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

 

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Daniel Fung

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

Daniel Fung Headshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

During your travels, have you done anything particularly adventurous?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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