Making Magic In A Pandemic

From the Juilliard School of Dance, Drama, and Music: Creating Bolero:

Creating Bolero Juilliard

In normal times, Juilliard’s halls are buzzing with collaborations: string quartets, jazz ensembles, and singers rehearsing in practice rooms on the fourth floor; dancers creating new choreography on the third floor; HP students embellishing bass lines together in Room 554, the main harpsichord studio; actors doing ensemble work in the legendary Room 301. But like so much else over the past weeks, our understanding of what it means to collaborate has changed. As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has forced the Juilliard community to scatter around the globe, we have begun to rethink how we can maintain and even enhance the creative ties that bind us so easily and regularly when we are all under the same roof at Lincoln Center. As President Damian Woetzel asked, “What can we do together even while we are alone?”

There are many projects and initiatives underway or already realized in the strangely altered reality in which we all find ourselves: Juilliard’s social media accounts are bursting with examples of student- and faculty-generated collaborations and creativity in the virtual space. Among these online endeavors, a new work, Bolero Juilliard stands out for its ambition and complexity. Proposed by President Damian Woetzel and under the artistic leadership of choreographer (and New Dances veteran) Larry Keigwin, the piece is a virtual collaboration with Juilliard’s community of artists, bringing together dancers, instrumentalists, singers, actors, and alumni. Based on Keigwin’s acclaimed community work Bolero, which has been created over the years in 14 cities across the U.S. specifically for those locations and populations, Bolero Juilliard showcases the talents and creativity of the Juilliard community “in a portrait of art-making and shared experience amid physical isolation and uncertainty,” Keigwin says. In addition to the collaborative possibilities this endeavor provides for the community, it also speaks to this moment in global history, to the range of emotions and experiences brought on by the COVID-19 crisis, and to the power of art-making to bring us together.

Created with the support of a roster of internal producers, staff, and faculty members as well as a team of external artistic and technical personnel, Bolero Juilliard is a complex online puzzle with many components being conceived, rehearsed, and produced simultaneously. Keigwin and his co-choreographer, Nicole Wolcott, created a storyboard based on states of being and emotional concepts like “Interior Lives” or “Soothing.” Juilliard dancers learn Keigwin’s choreography in Zoom sessions, creating a simulacrum of unity and cohesion very much in spite of the reality of social isolation. Juilliard actors, singers, and alumni contribute videos of emotionally specific gestures and actions. Rather than gathering in-person as they normally would, members of the Juilliard Orchestra and Juilliard Jazz—from wherever they happen to be—video-record themselves playing individual lines, which are edited together to create a complete piece from disparate parts. Ravel’s iconic score is reimagined and arranged by David Robertson, Juilliard’s director of conducting studies, and Kurt Crowley, the music director of Hamilton on Broadway. The scale of the production is huge, with literally hundreds of short videos and dozens of audio tracks being layered together to create an online art piece. Bolero Juilliard, assembled by a team of artists all working from remote locations, is part narrative, part collage. Most of all, it is a collective endeavor that captures a snapshot of a specific global moment and the possibilities of creative connection in an uncertain world.