In February, Australia saw Era Jouravlev, ballet master of the Joffrey Ballet School, visit Melbourne for VDF, thanks to Dance Informa. Jouravlev taught two unforgettable masterclasses and gave out 15 scholarships to young dancers who participated. These scholarships gave dancers from all over Australia the chance to train with the Joffrey Ballet School in America this last July and August, during the summer, learning from the world’s best choreographers and teachers. Three such lucky students were Timothy Haskayne, Giselle Graham and Harper Banks. Dance Informa Editor Deborah Searle, and award winning dance photographer Belinda Strodder, dropped into the Joffrey Ballet School on their recent visit to New York City, to catch up with the three, who were all brimming with excitement, and exhaustion, from all they were experiencing.
How was your Joffrey summer experience?
“I was so privileged to receive a scholarship to the Joffrey summer intensive at VDF, and it did not disappoint. The teachers were amazing, the classes were challenging, and the friends I made from all over the world will be friends forever. It was an experience I will never forget.”
“The amazing thing about the Joffrey summer intensive was the people. The teachers were so insightful and genuine, and there were so many faces from all over the globe.”
“My experience at Joffrey was unforgettable, and really helped me learn a lot about the industry and myself, not just as a dancer. Being more conditioned to spending all day in pointe shoes, I discovered ways of moving and understanding my body that I had not experienced before and felt really connected to my movement by the end of the intensive. Also, learning how I worked best, which teachers I connected to most, and the sort of styles I felt suited me, all have helped shape the dancer I am and form an idea of what I would like to do in the future. It was incredible to dance in the beautiful studios every day, sweating it out with passionate and energised dancers who were all so supportive of each other.”
What was your highlight?
“The highlights were the teachers and special guest choreographers, how they teach and their attention to detail with technique, movement and emotion of each dance. And of course the Spectrum Showcase, where we got to perform two shows at a Broadway theatre on the last day.”
“My highlight was most certainly working in collaboration with my choreographer, Guillermo Blinker, and the rehearsal process leading up to the Spectrum performance. We created the movement through a series of improvisational tasking sessions in order to utilise our idiosyncratic movement types. Being respected as individual artists and getting to work with an international artist of high calibre was so valuable.
A class I thoroughly enjoyed was Afro jazz! It’s a style I have not come across in Australia. Incorporating low lunges, dynamic lines and the use of spinal spiral made the class a feminine and animalistic fusion of high intensity. Our teacher, Lauren Cox, worked us hard with her vibrant and narrative class phrases to her favourite French pop songs. She not only educated us in dance but also in American oppression of black women and how that correlated into her current artistic expression.”
“It is so hard to choose just one highlight! I loved learning Horton technique which is a form of contemporary dance fused with classical, that very few, if any, places in Australia actually teach. Being taught by people who are currently dancing in companies in New York was so inspiring, as well as taking classes by people who had been stars on Broadway and spoke of working with dance icons like casual friends! I also got to see some Broadway shows and a dance performance by Alonzo King LINES Ballet in Central Park. Just experiencing the buzz of the industry in New York was so exciting and motivational.”
What was the biggest challenge?
“The biggest challenges were adapting to all the new styles of dance we got to experience, but this was also one of the most rewarding things, as I learnt so much.”
“The biggest challenge was the heat! The adjustment to the tropical humidity exhausted me physically and mentally during the first week. I even fainted in a class!”
“The biggest challenge for me was working outside my comfort zone. In programs like these, it is easy to find yourself lost at the back in every class for three weeks, and while some of the classes were not what I was used to or was most confident in, I always felt better if I really pushed myself to pick up the steps and give it my best shot. Coming from a more classical background, a lot of the jazz and contemporary classes required me to really let go and dance from a different place in my head, and while I was always happy to get to the daily ballet class, I definitely enjoyed learning new movements and styles. Once that voice of self-doubt in your head gets muffled, it is amazing what you can learn about yourself and achieve!”
How has this experience changed your life?
“It has made me realise how many talented people there are out there and how hard you have to work if you want to make this your career. It also confirmed to me that this is the only thing I want to do as a career in the future.”
“The Joffrey summer intensive was such an eye-opening experience, not only in regard to dance but all aspects of my life. Being my first time traveling internationally, I was fascinated by the cultural differences. My daily morning walk to the historical Joffrey Ballet School building was vibrant with local characters, dogs, food truck-lined streets and, of course, the beautiful parks where you are bound to have an insightful conversation with a stranger. But no matter where you go in the world, a ballet class still begins with pliés. The dance atmosphere is always a reassuring, familiar and nurturing environment. Dancers are unified by this, regardless of their geographic location.
My trip has definitely inspired me to travel. It is my hope for the future that I am able to join a contemporary dance company that also enables me to see more of the world. Overall, it taught me to trust in my abilities and reminded me that there is a big world brimming with opportunity.”
“This experience opened my eyes up to the hundreds of pathways and career options that exist for dancers, whether it be being in a company, Broadway show, or choreographing. Whatever you do, it is imperative that you have a drive and passion strong enough to keep you going. I learnt you have to be versatile and resilient and not rely on anyone else for validation except yourself. A huge thank you to Dance Informa and VDF for providing me with this unique opportunity I would never have experienced without this scholarship. Also, thank you to my incredible family and support network. I am so lucky to have your unconditional support.”
By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.