The Juillard School in New York offers successful students the opportunity to study music, dance and drama. Standards are high and competition fierce, with reportedly only about 7% of those who apply being granted a place. At this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, the Dance Division brought three very different dance pieces to a new audience.
The first performance was choreographed by Josė Limón in 1971. It is unclear whether he considered the work finished before his death in 1972, but it was in any case completed in 1975 by Daniel Lewis for its premier performance by the Juillard Dance Ensemble.
The date is perhaps significant, as this ballet integrated some nascent contemporary moves but lacked the cutting-edge punch that we now take for granted from the current leading dance companies. Four couples danced a simple and elegant routine of a reasonable standard to Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata. Pianist Yuxi Qin, a recent master’s graduate, played magnificently and deservedly received by far the loudest applause.
The second piece, ‘Gnawa’, by choreographer Nacho Duato, was the highlight of the evening. Set to North African (specifically Moroccan) music, the influence of Mediterranean civilisations, from the Moors to the Sephardic Jews, on the culture of Spain was made manifest. The music, fast-paced and evocative, fading to the sounds of trickling water and bird song, once again took centre stage. This time, however, the dancing and choreography more than matched it. There were some outstanding performances that, for the first time, showed that some students at least were ready to start their voyage into the tough world of professional dance.
The final performance, ‘Episode 31’, was preceded by a video showing the rehearsal process (now on Youtube) with the dancers taking to the streets of New York, surprising passengers on the subway by suddenly erupting into a choreographed routine. This piece was all about entertainment and participation with a sense of urgency.
All the dancers were dressed in a combination of shorts, trousers or skirts and shirts in black and white, with knee-length socks and garters and pencilled-on moustaches. There were strip lights, search lights and a lamp; one male in a grey suit moved in slow motion around the stage area, as the monochrome crew whooped and shouted while dancing frenetically, before falling to the floor in convulsions. This was strangely entertaining, demonstrating the fun and togetherness felt by this close-knit community of final-year students.
Lawrence Rhodes, award-winning director of the Juillard Dance Division, insists that choreographers use not just the best dancers, but the entire class, as ‘performance is part of the educational experience’. This performance was a mixed bag of very different choreographies demonstrating that while all students can be given an equal chance, at the student level anyway, some dancers are more equal than others.
Show times: 25 – 27 August, 8pm
Prices: £30, £27, £22, £17, £12, £10