The week March fell into April, an avid dance-goer with three nights free and affordable tickets in hand could indulge in a choreographic feast—works by 14 choreographers, almost all of them major—presented by students enrolled in either the Juilliard School, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, or Barnard College’s Dance Department. The works were finely rehearsed, for the most part beautifully danced, and performed with invigorating conviction and spirit. At Barnard’s concerts, you could see Jerome Robbins’s 1984 Antique Epigraphs in its first New York showing outside the New York City Ballet, and a version of Mark Morris’s seldom seen 1984 Prelude and Prelude. At Juilliard, the principal novelty was the first U.S. performance of a portion of William Forsythe’s 1992 Limb’s Theorem. NYU’s Second Avenue Dance Company offered a commissioned premiere: Stephen Petronio’s Quiver.
The three institutions share a mandate: to expose students to important choreography and to display their accomplishments. Since I teach at NYU, I can only list the choreographers—Bill T. Jones, Zvi Gotheiner, Johannes Wieland, and Petronio, plus—and add that four student works were rotated over the six performances, and that most dancers appeared more than once. Juilliard mounted works with large casts (different for each piece), as if demonstrating a high overall level were more important than pushing individuals into the limelight.
Barnard, unlike the other two institutions, is not a conservatory; it’s an Ivy League college with a highly regarded dance department. Its concerts balanced displaying the most accomplished students with stretching developing talent. Margaret Morrison’s tap number, Dreams of What Could Be, swirled a dozen lively dancers of varying levels of expertise into lively, if unvarying, patterns. An abridged version of José Limón’s superb 1956 There is a Time, to a score by Norman Dello Joio, gave several soloists a chance to shine—among them Danielle Fein, lovely in “And a Time to Heal,” and Carolyn Olson, fierce as the bringer of war. But, coached by Roxane D’Orleans Juste, all 12 women and five men captured much of the expansive lyrical power in Limón’s choreography.
Most of the Barnard-Columbia dancers are female. Tina Fehlandt staged an all-woman version of Morris’s Prelude (music by Henry Cowell). You can learn some basics of choreography by watching a stationary chorus line of eight at one side manipulate fans while a soloist attends to an intriguingly clunky solo, and then watching the soloist take over the fan work while the others deconstruct the solo into a canon. Lila York, an ex-Paul Taylor dancer who has staged work for Juilliard and a number of companies, created Pilgrim’s Song for three talented women: tall Jamie Scott in a long black Edwardian dress, and two smaller dancers, Rebecca Warner and Ana Keilson. The strong, inventive movement designs evoked a mother who seems to give equal attention to two daughters, yet finds one (Warner) easier to dominate. The final image was of the vivid Keilson leaping, still half caught in the length of black lace that had sometimes restrained her.
Heléne Alexopoulos, an original cast member of Robbins’s Antique Epigraphs, triumphed in getting eight Barnard women to perform (on pointe) with the delicate simplicity the choreographer prized. Despite occasional signs of slight strain or restricted flow, the cast sensitively caught the atmosphere of Robbin’s sunlit piece and Debussy’s music, with Elena Williams spooling out her solo with particular eloquence.
Juilliard has the advantage of gifted instrumentalists and singers from its prestigious music department to accompany dance presentations. Performed live by four fine vocalists and a pianist, the ravishing Brahms songs that accompany Morris’s New Love Song Waltzes (1982) melted in the ear and heart, supporting the tender buoyancy that five men and five women brought to the choreography
All three styles that the Juilliard casts captured so admirably are earthy ones, but in Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa to Arvo Pärt’s eponymous music (not, alas, played live), the performers must project a constant intensity in a society on the brink of disorganization. The running isn’t fluid as it is in Morris’s work; it conveys desperation and flight, as do the vigilant stares, the women hurling themselves into men’s arms, the falls that may not always be caught. Dancers in Forsythe’s Limb’s Theorem have to twist and cant their limbs in a world of shadows and piercing light defined by a slanted wall, a rippling backcloth, lamps that suddenly descend or rise, and Thom Willems’s crashing, thudding electronic score. Duets here, solos there, appear and vanish. For Forsythe and rehearsal director Alexandra Wells, the Juilliard dancers took their bodies apart and reconstituted them as hyper bodies. When they trudged along, butts out, shoulders jerking and heads rotating rhythmically, they looked like a fearsome new race on the move. These performers look ready to enter the profession. Wait—they have entered it.