m sure this won’t be a new story to anyone because I know almost every student in America has to worry about the cost of education, student loans and debt, etc. The thing about a South African wanting to study in the States is that the cost of her education becomes about 6 times what it would’ve been if she studied in South Africa. I kid you not. After being accepted with a partial scholarship my parents laid out a budget for me: they could – with a stretch – only contribute x amount every year, and if I didn’t make up the difference somehow there was absolutely no way I would be able to come to Juilliard. I can’t live with ”What if’s” – not if I can help it. So, of course, I did whatever I could think of to raise money. The first thing I did was to set up a GoGetFunding account, and, honestly, there were and are so many amazing causes that need support, and I knew that funding my Juilliard education probably wouldn’t be any stranger’s first pick. I knew some crazy serendipitous thing would have to happen… it had happened before in my life when, through some kind of alignment of the stars, I received a partial scholarship to attend the high school of my dreams (Roedean School SA –http://www.roedeanschool.co.za/). It was through this school’s partnership with the ASSIST program (https://www.assist-inc.org/) that I did my US exchange, and what, as you mentioned in the introduction, owes in large part to why I am here today. As it turned out, what happened in the case of getting me to Juilliard was directly linked to my connection to my high school. The crazy, serendipitous thing, of course, was not mysterious at all: it was simply a man with a kind, big heart who – for some or other reason – decided that he believed in me. His name is Reverend Dr. Jeremy J. Jacobs (I knew him then as “Father Jeremy”, but he quickly established in our email conversations that ‘Jeremy’ or any kind of variation on ‘J-Dawg’ was to be the only way forward). Every Easter and whenever we had communion in the little chapel at my school Jeremy would conduct these incredibly tasteful, philosophical and (what I considered to be) religiously ambiguous sermons. In Hamburg, South AfricaThe only interactions we had before he decided to help fund my journey to Juilliard was when he shook my hand at the end of these chapel services, as he did every student’s hand who stood in line to thank him. There was never any time to chat to him, so I always made sure to try communicate my appreciation for his evocative words with my eyes. I guess he picked up on that, because just in time for the admission decision Jeremy is emailing me, telling me he happened upon my GoGetFunding page asking for my life story, trying his best to collect as much data as would be useful for him to promote the idea of helping me get to Juilliard to his congregation at St. George’s Anglican Church. And man, did he promote. And he didn’t tell me what he was up to (why did he want to know so much about my background, for example?), he would just say “big things are coming, Joanie”. Until, one day, I performed with the St. George’s Choir and did a couple of solo songs for the congregation, after which he handed me a check with the money I still needed. A few days later he texted and said turn on the TV and watch the live meeting in congress. Jeremy had gotten MP Toby Chance in on my promotional “campaign” as well – all without my having knowledge of it! Let me just make sure to mention I have many, many people to thank for getting me here and through my first year at Juilliard – what I’ve mentioned here is the particularly heart warming story attached to the Motion Without Notice.

Do you have a particular role model or hero (professionally or personally)? If yes, who is this person and why?

I consider the people I have conversations with in my head role models, because I obviously believe they have some further insight into things than I do, and these people most regularly include my dad, mom, brother, and sister. But if we’re going to get particular about my role model then I want to talk about my sister. I think we experience things in much the same way; when we talk about how we felt when a particular thing was happening it always amazes us how similar our answers are…  we joke about how we’re basically the same person, and, of course, we always acknowledge that “well, duh”, because we grew up together with the same frame of reference. This might sound like I’m saying I am my own role model, which, although I do really listen to my own gut more than anyone else’s advice and prefer doing completely my own thing, is not exactly what I’m saying. The defining factor about my admiration for my sister is her wisdom. Perhaps I believe in her wisdom because she’s 2 and a half years older than I am, or perhaps it’s simply a quality she has – perhaps both. Whatever the case, she will always be an embodiment of what I strive to be, and when I find myself in a place in life where I imagine she’s been I feel a real sense of accomplishment.

hiking-with-my-hero-in-stellenbosch

Joanie with her sister, her hero

What hobbies do you have outside of singing opera?

I enjoy philosophizing with people who care to entertain that. I explore. I exercise. I do yoga.  I walk a lot. I listen to music when I walk – mostly indie-folk. I muse.  I work through my musings by writing things down. I sometimes take photographs with this great second-hand camera that leaks little light spots. I organize and plan and write to-do lists or suggestions to myself for what I could do. I spend so much time doing this that I really do consider it to be a hobby. I go to coffee shops. I spend a lot of time seeking out comfort and pleasure.

Watch Joanie’s final art project from her senior year of high school.

A silly question for you-if you were an animal, which animal would you be and why?

I’d love to be a bear, I think, because I would love to be able to hibernate. Can you imagine being able to just shut down for a significant amount of time knowing that you’d be able to wake up when the time was right – when you felt you could handle life again?

You are originally from a small town in South Africa and later moved to Johannesburg. Can you tell us a little bit about your hometown and Johannesburg?

I grew up with a dam in front of my house. My brother, sister and I (and whomever of my friends were lucky enough to be over at my house when my brother felt inspired) would make movies; sometimes “Survivor” episodes out by the dam. We had so much space. Some weekends my family and I played soccer in a small open field right down the street from our house, and other times we’d go mountain biking on the paths on this mountain which was barely 10 minutes away from our house. I often rode my bike to my friend’s house or to ballet and tap class. So even though I loved this place, the move to Johannesburg was very welcome in my life, because I used to love change and excitement (now I’m not so sure…). Johannesburg is wonderful. It’s an underrated city and I really think you gotta to live there to fall in love with it – I did. I fell in love with the drives home from school and the Friday night trips to the mall with my family to watch the latest “Cinema nouveau” movies. For the first time since living in the States I’m allowing myself to miss incredible things like that about my life in South Africa. Man o man have I been fortunate.

family

Joanie with her family

If a friend was to tell you that he/she was going to South Africa for a trip, what are the top three pieces of advice you would give your friend (i.e. places to go, foods to try, etc.)?

As I’ve mentioned, if you’re able to, go live in Johannesburg for at least year. If you’re going to do the touristy thing then I’d say drive along the Garden Route (http://www.rhinoafrica.com/south-africa/garden-route) – it’s a coastal route and it is so incredibly beautiful. I’d definitely camp, and hike anywhere in the Drakensburg (http://www.drakensberg.org.za/), and swim in the gorge pools I find there. And definitely drive everywhere. The different landscapes are things to be experienced.

In your experience, what are some common misconceptions that Americans have of South Africa?

Americans, in my experience, have pretty solid conceptions of South Africa. People who have asked me – in earnest – things like why, if I’m from Africa, am I white, were not Americans if I recall. Unless we’re talking about, like, seven-year-old Americans. Like a young girl I know who once said, “South Africa must be so much better than America, because you live with lions and monkeys and zebra.” (Which is, of course, true.)

What were some misconceptions you had about the U.S. before coming to Pennsylvania as a high school exchange student?

exchange-student-ing-in-philly

Joanie when she was an exchange student in Pennsylvania

Oof. I think I thought – and this disillusionment is still something I’m working through – people here had things more figured out. I think the fact that American commercialism is so real that kids in South Africa are decorating fake conifers for Christmas when it’s 90 degrees outside had something to do with the creation of the misconception. But I will definitely admit that I am mostly to blame for creating the misconception all by myself.

What do you like most about living in NYC? What do you like least?

There are things I think I’ll always like and things I’ll always dislike. But then the rest really depends on the state of mind I’m in from moment to moment. I think I’ll always like how I can “happen upon” things – especially at times when I most need it.  I like how I can be on the subway with no expectation of anything out of the ordinary happening, and then I hear a child say something really interesting to his/her dad, and then I smile, and am happy that for a moment my attention is on something other than the ramblings of my thoughts.

But then I can be minding my own business at a coffee shop, doing my theory homework, and a random lady who has clearly made it her goal to completely ruin someone’s day will sit right across from me, notice that I’m doing music theory and say “Music is dead. You’ll never be able to make a living as a musician.” After being polite and listening to her pessimism for way too long I get up to go, planning to have the last say about how I think I’ll be able to figure things out for myself she just keeps going – “There’s nothing to figure out!” she says, and then for a moment I hate everything about New York. Those moments are no fun in the moment. There are also some things that are just always going to annoy me – no matter what state of mind I’m in. Like the unbearably loud fire truck and police car sirens. The intensity of those sirens really are a little ridiculous. I always plug my ears shut when they pass, so when, for example, I’m having a conversation with someone as one passes I always awkwardly have to pause the conversation and look around or make ugly faces to indicate my annoyance. I guess I both love and dislike the fact that in New York where I don’t have car windows to hide behind when I want to get from comfortable and familiar place A to comfortable and familiar place B my experience is vulnerable to being hi-jacked by other people’s experience. This city causes a lot of anxiety, but it is simultaneously (and strangely), to me, its own cure.

You previously told OIA that you have “changed quite significantly since coming here a year ago.” In what ways have you changed?

I am now a lot less sure of everything, really. I’m actually not sure of anything. I’m amazed at how I wanted something so much a year ago that I came all this way to get it. Like, thank god, of course, because without that certainty I had I couldn’t possibly be where I am, going through whatever it is I’m going through right now. And I’m grateful for anything that gets me closer to the truth. A year ago I wanted to be an opera singer, and then I felt very driven towards theater, so I did an acting Summer Intensive at the Atlantic Acting School (https://atlanticactingschool.org/) and that decision was quite a big deal because I wanted that so badly that I chose it above going home, and I haven’t been home for 13 months now.

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Joanie with classmates at the Atlantic Theater Acting Summer Intensive

Then, two weeks ago, I started my second year with a new purpose: I am going to be the next singer who graduates from the Juilliard Vocal Arts program and goes into musical theater on Broadway! Then, for my first English Diction class of the semester I had to choose a song to sing by an American composer and I discovered Copland, Barber, and Kurt Weill, and I gotta tell ya, some of those pieces really get me excited… so who knows? All I (sort of) know right now is that the kind of artist I want to be doesn’t exactly fit into anything I’ve seen so far… a lot of things inspire and excite me, and I’m able to hear, see or feel something and know exactly whether that thing evokes a “yum. Yes.” or a “no thanks” in terms of what I want to pursue artistically. In terms of my place in the world: It seems I’m only just starting feel – let alone understand – what it is to be a human being. So my “place” anywhere is yet to be invented. The good news? I’m an artistic human being, so showing up to invent is my forte.

Watch Joanie sing “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” from Les Miserables.  She made this facebook post at 2AM in response to the news of the death of Alton Sterling.

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?

Yes there is. I might start doing my own personal “day of silence” a few times a month, and I would like the records to show that. I happened upon Ulysses S. Grant’s mausoleum the day after I thought of taking a vow of silence (among other things he established the National Park Service. Whoa right?), and above the entrance the words “Let Us Have Peace” were carved, and I thought “Let us indeed.” So hopefully one day you will see a silent Joanie walking down the hallways, and hopefully that will create peace in our Juilliard microcosm.

 

 

 

 

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson

For the July 2016 edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Josh Guillemot-Rodgerson, a rising fourth year dancer from Christchurch, New Zealand.   Josh began dancing at the age of five.  A tap dancer for most of his life, Josh came to the U.S. at the age of 14 to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy (http://www.interlochen.org/) where he shifted his focus to ballet and modern dance.  During his time at Juilliard, Josh has held several leadership positions including Programming Assistant (PA), Diversity Advocate (DA), Gluck Fellow, and Student Ambassador.  For the 2016-2017 academic year, Josh will be a Resident Assistant (RA) as he finishes his last year at Juilliard.

Joshua mid-leap with the New York skyline in the background

Watch TV New Zealand’s Interview with Josh here: http://tvnz.co.nz/seven-sharp/dancing-world-stage-video-5530395

What made you want to begin tak1398824_736420013042265_797379037_oing dance lessons? When did you decide you wanted to pursue dance as a career?

It’s a funny story actually. When I was four years old I stayed up to watch the New Zealand national soap opera/hospital drama called Shortland Street with my mum. The show has aired five days a week for the last 23 years. Its funny to me (and many other kiwis) that as a little kid I happened to watch an episode that had two characters learning how to tango. I proceeded to tell my Mum I wanted to learn that, and I have danced every day since. There hasn’t really been a moment that made me want to pursue this as a career, it has never been a question to me that I would hopefully always be dancing. I started taking it more seriously around the age of twelve when I began to be interested in other dance styles in order to have more career options.

There are rumors floating around that you danced for President Obama. Even though this is not true, you did dance at an event at the White House hosted by the First Lady.  Can you tell our readers a little about this experience?

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I wish I could say this was the case, but it was an incredible event nonetheless. I was only a week out from leaving home for the US and I received a message from Interlochen saying I was one of five Interlochen dancers that had been chosen to go to the White House to be a part of an invited event for young dancers around America. It was only three days after school was to begin—My family and I thought it was some sort a weird hoax, it was so surreal; background checks had to be completed and all sorts. I got to take classes from very well known American performers, and Michelle and their daughters were hosting so I was a bit star struck. Everyone from home was really excited too; it was something you never hear of happening at home.

You have an extensive dance resumé. Of all of your performance highlights, which is your favorite and why?

My favorite is actually something I don’t include on my dance resumé. Each year since getting into Juilliard, I have held a fundraising concert at home. Each one has been a really different experience but they have all been equally special. They consist of me performing a handful of solos that I have choreographed, a number of items from children that I have worked with in NZ, and usually a handful of items from longtime family friends. My Mum and I spent weeks organizing it, my little brother, Xav, helps out with some of the tech, my cousin always sings—everyone in my family always plays a part in it. The audience is always filled with familiar and supportive faces, and the environment is so unique to perform in because it is one of the only times annually on stage that I get to fully let my guard down, go out on the stage and just enjoy it. I always enjoy performing, but knowing the crowd supports me wholeheartedly from before I even step on stage is so different to the usual scenario where you have to gradually earn the audiences support throughout the course of your time on stage.

Joshua with his family in New York

In our June edition of Eye on Culture, we spoke to Ruth Reinhardt (https://juilliardoia.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/ruth-reinhardt/), an alum of Juilliard’s Orchestral Conducting Program. She spoke about gender bias faced by female conductors.  Do you think gender bias exists in the dance world?  If so, in what ways?  Growing up did you face challenges being a male dancer?

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Photo by: Lightworkx Photography

There is definitely a gender imbalance, especially as a dance student, boys are greatly outnumbered by girls. I don’t know so much about the bias. I think there’s another great imbalance on the other side of things, with males holding far more directorial positions as well as choreographic. I’m sure bias comes into play at this end, but more people are becoming outspoken, and so I hope this can change over the next few years.

Its really hard for most boys that grow up as dancers, there were many times when I was younger that I felt uncomfortable telling anyone about my passion, and that can still come into play even today when I converse with other males. Being a male dancer is generally looked at as being weak, and un-masculine—sort of everything that goes against what men ‘should’ pursue. As I grew to understand more about my craft, it has become very easy to shut these opinions down, for starters by explaining that dance is one of the most athletic things that someone can do. To this day, when someone asks me what I do it can often be a conversation stopper as many people find it difficult to relate to a professional artist, let alone a male dancer, but as I get older it becomes easier to take the conversation into my own hands.

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Photo by: Lightworkx Photography

You came to the U.S. at the age of 14 to attend Interlochen. Was it difficult to leave home at such a young age?  Did you experience any culture shock when you first arrived in the U.S.?  What parts of U.S. culture were most challenging/surprising to you?11898882_1182858031731792_8223088626694517520_n

It was so difficult! My Mum and I laugh looking at photos now because I was much younger than we realized at the time. Before Interlochen I would cry even having to leave my family for a week. So everyone was shocked that I decided I wanted to do it. I was shocked too because after a somewhat difficult first month, I began to feel really at home with so many like-minded people around me—I must admit I still go home at every chance I get. My city was hit by numerous large earthquakes for about a year after I left so I worried about my family a lot which also made things a bit tougher.11704873_1152084224809173_2990975659384793496_n

 

 

I think the biggest culture shock for me was how loud you have to be in the U.S. to be heard! In New Zealand everyone is extremely hard working, but we seem to think that because of this our time will come eventually and so we often step back to let others have a turn or because we don’t want to look too confident. Here there are so many people wanting the same thing as you that you can’t waste a moment worrying if you are getting too much attention or if you ‘look’ confident because your one shot could pass you by in a flash. In fact it’s a great thing to have confidence to an extent but in New Zealand I think we worry too much that any sign of confidence will make us look arrogant; I can definitely see this in youth when I am teaching at home because no one ever wants to stand at the front of class. I also had a hard time adjusting to food, and the different kind of humor, but all in all I count my blessings that I come from a place where English is the most commonly spoken language.

Watch Josh perform the Haka, a traditional dance of the Māori people of New Zealand, at the 2015 OIA International Festival.

How did attending Interlochen prepare you for Juilliard? In what ways were you not prepared for Juilliard and how did you overcome these initial challenges?

Interlochen really pr10704229_963487733668824_6016236480060772945_oepared me for Juilliard itself.  I was living closely with many different artists, I was far from home, the schedule was not too far off from Juilliard’s, and I was spoiled with incredibly invested teachers. In fact I almost felt too prepared, it was hard initially to understand many people over the first month or so because many of them were experiencing it all for
the first time, and for me it was just a further extension on life as I had known it. I also missed the friends that I had made at Interlochen that really were my stand-in family while I lived in Michigan. My mum really helped me through this by getting me to understand that it is impossible to recreate the bonds that I had made over three years in a matter of months, and that it was best to focus on creating different ones.

I was definitely not prepared for New York—I had never seen a city so big in my life. I had barely even visited Auckland, which is New Zealand’s biggest city with just one million people. So you can imagine how new everything felt in New York; buildings that never end, riding the subway, crowds of people—there is always something happening, never a dull moment, but also never a still moment. I have really grown to love it though, especially since I get to see so much dance for such a small cost.

You have held several leadership positions at St. Andrews College Ballet Academy (http://www.stac.school.nz/sports-and-cultural/ballet-academy/) in New Zealand, Interlochen, and now at Juilliard. What motivates you to seek leadership positions? What have you learned from being a student leader at all three institutions?

I’m motivated by two main things: one is that leadership gives you a set of skills that are useful in any area of life—it is the study of yourself as well as the study of understanding others, the second is that I have also been positively affected by many people in these positions before me, and I have first-hand experience that even the little things you can do in these positions can make someone so much happier.Leadership Headshot

During the 2015-2016 academic year, you were a Juilliard Diversity Advocate. What made you want to be a DA? What did you learn from this experience?

DA was a unique position for me, because I went in having a very small amount of knowledge but being open to learning a lot. I wanted to be a DA because the work required is very meaningful and important to making the Juilliard community a safe one. I learned so much, but I think the most important thing was that leadership is not about knowledge; to be the perfect DA is impossible because you would need first hand experience in every minority and majority that exists, instead I realized that sometimes all you can do as leader is have a great amount of sensitivity and willingness to hear things that you are unfamiliar with so that you can best evaluate and take action on any given situation. It was a great year of realization.

Sadly you will not be a DA next year (tear), because you have been offered a Resident Assistant position for the 2016-2017 academic year. What do you hope to achieve as a RA next year?

I definitely hope I can take what I learned last year as a leaner and listener and put it into action. I have heard it is a job with many curve balls so it really will require an assertiveness and patience that I hope to maintain consistently throughout the year.

Over the last few years, you have visited various schools in New Zealand as a motivational speaker. What are the themes of these speeches? What advice do you provide to the students?

Most of what I speak about is that there is more out there than meets the eye. Six years ago, I could not have imagined a world so vast. In a country with as small of a population as New Zealand we aren’t always exposed to how many opportunities there really are in the world to pursue a career that is a bit different. A lot of careers don’t seem realistic at home when they really are in the wider world. Even if you were to hear about a really great school in Michigan in the US, you would automatically think that you wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway, so it isn’t worth investigating. I try to encourage everyone to abandon wondering if something is realistic until they have researched the facts. To not give up before you have even started.

You will be graduating from Juilliard in May 2017. How do you foresee your first year out of college?  Where do you see yourself in five years?

I think it is going to be a lot of patience. Juilliard is really so amazing that I am currently living a life that I hope I can continue for the rest of my life: I perform regularly in a large variety of works, I get to consistently choreograph about six or seven pieces a year, and I get a substantial amount of time each year to be in New Zealand teaching. This is exactly what I want to be doing in 5, 10 or 20 years time, and I know it is going to be a big shock next year when suddenly I don’t have access to studios whenever I want, when I can’t choreograph whenever I feel like it and when I have much less time to be returning home if I am not dancing there. So it will definitely be a big change when it is time to start over.

Anything else our readers should know about you?

If you are reading this, and want to live in New Zealand, and are passionate about teaching—one day I want to start a really prestigious arts school in the South Island of NZ like Interlochen so that kids like me in the future don’t have to go so far away from home to have a career in arts. So you should hit me up so we can keep in touch!!

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Josh Planking in Chicago Airport

Watch Josh participating in the Spicy Noodle Challenge!

Video by: Michelle Lim
Read Michelle’s Interview with Eye on Culture at here (https://juilliardoia.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/michelle-lim/)

 

Fiona Last

For May 2016’s Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Fiona Last, a first year oboist in the Historical Performance program (http://www.juilliard.edu/degrees-programs/music/historical-performance) and OIA work-study student. Originally from Dibden Purlieu, a village outside of Southampton, England, Fiona earned a degree in Arabic and Ethnomusicology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (https://www.soas.ac.uk/) in London.  During her undergraduate studies, Fiona studied abroad at the University of Damascus in Syria for a year.

Fiona has been studying music in the United States since 2009; first at the Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University (https://www.temple.edu/boyer/), followed by the Yale School of Music (http://music.yale.edu/), and now at The Juilliard School.

Fiona Last HeadshotEye on Culture has not featured a Historical Performance student before.  Can you tell our readers a bit about the HP program at Juilliard?  How would you say it differs from other programs?

I imagine one of the main differences between the HP program and others at Juilliard is that we function as one studio despite comprising many different instruments, and we are all graduate students. There are only 24 of us, and so we form a sense of ensemble very quickly. We still have to pass or take the Juilliard history, theory, and ear training prerequisites, but we also have our own history classes and a symposium with guest lecturers, as well as a continuo class (where the non-keyboard instruments learn to realize figured bass). We have incredibly high-level guest conductors such as Masaaki Suzuki and Jordi Savall leading each concert, and we play music and instruments from various time periods – for example, this semester I played concerts on alto shawm, baroque oboe, and classical oboe in the space of two months. It’s a very intense and immersive program, but it’s great preparation for what (hopefully!) awaits us outside of Juilliard.

What are the benefits and challenges to playing a baroque oboe compared to a modern oboe?

I think the answer is the same for the challenges as it is for the benefits – you are playing a much more fundamental instrument. Baroque and modern oboe aren’t separate beasts – they’re just at different stages in their evolution. Unfortunately a lot of discussions about historical performance or historical instruments involve questions of superiority, and I don’t think that should have anything to do with it. We’re all trying to mine as much as possible from the music we play, however we choose to do that.  I still love playing and listening to the modern oboe, and far from it being the choice between the two that some people imagine, learning the baroque oboe actually made me a much better modern oboe player, because you have to focus so much on the fundamentals. There’s no automation to the instrument, so your air and the evenness of your fingers are all you have. It’s extremely different from playing the modern oboe where if your set up is functioning well, a nice even scale comes out over multiple octaves, no questions asked. That’s the starting point for your practice and music making. On baroque oboe though, the starting line is a few steps back from that. Nothing is in tune without work, high notes don’t speak without work – obviously you get to the point where these things are second nature and the instrument feels as natural as the modern version, but an awareness of that scarier bottom line is always there, and that’s definitely the challenge! But, there are great musical benefits. You can shade the intonation of notes based on any given harmony, the reed accepts articulation in much more varied ways, the incredible amount of air needed can give amazing color palette. It’s a really tough instrument but it can teach you so much about the music you’re playing, and bring a special kind of life to it.

When did you begin playing music? Have you always played the oboe or did you start studying a different instrument? If so, what made you change?

I changed schools when I was 7, and my new school offered a year of free lessons on the violin, the piano, or the flute, and I chose violin. When the year was up I decided I wanted to play something more unusual, and I walked past a room where a girl (I still remember her name was Melanie Clegg) was practicing the oboe. My parents tried very hard to convince me that what I’d seen was in fact a clarinet but I was determined!

Performing at Yale's Center for British Art in New Haven, Connecticut

You are currently a work study student in the Office of International Advisement and will continue to be for part of the summer. What do you like most about working in OIA? What is your least favorite (you can be honest)?

We share a space with the Office of Community Engagement and the Dean of Student Affairs, and it’s a very fun and collegial environment. This isn’t really a tough downside to have but Cory’s unending stash of candy is very dangerous…

When you are not playing music or working one of your many on-campus jobs, what do you like to do for fun?Halloween concert

I’ve actually been feeling really bad about my lack of answer to questions like that! I enjoy walking, cooking (and eating), and I used to do a lot of Bikram yoga…I really should find a hobby! I would like to spend more time outdoors, and rediscover reading, which I used to do voraciously but don’t seem to any more. Check back with me when I’m out of school!

Do you have a hidden talent or a cool party trick? If so, what is it?

I can’t think of anything! I can do an impression of the lady squirrel from the movie The Sword in the Stone…the party would have to be going pretty slowly for that to be needed.

What is you biggest pet peeve?

People saying “I could care less…” – that really bugs me! The point is the double negative….that you in fact couldn’t care less! Pretty much anything grammatical, I’m a big language nerd. It makes me very popular…

This series is called Eye on Culture, so let’s talk about the culture in which you were raised. How would you describe your hometown and its culture?

I grew up in a village called Dibden Purlieu (I usually just tell people I’m from London, where I used to live, or Southampton, which is the nearest city, to save American giggles at the name). It’s on the south coast of the UK and on the edge of a big national park called the New Forest. It wasn’t quite as idyllic-country-village as some of the places actually in the forest and I’m not sure I can identify any major cultural traits but as somewhere to grow up it was pretty well placed between city and country.

Before coming to the U.S., you earned a degree from the School of African and Oriental Studies which included year abroad in Syria.  Can you tell us a little about the school and your experience in the Middle East?

My first degree was a BA in Arabic and Ethnomusicology at the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. It’s a really small Syria -- Aphameastudent population, and the school is on the corner of Russell Square in London, where the British Museum is. As the name suggests, it’s a pretty niche institution, and one I’m really glad I went to at a formative age because it’s so diverse. The university system in the UK is a little different, you mainly take classes for the whole year instead of by the semester, and you only take maybe three or four, all specific to your degree. My core curriculum was intensive Arabic language classes but I also got to study classical Arabic literature, and I took a year of Mandarin Chinese in addition to core studies in ethnomusicology. We were also required to spend a year abroad – mine was in Syria studying at the University of Damascus, where we wrote our dissertations in Arabic (mine was on music in Sufism and how that fits into the larger body of Islamic thinking on music).

Syria-  Aphamea

As you know, the situation in Syria is dire.  By studying abroad in Syria, the conflict hits closer to home than for the average Westerner.  What are your thoughts?

It’s a little strange talking about Syria now, especially to say what a great year I had. I also would never want to sound like I was trying to insert myself into the drama of that situation in any way. It sounds ridiculous to say, given what is currently happening, but when I was there, there was a sense of cautious optimism. It still wasn’t what you would call an open political climate, but people were I think quietly hopeful that Bashar al-Assad would prove a better leader than his father, Hafez had been.

For us as students it was wonderful. Damascus seemed an open and religiously tolerant city, and it has such an incredible and rich history, the layers of which were openly visible. Syria has (tragically now had, in most cases) mosques, cities, and archaeological monuments and ruins to rival any other Middle Eastern country, but for various reasons it was only just beginning to be on the tourist trail. That meant you had full access to these sites for next to nothing, and with barely anyone there compared to somewhere like Giza or Petra. Cheap buses meant so many travel opportunities; we could spend weekends in Latakia, Aleppo, Beirut, or take trips to Jordan and Egypt.  I spent a week in an 11th-century monastery that is built into the mountains outside Damascus, and where anyone can stay if they help with the daily chores – you can show up and leave when you wish. Syrian people are so incredibly hospitable, and the food is amazing. Oh, and it snows in the winter, a lot! I hope none of that sounds reductive – it’s hard to capture the nuances of a country like that without sounding like you’re trying to make political or cultural statements, which I’m anxious not to try and do in this forum!

You have been living in the US for a while now. What do you miss most about the UK? Is there anything you don’t miss?

What I miss most is definitely my family. My brother and I were very lucky in that our parents travelled a lot with us, and we were raised to want to do interesting things in different places – between us we’ve lived in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Tanzania and Uganda (and the US of course), and my brother currently studies in Sweden and is about to go to Ghana for six months. None of us would have it any other way, but of course it is hard being so far away from family sometimes. That said, it does keep things fresh and I’m always glad and excited to go home! I don’t know that I want to single out anything I don’t miss, but I will say there is a sense of space and breathing room in this country that I didn’t feel so much in the UK.

When you first came to the US to study, what part of US culture most surprised you? What took you awhile to get used to? Is there anything that you still struggle with?

What’s interesting about US culture is that even being from a country with its own sizeable [English-language] film and television output, I still knew pretty much what to expect here from what I’d seen in movies and on TV. Because for me there were no massive language or cultural shifts, things that seemed stranger were the little details – street signs or license plates for instance. Everything is essentially the same but just a little bit different – and what’s funny is that that now works in reverse when I go home. Also size – US cities are big in a way that UK cities aren’t. I first lived in Philadelphia, the center city of which isn’t huge compared to NYC or Chicago, but everything is still so much higher and wider. I also wasn’t aware until I got here quite how much politics is tied up with religion, culture, and intellectualism in a way that it just isn’t at home.

And I still struggle with the fact that you guys don’t understand the appeal of Marmite.

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What do you think you want to do after you graduate? Do you have a “dream job” in mind?

This is the fourth degree I will have graduated from, and the first one I won’t be following immediately with more school! My hope is to set myself up for an interesting and productive OPT year freelancing, during which I can spend some serious time thinking about what I derive motivation and enjoyment from, what my long-term priorities are, and how I can turn those into something approaching the “dream job.” A teacher at Yale used to talk about a ‘portfolio career,’ which is an idea that really appeals to me. I have degrees in Arabic, modern oboe and Historical Performance, I’ve studied I think 8 languages to varying levels, and I really enjoy writing and editing – somewhere in there is a really fulfilling career! I just need a little space to find it.

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.

 

 

 

 

Michelle Lim

For the first Eye on Culture of 2016, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Michelle Lim.  Michelle is a third year dance student from Singapore, a country commonly described as a place where “East meets West.” In addition to discussing her cultural background and her passion for dance, choreography, photography, and videography, Michelle shares her experience as a Juilliard student leader and provides advice for potential applicants.

Interested in applying for a leadership position?  Positions available include Orientation Leader, Orientation Chair, Programming Assistant, Diversity Advocate, Colloquium Peer Leader, Resident Assistant, and Hall Coordinator.  Applications are due no later than Friday, January 29th.
Michelle Lim

You were an orientation leader two years ago and an orientation chair this past year. What made you want to be a student leader at Juilliard? How would you describe this experience? What did you gain by being a student leader?

My main motivation for becoming a student leader stemmed from my want to get to know the incoming students in the school. We are all so busy practicing our craft that it’s so hard to meet everyone despite being in such a small school! Coming from a different country, I remember how I was afraid of not knowing anyone and being alone in such a foreign place. Orientation was a time of uncertainty and fear but also a time that I made my best friends in this school, many of whom are outside of the dance division. I don’t know if I would’ve met as many people if I missed out on orientation!

I wanted to continue meeting all the amazing talent that’s in this school and help anyone who may be needing help in transitioning into this crazy city that is New York. Being an orientation leader my sophomore year, allowed me to usher in the incoming class and get to know people from all the different divisions in an environment that was fun, new, and exciting. After that, I was hooked! I became one of the orientation chairs my junior year and it was incredibly fulfilling sharing the Juilliard experience.

Being a student leader, I got to collaborate with my schoolmates on a common platform outside our disciplines to create an experience for other people. It helped me work on my public speaking skills and my overall confidence in myself. It also allowed me to work and have a closer relationship with the staff in the school, and it’s just so wonderful creating friendships with people as we all work towards a common goal.

With fellow students in the Dance program

What is your advice to students who may be hesitant to apply for a student leadership position but would like to develop their leadership skills and/or be more involved in the Juilliard community?

My biggest advice is to know that there’s nothing to lose, regardless of the reasons behind that hesitation. If it helps, ask a friend to apply for a leadership position along with you! You can even ask someone who is a current leader to help you. Whether you believe it or not, the application process is actually really fun. Do not let the process intimidate you–you got into Juilliard! That’s an audition much harder than a leadership application (haha).

These skills that you will obtain from the leadership experience is for you and it will take you further than your college career. There’s so much to gain from the first step of application to the execution of the position. Taking on a leadership role in school is a way to practice these skills in a safe, supportive environment where mistakes are times of learning and achievements are times of celebration 🙂

How old were you when you began dancing? When did you decide that dancing was more than a hobby and a potential career?

I started dancing when I was 3 years old. My parents enrolled me in a little studio in a mall, so I went through the baby ballet route. My tIMG_7837eacher recommended that I move to a better dance studio called the Singapore Ballet Academy (http://singaporeballetacademy.com.sg/), and I started taking the Royal Academy of Dance graded examinations there.

When I was 11, my ballet teacher at the school, Mei Sing Cheah, told my dad about this new arts school that was opening called School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA – https://www.sota.edu.sg/). She was appointed as, and is still currently, the Head of Dance in the school. It was new and huge departure from the “traditional” schooling system that most Singaporeans go through and that I would be part of the pioneering batch. My dad told me about it and I remember really wanting to go to SOTA.

My dad told me that if I wanted to leave the regular schooling system and pursue dance, that I had to commit to it and I did. The school opened in 2008, and I left the secondary school I was already in. I graduated with the pioneering class in 2012, and now I’m here 🙂

 

 

You attended the School for the Arts in Singapore before coming to Juilliard. Tell our readers a little bit about the school, and how did attending it prepare you for Juilliard’s Dance Division?

SOTA is Singapore’s first pre-tertiary arts school that caters to 13-18 year old students and offers training in Dance, Film, Music, Theater and Visual Arts. It also places emphasis on the Integrated Arts and Literary Arts. Students who attend the school also have to study the Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, English Literature, their Mother Tongue languages (mine was Mandarin) and Mathematics alongside the arts. In the final 2 years, students have to undergo the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) certificate, and in recent years the student have the option to take the IB Career-related Programme.

I gained so much while I was in this school. Having to go through the IBDP examinations, I was exposed very early on to subjects like Anthropology and Theory of Knowledge that aided in the development of critical thinking. It was very hard to jungle academics and the arts at the same time. I feel as though SOTA helped me become very independent and a more consistent hard worker.

I was exposed to dance styles such as the Graham and Limón techniques that is unavailable outside of SOTA at the pre-tertiary level. I was also exposed to a lot of ballet repertoire as well as engaging in the creation process a work. My modern dance teacher, Silvia Yong, gave me opportunities outside of school at her husband’s company called The Human Expression Dance Company (http://www.the-dancecompany.com/about-us/). Here I was a part of the Second Company, an apprentice in the Main Company, as well as Assistant Stage Manager and Assistant Production Manager for a few shows. This definitely allowed me to have experience in the professional dance scene in Singapore, as well as gave me opportunity to gain experience in production.

I feel that my overall experience definitely helped me to become more versatile as a mover as we had to juggle ballet, modern, repertoire as well as dancing in the choreographic style of any newly created work. The sheer workload that the IBDP examinations had to offer definitely trained me to better manage pressure and time.

You were a choreographer for the fall 2015 Choreo/Comp. What was that experience like?

It was tough but so incredibly fulfilling! First of all, congratulations to all the choreographers, composers, and dancers! It was such an amazing show and I’m so incredibly proud of everyone.

It was a crazy journey for all of us. I was working with Michael Seltenrich, who is also an international student here. It was really difficult finding a language that worked for the both of us. It’s always a challenge wheIMG_0520n two artistic minds are working together! We had a central idea with a lot of conflicts the approach to it. We definitely worked it out in the end and I feel that the dance and music gelled in very nicely with each other.

I had a very supportive cast of dancers despite all the blows we had to take. I’m incredibly blessed to have them (Taylor LaBruzzo, Guy Levi, Miranda Wienecke and Alex Soulliere), as well as Dana Pajarillaga and Daniel Ching for stepping in. Everyone was so supportive and open to all the ideas I brought to the studio.

If you had to choose, would you rather choreograph or dance?

I don’t know if I could answer that! Both choreography and dancing have their special places in my heart, I don’t know if I prefer either one of them more at this point.

Other than dance, you have a passion for photography and videography. How did this passion develop? What do you like about being behind the camera?

I love watching YouTube videos and looking [at] beautiful photos on the internet. Good music while surfing Tumblr and watching Youtube videos was something I loved to do in my free time back in high school. I love how people can create realities out of everyday things and make me see the world through their eyes. I guess this is also why I love choreography. I love creating new content and sharing it with people.

I have never had any form of training in photography and videography. One of my older brothers is a freelance photographer and videographer, and I would watch him edit his work and he would share little tips and tricks that he had with me. Slowly I began to take photographs and film videos for fun. I love capturing and sharing what I see, and I especially love it when my work makes people happy or helps someone in anyway.

You will graduate in May 2017. What would you like to do after you complete your degree?

This interview is filled with loaded questions! haha. Well, I’d definitely want to give myself some time to relax before I start working. I also want to travel and see dance from different cultures and experience those cultures. Ideally, I’d love to dance with a company that would allow me to grow as choreographer. I also see freelancing as an option. At this point, I’m open to whatever the world has to offer me 🙂

IMG_0396

This interview series is called Eye on Culture, so let’s talk about the culture in which you were raised. Singapore is considered to have a very unique and diverse culture.  In a few short sentences, how would you describe Singaporean culture to readers who do not know much about the country?

Singapore is hot and humid; its summer all year round and it rains a lot. It’s actually pretty similar to New York City in many ways. It’s a melting pot of cultures and people come from everywhere in the world for business or just to have fun. It’s pretty crowded in the city, with at least 5 million people on a tiny island (size ref. to Manhattan below). [The population of Manhattan is approximately 1.6 million and the population of NYC in total is about 8.5 million.]

map

A lot of people live in apartment style housing and it’s pretty easy to get to anywhere you want in the country. The food is incredible and affordable. We don’t have any natural resources so most of our things are imported. Our education is pretty top notch. It is also incredibly safe.

Singapore is commonly described as a country where “East meets West.” As someone from Singapore, would you say that it is an accurate description? Why or why not?

I would think it’s pretty accurate. A lot of our pop culture is influenced by the western world. I also remember growing up to my dad singing his favorite songs by American artists. Unlike our neighboring countries, Singapore is probably the one Asian country whose citizens are mainly English speaking. Our late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew enforced the learning of English and our Mother Tongue (MandarinIMG_8059/ Tamil/ Bahasa Malayu depending on our race) in the education system, so all Singaporeans are pretty much bilingual. When we first became independent, we were a small country without any natural resources, so speaking English was a way for us to advance faster with the western world.

Has the culture in which you were raised influence you as a dancer? If so, please describe.

It definitely has! Growing up, I would watch and learn so many forms of dance from all the different racial groups like traditional Chinese, Malay and Indian dance. This has definitely informed the way I move as well as widened the possibilities of choreography. My family has also been such a huge influence on me. My dad’s Singaporean and my mom’s Filipino so I was also part of a mixed heritage. It definitely taught me to be open to different perspectives people had based on their own upbringing and I feel that being sensitive to that is very important to an artist. Getting through the education system in Singapore also definitely trained me to work hard in whatever is handed to me and to plan ahead for how I want to excel in my field.

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

I hope your winter break was fruitful and well spent with your loved ones! I wish you a wonderful and inspired year ahead, and if you ever visit Singapore, let me know 🙂

If you want to see a sample of Michelle’s videography skills, take a look at this hilarious video of Cory Owen (Director of International Advisement) and Josh Guillemot-Rodgerson (3rd year dancer) doing the Spicy Noodle Challenge!