Lúa Mayenco Cardenal

For the June Edition of Eye on Culture, the Juilliard Office of International Advisement interviewed third year BFA dancer, Lúa Mayenco Cardenal. Read on to learn more about Lúa’s experiences in Madrid, her workshop “Beyond Words”, and her involvement as an Orientation Leader and in Campus Activity Board.

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Lúa poses in front of a red wall.

Do you remember your first time dancing, or experiencing dance?

I don’t have a very clear memory of my first time dancing. Growing up in a family of actors, I feel I’ve been playing around the stage since I was able to escape my crib. However, I do have a few memories of my first year at my first dance academy. I started taking dance classes when I was six years old and for some reason I took them very seriously from day one. Of course, I clearly remember my first dance performance. The academy rented a small theater for a day and we spent hours rehearsing and placing the dances on stage before the performance. What I remember the most is the wonderful chaos backstage. Our teachers kept putting our buns up, checking that we didn’t make an unrepairable mess with our make-up, while we started caring less and less about the actual dances and more about the funny costumes and running around trying to find the theater’s secrets. I also remember that my family came to see me and that I felt incredibly relieved when they told me they hated the only dance I wasn’t part of. It wasn’t so much because I wanted to be the star of the show or anything like that, it was simply because I really, really wanted to be in that piece and wear those dotted green dresses.

Can you compare your dance training in Madrid to your training here at Juilliard? Are there any highlights from these different experiences?

The last ten years of my dance training in Madrid took place at the Professional Conservatory of Dance Carmen Amaya (www.conservatoriodanza.com/). Once I entered the professional program I chose the classical dance division, where I studied to become a well-trained ballerina. If I had to choose one word to describe those years it would be HARD. I would dance from 9a.m. to 3p.m. and go to school from 4p.m. to 9:30 at night. I struggled a lot with my body because I didn’t have the ideal lines for a classic ballerina. My knees and feet weren’t curved enough and my turn out was almost non-existent. Even if my teachers sometimes doubted I could make a living as a ballet dancer, they didn’t have any other option than believing in me. My endless passion and hard work showed them I was willing to keep going despite all kinds of obstacles. That way, they gave me more and more opportunities to work and I spent my days getting what others were given naturally. By the time I got into Juilliard I knew that the greatest obstacle was already overcome: I already saw myself as a dancer and nothing would ever change that. The past two years at Juilliard have helped me find my voice as an artist. Juilliard has been opening my eyes to new ways of understanding dance since I crossed its doors. The training I receive here is not only about perfecting my technique and obtaining the tools to step into the dance world; it is about exploring the universe I’m already a part of and finding the way to navigate it. These two experiences are very different, but they couldn’t have happened without each other. I just see it as a progression, as part of my natural evolution.

When you first arrived at the Juilliard school, how was your transition to US culture? What differences between Spanish and US cultures have you noticed?

At the beginning, everything was so fast that I didn’t even have time to ask myself what I was feeling. Trying to understand what people were saying around me was already too big of a task, so I didn’t start analyzing the cultural differences until a few months after my arrival. It was a tricky and confusing process, especially because I was the only European in my class and the first Spanish dancer in the history of the dance division. We were only three international dancers in the class of 2020 and the other two were from Canada, so they had English as their first language. Finding the confidence to speak

Milkshake

A milkshake, a prime example of American cuisine.

up in a culture where people are encouraged to fully develop their personal opinions from a very young age was very difficult. For the first time in the dance studio they were asking to hear my thoughts. I felt behind for almost the entire first year, but I truly learnt how to listen, and what a wonderful skill. I really missed the warmth of Spanish culture. I still miss throwing kisses all over the place and being able to hug a stranger after talking for a few minutes. Oh, I almost forgot: I had a very hard time getting used to American food. The Mediterranean diet and the time dedicated to each meal is still essential to me, and all of a sudden, those long conversations at the dining table were all gone. I truly believe all these intricate changes were essential, not to study at Juilliard, but to question my own culture and the one I was stepping into. I found adaptability, openness and comfort in all the challenges and new adventures Juilliard and the US were offering me. I would recommend 100% to throw yourself into the unknown and see the wonders of uncertainty. It’s the only way to understand the beauty of vulnerability.

Where is a place you miss most from home?

Madrid is full of magical corners. A friend from Juilliard just left after spending a couple of days in my city and it was impossible for me to condense its beauty in just two days. More than a place, what I miss the most is being able to sit outside with a bunch of friends or with my family, late at night, while we are having something to drink, until everything has been discussed at least twice. I miss the peace offered by the summer darkness of Spain and the relief of seeing the sun go down. The craziness of New York makes me miss the peace of human stillness. This is something that also Spain only has during the summer, but the memory of this feeling keeps me sane when nothing else can.

Is there an activity that you suggest folks do while in Spain?

If someone comes to Spain, they need to embrace the Spanish schedule (including the siesta time during weekends and holidays) to fully understand the country and its people. Spain has a little bit of everything, [that’s the] reason why there aren’t a lot of activities, dishes, traditions etc. that apply to all regions. If I had to suggest something, it would be visiting at least two very different cities and celebrate their diversity. Food, no matter where you go, is always tasty, different and of very good quality; they should definitely take advantage of that. Aside from this, I find fascinating the history that radiates from every single city, small town and village. The intricate past of this country makes it surprising and unique. Finally, I would like to highlight the openness of its citizens. If you come to Spain, make friends.

Is there a performance that has had a profound effect on you, or your current work?

I would be unfair if I had to point to a single performance. Since I came to Juilliard I’ve been shocked by all the possibilities offered by the contemporary dance world. Yes, I’ve seen big companies like NDT(www.ndt.nl/en/home.html), Batsheva(batsheva.co.il/en/home), CND (www.cnd.fr/fr/), Alvin Alley (www.alvinailey.org/) and others that have fascinated me with their quality of dance, imagination, and power. Yes, I’ve seen the work of unbelievable choreographers like Hofesh Shcheter, Crystal Pite, Roy Assaf or Pina Bausch that made me feel like I still was a baby dancer. However, the way these performances influenced me was letting me know that I only had to keep moving forward with availability. I want to try all, collaborate, choreograph, get lost and “fail”; just because risk is the only way to keep art alive. All these shows are reminders of how, no matter what you do, you are evolving, growing and improving.

You have recent experience as a choreographer. Can you share what you enjoy most about this, or what you think is the most challenging?

I always knew that I wanted to choreograph. I’m addicted to challenges and there is no greater one than sharing your thoughts with a hungry audience. I love it because it

Lua Dance Choreographer

Lúa prepares choreography with fellow dancers.

allows you to see your desires, concerns and joys materialized in devoted bodies. With choreography, I’m able to create art from an empty space and people who I love and respect. I give life to an ephemeral and magical scene that will always be performed in an unrepeatable way. Also, it’s another way to participate in the dance world. Dancing frees your body and soul, but choreography liberates your mind. Both things are essential to me and Juilliard gave me the option to dedicate my time to both. About the most challenging side of choreography, I would say it’s staying confident. Setting your own movement in other people, designing a particular aesthetic, directing a rehearsal. All those things require self-trust, which is not always easy to find. You are opening yourself to those who work with you and to your audience, exposing your most vulnerable self. I think this is something choreographers will never learn how to handle completely. If they don’t doubt, then, they are not challenging themselves enough. They are sticking to what they know works.  As they used to say, “A house that doesn’t change is a dead house”.

As an orientation leader, can you give our incoming Juilliard students some words of wisdom? What should they do to prepare for their experience?’

During my first week at Juilliard, they asked me to write an “expectations letter”. What was I expecting from the school? I answered I had no expectations. I wanted to let the future surprise me. Therefore, dear incoming students, don’t prepare for this experience. No matter how hard you try to visualize it, it will be different than you thought, and disappointment is a very painful feeling. My “words of wisdom” would be: stay open, embrace the days you feel homesick and lost, give yourself time to find friends, you don’t have to know who you are and “what you do”, let yourself get bored and, when you are stressed, remind yourself that everything happens at its own time. Dedication, passion and hard work will always be compensated, probably in ways you could have never imagined. There is nothing to prove. At the end of the day, the hardest judge is oneself; treat yourself well. Please, don’t be afraid of asking for help. You would be surprised of how many people are waiting to help you. Prioritize. “Yes” and “no” are both valid options. Finally, have fun and enjoy Juilliard. You can spend many years in NY, but not that many at this school full of talent.

You are currently a member of CAB, or Campus Activities Board. How do you suggest new Juilliard students, or returning students get more involved on campus? What are some accomplishments in this role that you are particularly proud of?

There is not an accurate recipe to get involved. Every student finds their own way into the Juilliard Community, starting with what comes naturally to them. However, what I believe is always useful and fulfilling, is to open yourself to new connections. The best resource at Juilliard is its students. Talented artists from all around the world meet in the city of New York just for a few years of their lives; we better enjoy their company. Through that desire of expanding my knowledge through others, I found my way into CAB. The Campus Activity Board gives me an excuse to get closer to those who are sharing a time of growth and discovery with me. After one year in such an amazing team, I look back and I feel proud of all those events that gave our friends an opportunity to simply laugh in company of their loved ones or their future loved ones. Furthermore, feeling the support and trust of the community is a motivation to keep challenging my personal limits. I feel proud of the new ideas I introduced into the CAB team through unusual events like the “Juilliard Assassin Game” or the “Capture the Penguin” for the Juilliard Spirit Day. I feel grateful for all the amazing experiences this school has offered me; getting involved is only a way to give back part of that joy. If you want to actively be a part of this community, keep sharing what inspires you in whatever way you feel comfortable with.

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Lúa with CAB members visiting Dyker Heights holiday lights.

You are founder and director of a movement workshop called, “Beyond Words”. Can you tell us a little more about this program, and what motivated you to create this workshop?

After my first year at Juilliard I realized I had been focusing on my personal growth for far too long. I felt the need to share my knowledge and the tools that had helped me change all aspects of my life. I wanted to bring the power of dance to those who had never been exposed to the liberation of physical movement, and that way, the idea of “Beyond Words” first came to my mind. After a year of brainstorming and careful planning, I decided to create a one-week summer workshop for Spanish kids between the ages of 10 and 12. I wanted them to start considering physicality as part of their personality, including movement in their daily vocabulary and expanding their possibilities to express themselves. It was the first time I tried to create a program from scratch and I can’t deny it took a lot of time and effort; nevertheless, we made it happen. In two weeks from now, me and my Andalusian partner Margarita López, are meeting a delightful group of twelve kids in one of the public schools of Madrid. For five days we’ll dive into the movement universe, playing with the basics of dance and helping them to find comfort and support on their bodies. I can’t wait to see the magic happen.

Now that you’ve been in NYC for a bit, and have been involved in the community, can you share what you like most about NYC or the Juilliard community?

As I mentioned before, what I love the most about the Juilliard community is its students. I’ve been able to discover a whole new universe through the ideas and experiences of those around me. All of a sudden, I discovered the power of combining inspirations, projects, talent and resources. I feel supported and encouraged by all my friends and teachers. They taught me how to fly, accepting the fall as part of the adventure; I don’t know, I simply love collaborating and being part of a greater piece of art.

Lua FlowerAbout NYC, it could be described as a continuous exchange of information. There is always something going on, which is simultaneously a blessing and a curse if you are the kind of person who hates missing out. As Frank Sinatra used to say, “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere”. Well, that’s exactly how I feel. I love how the city pushes you to always keep moving and improving, even if sometimes it takes you to exhaustion. New York is one of the few cities able to gather the best minds in a few blocks. I would have never, EVER, guessed that at the age of 18 I would be living in the city that never sleeps and discovering myself in its unique mess.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would like to thank the Office of International Advisement for this opportunity to share my experience at Juilliard. Because of my financial situation, I would have never believed I was going to complete two entire school years at this school. Feeling the support of this institution gives me the strength to keep fighting for my dreams. Thank you for everything.

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Lúa enjoying the sites of New York City.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laura Careless

For the June edition of Eye on Culture, the Office of International Advisement interviewed Laura Careless (http://www.lauracareless.com/), an alum of Juilliard’s Dance Division.  Born in the United Kingdom, Laura graduated from the Royal Ballet School in London (https://www.royalballetschool.org.uk/) and the Ecole-Atelier of Maurice Bejart in Lausanne, Switzerland (http://www.bejart-rudra.ch/) before attending Juilliard. In addition to being a founding member and Principal Performer at Company XIV (http://companyxiv.com/), founder of Alchemy For Nomads (https://alchemyfornomads.wordpress.com/), and a faculty member at Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech (http://ballettech.org/), Laura has toured around the world as a dancer and solo choreographer.

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Photo Credit: Amanda Tipton

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

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

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

Photo credit STG Photography

Photo Credit: STG Photography

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

 

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

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

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

Still from a dance film by Jonathan Watkins

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

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

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


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

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

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

Womens History Month Panel Photo

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

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

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

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

 

Wedding dance break! Photo credit Franziska Strauss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura sitting in the woodsIs there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

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

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

 

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/)

 

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 🙂

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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.]

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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!

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…