High profile American dance institution set for Playhouse performance
Students from New York’s prestigious Juilliard School are heading to Edinburgh. Donald Hutera finds out whey they’re a cut above the rest
Each August scores of budding artists, many still studying their craft, flock to Edinburgh to test their performance mettle in what even die-hard professionals might regard as a dauntingly competitive market.
It’s these same young people – a few of them perhaps destined to be tomorrow’s stars – for whom the Fringe was made. The International Festival, however, is another beast entirely. Consider this year’s roster of dance artists: how many students would ever be likely to appear in the same programme as companies such as Deborah Colker, Angelin Preljocaj, Aditi Mangaldas, Leigh Warren or Ohad Naharin? Few or none. Except, that is, in 2012.
Move over old guard, the future’s coming in the form of Juilliard Dance. Based in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, the Juilliard School is one of America’s most famous arts education institutions. Founded in 1905 with music as the main focus, dance entered the picture in 1951, and at that time it was the first major school to combine equal instruction in both contemporary and ballet techniques.
Several names stand out from Juilliard’s illustrious dance alumni. Start with the veteran American choreographer Paul Taylor. Or the late, certifiably great, high priestess of German tanztheater, Pina Bausch? And let’s not forget the aforementioned Naharin, artistic director of Batsheva dance company (also performing at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival).
Juilliard’s high profile and high-toned status means it’s unlikely to be confused with the High School of Performing Arts celebrated by Fame and its many spin-offs. A rigorous, multi-layered audition process renders the school’s prestigious dance division a tough nut to crack. Only 24 new students are accepted annually on its four-year programme. As the dance department’s associate director Risa Steinberg explains: ‘The dancers we’re looking for are already knowledgeable about what it means to be physical, with a strong technical foundation and a capacity to move through different dance languages with ease. They’re big movers, generous performers and potential creators themselves.’
Boston-born Zack Winokur, 23, and Gillian Abbott, 21, from Canada, are two who made the grade. Winokur only graduated from Juilliard in May but is already directing operas and running his own company, The Troupe. Abbott, who arrived at the school after a teenage stint dancing for Cirque de Soleil’s show LOVE in Las Vegas, is in her final year. Asked what it takes to be a Juilliard dancer, she replies: ‘Being open-minded, hard-working, and curious. Ultimately I want to tell stories that inspire and move people when I perform.’
Both she and Winokur are excited to be heading to Scotland along with 22 other Juilliard compatriots, whose collective aim is to disarm Festival audiences via a vivid, varied triple-bill. The programme opens with José Limón’s The Waldstein Sonata. Set to Beethoven’s composition of the same name, this work was unfinished at the time of this modern dance pioneer’s death in 1972. As an erstwhile member of Limón’s company, Steinberg saw it being made. Thus it’s only fitting that more recently she set the revival of the completed version on Juilliard’s students.
‘Luscious,’ she calls it. ‘There’s a beautiful serenity within its physical rigour.’ Abbott, who dances in it, rhapsodises about Limón’s ‘weighted, flowing movement’. Winokur pops up in Nacho Duato’s Gnawa, an ensemble dance that ‘requires a balance of precision and abandon’. Set to the rhythmic music of North Africa and Duato’s motherland Spain, it contains movement resembling ‘mechanised Moroccan mosaics’.
The evening climaxes with Episode 31, by Swedish wunderkind Alexander Ekman. Both Winokur and Abbott feature in this madly fun and rhythmical crowd-pleaser that he says ‘oscillates between being cartoon and carefree, cool and freaky, austere and playful, archaic and modern’.
Juiliard Dance, Edinburgh Playhouse, 473 2000, Sat 25-Mon 27 Aug, 8pm, £10-£30.