Dance Academy Students Present the World Premiere of Contour and Flight

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute’s Dean Margaret Tracey sought to infuse this year’s Winter Dance Celebration performance with a commissioned piece from L.A.’s rich local talent. Reaching out to Janie Taylor, a member of L.A. Dance Project and a former instructor for Colburn Dance, presented an exciting proposition to mix contemporary with classical ballet influences.

Dean Tracey expressed her appreciation for Janie’s “extraordinary artistry as a ballerina … and I support amplifying the female voice in the language of classical ballet and in the exploration of the use of the pointe shoe.”

At the age of 15, Janie studied at the School of American Ballet before she joined the New York City Ballet where she danced for close to 16 years. After some time abroad when both she and her husband worked at the Paris Opera Ballet, they returned to the States where Janie joined L.A. Dance Project, a company founded by Artistic Director Benjamin Millepied.

With a short timeline for the commissioned piece, titled “Contour and Flight,” Janie reached out to collaborate with composer, David K. Israel, who has a long history of writing scores for dance, such as for Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, and the New York City Ballet. Having studied guitar in high school with Philadelphia-based jazz guitarist Pat Martino, David later studied composition with Leonard Bernstein while simultaneously studying dance history with the late Truman Finney, who had danced with George Balanchine at the New York City Ballet.

In discussing the influence of performing arts, Janie said that dance is “something I’ve always had to do—it’s just inside me, a part of who I am. And it’s something you have to love because of how physically and mentally demanding it is. I always enjoy the effort it requires and the challenges it presents. Dance gives so much back to you.”

David recollected having started composing at the age of five, though his first “official” piece was written at the youthful age of 12, an homage to Jimmy Hendrix titled “Fly Through the Wind, Jimmy.” And in referencing the pull of the theatre, David said, “It is like a temple, and the experience is spiritual and nourishing for my soul. When I’m not in the theatre or creating for something that’s going to be in the theatre, I feel sort of empty.”

Turning to the collaborative process of composing and developing choreography for “Contour and Flight,” Janie listened to a few pieces David had existing and identified one that resonated with her vision. “The music itself had given me ideas about what I could do with it,” said Janie. However, there still needed to be an accompaniment, and David accepted the challenge to compose a piece in a compressed amount of time based on general direction from Janie, such as tempo, length, tone, and emotion.

“One thing I thought about a lot for this piece was that these students are studying the Balanchine style of ballet and what that means. And I wanted to make something where they would be able to showcase all of those skills that they’re learning from this technique, … and I wanted them to be able to exercise that very specific musicality that they’re learning. I think that David’s music lends itself very well to the dynamic and speed and musical changes that are also usually in the music of a Balanchine ballet. So, I thought it would be a really good fit to use his music for this.”

David shared that the first movement he started writing was based on Vivaldi’s Sonata for Violin and Harp. He wanted the new music to feel as homogenous as possible with the first movement already composed.

“I knew that it was going to have a slightly more modern feel to it, but not completely divorced from the sort of baroque inspirations. So, you get a lot of early baroque kind of chord progressions, but with syncopations and odd time signatures and all kinds of wonderful jazzy stuff that just wouldn’t have been possible in Vivaldi’s day,” said David.

For the choreography, the juxtaposition of Janie’s classical ballet training and the freedom and boldness that L.A. Dance Project provides has enabled Janie to leverage both in her choreographic process and decision-making for “Contour and Flight.”

“Different choreographic processes I have experienced, including those while dancing with L.A. Dance Project, have opened my eyes to how many ways there are to choreograph and that there are no rules at all as to what choreography could be. Whereas in my mind before, there was a very specific way that choreography would happen,” said Janie. “This was very illuminating and opened up my mind to endless possibilities.”

For “Contour and Flight,” which features eight Dance Academy students, Janie was excited to choreograph her first piece for Pointe, as this was a divergence from the type of work experienced at L.A. Dance Project.

“Pointe was a huge part of my life dancing and something that I love. So, it was exciting to get to have that be a part of what I would make,” said Janie.

In discussing her choreographic process, she said, “A lot of times, I hear steps. I think in some ways, I feel like the dance is there already. It’s like archeology, and I have to uncover it and figure out the puzzle…. I use a lot of imagery which can come from anywhere, from my everyday life or more fantasy type images and ideas.”

Working with the Dance Academy students to prepare “Contour and Flight,” Janie stated, “They were all really great and were open to trying things. They didn’t seem like students … they seemed like young artists who are ready to be in a company.” She further noted, “It was really exciting to allow them to have their individuality and include them in talking about the steps, letting them have a voice [such as] how do we make this smoother?” Overall, Janie hopes the students “gained valuable experience being part of a choreographic process. [Noting that], as a young dancer, you maybe don’t get a lot of that experience until you’re in a company.”

“I had so much fun with them, which was a big part of it too—for us to also enjoy ourselves. And I hope they gained experience that will help them wherever they go from here,” said Janie.

“Contour and Flight” receives its world premiere in the Colburn Winter Dance Celebration 7:00 pm performance on December 16.

Learn about all the events for the Colburn Winter Dance Celebration and purchase tickets.

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute Dean Margaret Tracey Brings Both Experience and Love for the Power of Expression Through Movement

This article has been lightly edited for clarity and space. 

Welcome to the Colburn community! As dance has been a part of your life for quite some time, would you share some of your background in the field? 

As a professional performer, I was at the New York City Ballet for 16 years where I danced as a principal until my retirement. After that chapter, my post-performing career led me into teaching, and in 2007, I accepted the position of school director at Boston Ballet where I held that post for 14 years. For the past two years, I served as a freelance artist predominantly working in three areas: as a stager for the Balanchine Trust, as a guest faculty, and doing project-based work in consulting across North America and Europe. My consultancy engaged with dance education institutions both nationally and internationally.  

Going back even further, how did you become involved in the life of dance? 

As a young girl, I fell in love with the art form of ballet specifically and dreamt of doing something with it. But adolescence is when I fully committed to pursuing it vocationally. By the time I was 15, I was awarded a scholarship to attend the School of American Ballet, and that is when I started my professional training that led me to New York City Ballet. So between training and performing with the company, I was in New York with that institution for 20 years. 

What was it about dance that you were so drawn to commit your life to it? 

I remember my very first dance class; the empowerment I felt through the embodiment of movement without words was a transformative experience for me as an extremely shy little girl who never liked to open my mouth. And for the first time, I felt the strength and power of communication in a different form. And to this day, I can remember that sensation of when I was six like it was yesterday. 

Is there a specific form of dance that is your favorite or that you tend to be drawn toward? 

I get asked a similar question, what was your favorite ballet to dance? Or what’s your favorite ballet to watch? And it was whichever one I was doing at the time. And I obviously have spent my life committed to the art form of ballet and have a deep, deep affinity for that form. But I can be equally as inspired, motivated, and moved by any number of forms of dance. I’m just a fan of dance! 

What are some reasons that compelled you to join Colburn and the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute?  

Timing is one of the biggest drivers of life, I think. On a personal note, as I had mentioned, I had been freelancing for the past two years knowing that I would eventually want to find an organization to call my home. As much as I loved the traveling that I did over the last two years—the knowledge I gained, the people I met—I truly missed having a home base, building a team, and working with others. I’ve known of Colburn for a number of years. I have personally known the last two deans of the dance here at Colburn, and I taught here maybe five or six years ago for the Dance Academy. I was familiar with the work here, so I was excited about the growth possibilities more than anything. And specifically with the new building, knowing that the expansion is on the horizon and what that could mean for the Dance program. How will we further fulfill the School’s mission around dance? That was intriguing to me. 

Furthermore, the model of Colburn is different than any organization I’ve worked with to date. I’ve worked predominantly in professional programs that are associated with a major company. At Colburn, there are other performing art units, the Community School, Music Academy, and Conservatory, along with the strong Dance Program. I was fascinated by a new model and working within a new structure. I’ve also learned that Los Angeles has quite a rich dance community, and I am anxious to get to know it and discover how to continue to grow and elevate the programming here.  

If you can put this into words, what is your personal philosophy for dance? 

My personal philosophy for dance is first and foremost that it is another form of communication. You can think of music and dance as some of the most primal forms of communication: sound and movement. Every human being born in this world can understand that in some capacity.  

I love the work that I’ve done as a dance educator that isn’t only focused on training future artists, but sharing this art form with a broad student body for the simple value of how it touches and transforms our lives. Art is not a luxury. Art is a necessity in the fabric of our lives, and I can’t imagine a world not doing what I do and making sure that dance is a part of as many people’s lives as it can be. Dance is for all. 

What are some key takeaways that you hope those in our youth and adult dance receive by being in our program? 

I hope that every student walks into our space and our dance community with a sense that they belong—that fierce sense of belonging. One of our deepest needs as human beings is to feel as if we belong. Also that they discover something new about themselves in the process of learning dance. I am interested in students discovering the artistic genius that is within them. Not necessarily so that they become a star, but for however their dance journey ends up: Whether they land in politics advocating for arts, end up at Harvard discovering the next medical device to support knee replacements for dancers, or on the stage of the New York City Ballet.  

Extending this to the Dance Academy, are there other takeaways you have for these students? 

One of the things that is unique about the community of Colburn is that Dance Academy students are living, training, and communing with artists from the music world as well as the dance world. I hope what all of our students get through these collaborations is an appreciation for and an opportunity to be inspired by students in other disciplines. This is another really exciting aspect that drew me here to Colburn as I also studied classical music and I’m incredibly grateful for my musical education and how that informed my dancing.  

What are you looking forward to during your first academic year as Dean? 

I’m personally looking forward to a new work being done by a friend of mine, Janie Taylor, who is a revered former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and currently works with LA Dance Project. I saw one of her pieces this summer and was so inspired so I asked if she would create a piece for the Dance Academy. I’m also super excited about our Amplify artist, Michael Montgomery from Alonzo King Lines, who will be coming to create a piece for our Dance Academy students as well. Our Tap Faculty performance in November is going to be an incredible showcase, and then of course Misty Copeland’s going to be here next month. I’ve had a sneak preview of her film, Flower, and she’s done so many extraordinary things through dance to address social issues that we’re all facing. I really applaud how she is showing a new generation of Black Americans that they belong in ballet. I simply look forward to meeting each of our students across our multiple programs as they discover their own journey in dance here at Colburn!  

Amplify Artist Alonzo King—Legacy and Connection

Alonzo King, choreographer, artistic director, and co-founder of Alonzo King LINES Ballet is recognized and applauded for his unique artistic vision. King’s works have a world stage in leading ballet and modern companies’ repertories. Named one of America’s “Irreplaceable Dance Treasures” by the Dance Heritage Coalition, King holds an honorary Doctorate from Dominican University, California Institute of the Arts, and the Juilliard School.

In reflecting upon his early experiences of dance and his training, King shares that “movement was an internal part of my being. It was something that I did all the time. My mother was a dancer, and she was an inspiration to me. And then I went to a formal academic education with the School of American Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet School, and Harkness Ballet.”

King further elaborates on the subject of movement and its fullness. “Movement is the principal expression of life. The heart is beating, the brain is synapsing, blood is rushing through the veins. The peristaltic process—healing—many diseases pass through our bodies that could have been fatal but they are worked out so that this machine of breath and willpower [present] signs that this thing is living. There’s a radiation from rocks and plants, so movement is the principal expression of life, whether we’re in war or whether we are being kind to each other…. There are natural spaces that are also moving with life and they have an effect on us. Our internal world, which is the instrument we dance from because dancers are musicians.”

King shares that he doesn’t see differentiations between the styles of what one may describe as contemporary or modern from classical ballet, but instead, he respects the basic influences threading through what has always existed. “There is nothing new under the sun. And so people are often fooled by style; classical ballet or what is a more precise term, Western classical dance, is based in science and nature. It is a science of movement. It’s replete with styles that come from choreographers that come from ways of thinking and different periods that come from trends. But in its essence, it is a technique, a scientific technique of movement. I wouldn’t define ballet by the choreographic looks of certain choreographers or certain periods in history. I would define it by its origin in nature and science.”

Connecting culture to the evolution and expression of dance, King suggests the importance of the “bird’s eye view” where one “can step back and see the progression of history, what dance is, and regardless of what form it’s in or what culture or who are the masters of dance, it’s a mind-boggling study in ancient cultures…. So, in its very beginning, dance arose from spirit. Dance arose from what can be experienced that is beyond the five senses. And can I get information from that experience through movement or contradict it, as it may seem, through stillness. And so this specified idea of bodies moving in space—whether they’re planetary bodies or human bodies—are connected.”

In furthering a tenet of his practice, emphasis is placed upon recognizing the full scope of history. “Every culture looks back to the golden age of a previous culture.” However, King acknowledges this is limiting, as many do not go back to the beginning to trace the full story arc. This stilted view of history leaves out important contributions and breeds opportunities for inflection points “where racism entered to cut off the block, the legacy and connection.”

This importance of accurate representation is founded in the pursuit of truth. As King noted earlier, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” so one’s pursuit is based on an “obsession with finding truth, with stepping into what you consider to be the truth of how things are.” To impart his meaning, he provides the example of one who is “inspired by nature in its manner of operation.” If this person created a painting, they would not “imitate a flower” but “try to connote the essence of the flower, the idea and the meaning that it’s conveying. And so the look of the flower is what we would call appearance. The meaning of the flower is what we would call its conveyance.”

In transferring this idea to dance, King finds “ballets [to be] thought structures, and we can look at them, and we can argue with them, or we can agree with them… The tuning fork used by choreographers, painters, mothers, and fathers raising children…is [asking] is this true? And if it’s true, it is therefore beautiful because truth and beauty are the same. And so that’s the obsession from the beginning of planet Earth until the end of planet Earth—is what I’m presenting and saying, is there truth emanating from this statement, this painting, this writing, this novel…”

Furthermore, “dancers have to look at everything that has ever been made: buildings, paintings, this Earth, the planets, the universes…observing everything [and] explore and challenge mainstream notions…. People have to find out who they really are. That’s the first quest.”

King’s philosophy on movement and truth is entrenched within the mission and purpose of Alonzo King LINES Ballet which functions “to nurture artistry and the development of creative expression in dance, through collaboration, performance, and education.” King’s artistic vision lives through the core ideology of his studio that “recognizes that art lives within each and every one of us; strives to balance law and intuition; believes in the full potentiality of the human being; invests in imagination and creativity.” Equally important, is the environment that “embraces a spirit of inquiry and openness to change combined with a reverence for legacy and history.”

On Wednesday, February 8, King will present an onstage master class working with Colburn Dance Academy students on new choreography that he has developed as part of his Amplify residency. This master class is open to the public and will be livestreamed.

Learn more about Alonzo King and Lines Ballet.

The Amplify Series
This series celebrates the careers of artists of color through a number of on-campus, short-term residencies that include performances, master classes, and panel discussions. Colburn supports each artist with institutional resources including recording projects, marketing support, and engagement work in the community through the Center for Innovation and Community Impact.

In addition to Alonzo King, artists for the 2022–23 Amplify Series are Thomas Mesa, cellist and first prize-winner of the Sphinx Competition, and Kris Bowers (Community School ’06), pianist and Emmy Award-winning composer. Past Amplify Artists include violist and composer Nokuthula Ngwenyama (Community School ’93), bassoonist Andrew Brady (Conservatory ’13), bassist Marlon Martinez (Conservatory ’15), and former New York City Ballet member Silas Farley, Dean of Trudl Zipper Dance Institute.

Modern Dance offers the freedom to “just be”

Colburn’s Trudl Zipper Dance Institute offers instruction in various dance disciplines including ballet, modern dance, and tap dance. The Colburn Modern Dance Program is a unique offering of foundational modern dance technique not readily available nationally. Students can start as young as five years of age in Creative Dance and advance through Children’s Modern Dance (I-III) and on to Intermediate and Advanced Level instruction.

Colburn’s Modern and Creative Dance Chair, Tamsin Carlson, shares a glimpse into her past when modern dance took root and highlights the invaluable experience of a week with the Merce Cunningham Trust on campus.

Hailing from the UK, Tamsin started dancing at seven years old and attended a performing arts school that began in middle school around the age of eleven. Similar to U.S. academy programs, Tamsin lived at the school where she practiced her art form during the day intertwined with academic schoolwork. During her time at the performing arts school is when Tamsin’s love of modern dance took shape. A student from London Contemporary visited to teach the Graham Technique. This exposure to a new dance form solidified in Tamsin the power that modern presented. “I think what I loved is that I didn’t have to pretend anything. I didn’t have to smile if I didn’t feel like smiling. You literally could just be, and the drama was just in the movement. And if you’ve seen Graham, it’s very dramatic!”

Modern dance is like a strong physical expression. Whether it’s of an idea, or of a story, or of a feeling that uses space as one element and that also uses the people in the space. It’s a story about the relationship between the people to each other and to the space. Tamsin Carlson

Tamsin joined London Contemporary and later pursued Cunningham Technique training in New York where she became an understudy or “RUG” (repertory understudy group) for the Cunningham Company. Merce Cunningham recognized her talent in instruction and invited her to teach for several years. Sometime later after relocating to Los Angeles, Tamsin joined Colburn in 2014 as a Dance faculty member.

Reminiscing about her beginning at the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, Tamsin expresses how it reignited her love of teaching and brought the influence of her Cunningham background to the forefront. “The program here [at Colburn] is really unique…. I think we’re only one of the few schools that have modern. It’s not as ubiquitous as say contemporary or hip hop,” Tamsin notes. “There are only two schools that teach Cunningham to this age group, Colburn and the North Carolina School of the Arts.”

Modern at Colburn starts with the Lester Horton Technique and as students progress in age, strength, and technique, they then receive an introduction to the Cunningham Technique developed by Merce Cunningham and the Graham Technique developed by Martha Graham. Tamsin mentions that Yuka Fukuda teaches the advanced Horton classes at Colburn and Chard Gonzalez teaches both the Cunningham Technique and the Graham Technique, alternating by semester. This variance of teachers is important as Tamsin points out that “part of the Cunningham ethos is that you should have different teachers—that all teachers have a valuable viewpoint” to experience. With this in mind, the Modern Program attempts to present different Cunningham teachers and guest teachers to provide those varied perspectives to students.

In understanding the nuances of the three modern dance techniques (Graham, Horton, and Cunningham) taught at Colburn, Tamsin describes them as follows: Graham is dramatic with a lot of floor work. It’s a useful tool to really understand the pelvis. It’s very grounded and very physical. Horton is a little freer, but still very grounded and physical. Cunningham takes the ballet form in terms of working the lower half of the body, while the torso has multiple movements, in regard to tilts, twists, and curves. Cunningham is a little more abstract than Graham, but it’s still that you are a person in space relating to the other person or people in that space. For Merce, all of the space was important.

Delving into Tamsin’s specialty training and knowledge as a licensed teacher of the Cunningham Technique, she leverages the subject of space to define the technique further. For a dancer, any side they face can be front. “I liken it to a Rubik’s cube in that the body is divided into three so that it works as a whole. But then the three parts of the body can move independently: the legs can be going one way, the torso another, and then you have the pelvis which is the center.” She also mentions that Merce intentionally avoided terminology for his technique, which “makes it a very physical technique to teach because the language isn’t there.” A teacher uses other words like brush or a literal direction such as “extend the leg forward.”

As some confuse contemporary dance with modern dance, Tamsin highlights some of the differences between the two. “Modern is a bit more abstract and contemporary tends to be set to music, often popular music of the time, so it tends to rely purely on the momentum of the body and the movement.” For Cunningham, the choreography and the music are built separately. A cornerstone of the Cunningham technique is that the choreography and music come together on the stage. “The idea was that they could coexist and have a relationship, but the relationship was through chance.” Whereas the Graham Technique is based on myths, so there is a strong story or narrative connection.

In reflecting on modern and other dance disciplines, such as ballet and tap, Tamsin states, “it’s like with opera, I think modern can be really abstract … but people may be more intimidated by it. It’s a more challenging discipline; it challenges you as a viewer.” Tamsin inquires of Seth Belliston, a faculty member of ballet who is passing by, to define the difference between modern and other dance disciplines. He expresses that’s it hard to put into words as “it’s apples and oranges” in which Tamsin quips, “both are trees,” and Seth quickly follows up with “but in modern, you can be the tree.”

The Cunningham Modern Trust hosted a weeklong staging event at Colburn in late October. This was the first time that the Dance Academy and intermediate modern dancers were invited to participate with the advanced modern group. The students trained with Silas Riener, a Cunningham stager, in “TV Rerun,” “Scramble,” and “Changing Steps.” These phrases are quite challenging and Tamsin believes they empower dancers to “have more confidence in themselves because they are relying on themselves to make decisions.” She further notes that her students today are quite “bright and up for the challenge; they embrace it.” The opportunity to learn new repertory and work with and hear from another voice (the stager) are two significant takeaways for students participating in the week’s training.

Overall, Tamsin understands that modern dance gives her students “fearlessness because they have to develop confidence and strength in their body to move through space.” The value of modern dance for dancers: “it’s confidence, it’s technique, it’s strength, and the ability to really be able to travel fearlessly.” Fostering these aspects for her students is Tamsin’s goal.

Read more about Tamsin’s background here.

The Trudl Zipper Dance Institute presents the following upcoming performances:

See the Music, Hear the Dance, Saturday, November 5 at 7 pm in Zipper Hall 

Joy! A Winter Dance Celebration, Saturday, December 17 at 3 pm in Zipper Hall and Colburn Plaza

Joy! A Winter Dance Celebration, Sunday, December 18 at 2 pm in Zipper Hall

Tap Fest, Saturday, March 18 at 7 pm in Zipper Hall

Counterpointe, Saturday, March 25 at 2 pm and 7 pm in Zipper Hall

Student Choreography Workshop, Saturday, April 29 at 2 pm and 7 pm in Zipper Hall

Spring TapWorks, Saturday, May 20 at 2 pm and 7 pm in Zipper Hall

Spring Dance Festival, Saturday, May 27 at 2 pm and 7 pm in Luckman Theatre

Trudl Dubsky Zipper and Transnational Dance History

Choreography in exile

Silas Farley and I are talking about ballet. About bodies and histories. And we are talking about Trudl Dubsky Zipper.

It is a magical evening: we are at the Colburn School gala, where the patio has been transformed by lights, greenery, tables decorated with flowers and écrins Cartier, and by Colburn students performing all around us throughout the evening. Why does Trudl Zipper feel so present here tonight, in this gala mise en scène? Not only because Carol Colburn Grigor, like me, was a pupil of Trudl Dubsky Zipper—we were very special pupils. And not only because I’ve been finding gems from Trudl’s remarkable life in the Zipper Archive at the Colburn School during the week.

Trudl Dubsky Zipper in Piano DressBorn in Vienna more than a century ago, Trudl was a transnational dancer, choreographer, teacher, visual artist, costume and jewelry designer. Vienna before WWII was a hothouse both for classical ballet training and for avant-garde dance, with new ideas about women’s physical well-being and children’s imaginative space. As a teenager, Trudl joined and toured with Gertrud Bodenweiser’s modern dance company, all over Europe; later she studied with child psychologist and psychoanalyst Anna Freud, and danced with German choreographer Kurt Joos in London; she founded the Manila Ballet Moderne, performed and taught in the Philippines; and worked at the New School in New York and off-Broadway, then taught dance and composition to young people in Chicago and Los Angeles.

I want to tell Silas Farley how Trudl lives on in this dance institute named for her, and how the choices he has made resonate with hers. Like Silas, Trudl excelled both in performance and choreography; she was deeply invested in dance history, and like him, she was passionate about its transmission to young dancers. She lived in a time, however, when she did not get to live in her home country. She left Europe before the Third Reich “annexed” Austria in 1938 and traveled the world as an exile, and years later, when I was not quite five years old, my life intersected with hers in her dance classes at what is now the Music Institute of Chicago. Although I studied with her for eight years, her teaching has inspired everything I’ve done on the stage, in the classroom, and in four books of dance history.

Trudl trained in ballet, then moved into modern; she knew the theatrical potential of all dance forms. Many years later, I realized that my book French Moves, which is about how hip hop became a form of concert dance supported by socialist cultural policy in France, was inspired by the kind of community arts that Trudl and Herbert fought for in the Philippines and in the US.

As we talk, students come up to Silas and won’t let him go. I try to explain to him how Trudl chose this in her life—with Herbert Zipper; they both gave their lives to bringing young people up in the arts, and took them—me, included—very seriously as artists.

What confidence that instilled in us! What curiosity about the world! What community that created for us with our peers, with older, and younger people. It rooted us in history and training and freed us to explore powerful ideas.

The archive is a theater

Silas Farley asks me about my work in the Zipper archive. Any archive is a treasure chest: this one has precious documents, photos, scrapbooks, and artwork inside. As an archival historian of performance, I look for the traces of choreography, the living art, in these sleeping objects. But there is also content here in the Zipper archive that I think is important for dancers and faculty who work in the program named for her to know. This archive is a theater of love and war.

A few examples: look at the young Trudl Dubsky photographed in a studio around 1930. In another photo of her almost one hundred years ago: a Viennese dancer not yet 20 years old, after touring in a new modern dance group around Europe, decides to found a school, teach and perform, in London.

Trudl Dubsky Zipper with Jeannette RutherstonAnd here she is with her British friend Jeannette Rutherston, photographed by Kay Vaughn in London. With Jeannette (also a Bodenweiser dancer, daughter of the Bradford-based Rothenstein family, and later, as Jeanette Powell, a well-known critic at The Dancing Times), Trudl choreographs, chooses the music, creates some of the costumes, and performs a series of concerts for good causes. They have a clear mission as independent young artists in Europe. For their performance at Rudolf Steiner Hall on September 24, 1930, Trudl’s boyfriend, Herbert Zipper, travels to London to accompany them at the piano. At the Queen’s Hall in Bradford, January 9, 1932, he also plays for their recital “In Aid of the Bradford District Nursing Association.”

In feminist history, we assume women were oppressed in the past; but in newspapers I find in the archive, Trudl often spoke about the confidence and solidity, the well-being that dance training gave to women—especially women newly entering the work force. Dance was not only professional artistic practice, it could fuel social and personal development.

Here is Trudl again in the early 1930s. Look at the sweep of the backbend and the drop of the foot in this pose inspired by Bodenweiser—this is not Isadora Duncan, but equally new, dramatic, and different. Trudl Dubsky Zipper Satin Dress Dance PoseIt might not look like socialism to us now, but in the geometric forms she would learn from Bodenweiser and develop in later choreographies, such as Iron Foundry set to Mosolov, the lineage is clear. With an all-male corps, with bare torsos and gestures of synchronized labor, staged on a Filipino cast, the transnational scale and politics of Iron Foundry are clear in another photo.

Trudl had sailed to the Philippines on the eve of WWII to teach students new European modern dance, ballet, and rhythmic gymnastics, and to connect the European folk dancing she knew to local and indigenous dance forms, bringing both to the stage. The archive conserves her through-passenger ticket on board the SS Conte Rosso via Bombay, where she arrived on September 13, 1937. This began a chapter of her life that would last a decade.

In one of Trudl’s scrapbooks, a series of photographs show the Philippines from a biplane hovering over one of the outer islands and then documenting the deep culture of people living on their ancestral lands. I don’t remember seeing these photographs before, even when I was invited to stay over at her home as a child. Trudl drew and painted the people she lived among in the Philippines, before and after the war, representing visible differences and living-together in community. There are programs and press in this archive in English, Spanish, and Tagalog.

There are many details of Trudl’s life with Herbert Zipper that I am learning about in the archive at Colburn, and it confirms what I know about their 50 years of love together: their passionate commitment and collaboration. Their engagement with cultural development, with children and with equity, with access to creativity for all could not be more timely. And in this way, the archive is also a theater: unfolding the history of their love and survival, across wars and across continents, giving us an alternate history of music and dance. There are pictures of me in this archive, but working here, I see that the world they created for me, that better world in music and dance that has stayed with me for half a century, was something they made possible for many.

Trudl Dubsky Zipper Dance Pose in BlackGood things have been growing out of this archive. This semester, Silas tells me students choreographed Two Dances for Trudl, music composed by Herbert Zipper which was brought out by the Recovered Voices project at Colburn and recently recorded. In the archive, I find a few pages of typescript dated July 1976, in which Herbert describes his grief after Trudl has died in his arms. With the help of this archive, I want to tell her story—the dancer’s story.

Dreams of Glory

At the Colburn gala, Silas Farley and I are talking about choreography. About historical ballets, many of them unknown, with similar plots. He describes them: “there’s a pearl…there’s a river…there’s a search….” We laugh because we know about these ballets, surviving in archives as texts, librettos, paintings, cartoons, costume sketches, and newspaper reviews. An entire branch of dance history.

Why is this history important? Silas agrees with me on this, but I am trying to explain my view to him. I have written that dance is a way of knowing, and that choreography makes people think. It helps us understand our world, our embodiment, and our dreams; historically it provoked new ways of thinking about bodies. I’ve been studying ballets like this in the archive at the Paris Opera for my book One Dead at the Paris Opera Ballet. But talking to Silas makes me understand something I haven’t seen before. Until now, I hadn’t seen that this narrative of quest, of desire, is also key to the ballet Trudl Dubsky Zipper choreographed in the 1970s, her American masterpiece, Snoopy’s Dreams of Glory.

I liked to think that Trudl created this ballet for me, as I danced the role of Snoopy. What an idea, to take Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters and develop them in choreography. To tease out a new story from an old story—of a baseball knocked out of the field that will become, in Snoopy’s aspirational dreams—first a pearl deep in the ocean, then a diamond deep in the earth, and the moon shining in outer space. In the ballet, Snoopy travels under the ocean, inside the earth, out into the atmosphere:  diving for the pearl, hunting down the diamond, pawing toward the moon… This choreography was an homage to Peanuts, but it was also a send-up of American popular culture and consumerism, the conquest of space and stewardship of the planet. What an idea, to trust her choreography to a dancer barely seven years old? How could she know that all these years later, I would become, in a different medium, her storyteller?

Dance is important in world history, but it has been omitted from most mainstream accounts—those famously written by the victors. Trudl’s choreographies gain significance here in the archive, even if made for smaller stages, or smaller people—all over the world. They should enter into the kind of dance histories that my fellow researchers in the Cultural History of Dance Seminar at the EHESS graduate school in social sciences in Paris are writing.

I am trying to explain this to Silas Farley, but of course, he already knows. He laughingly calls me Dr. McCarren, and I see that I am in full teaching mode here at the gala. He says, “Sometimes talking with someone, you can feel as if you have known them your whole life.” Yes, I think, because we are dancers. Yes, because we agree that choreography makes us think. And yes, because this is the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute.

Felicia McCarren
Fulbright-Tocqueville Distinguished Chair, EHESS Paris, 2023
Leverhulme Visiting Professor, University of Oxford, 2022, 2023
Professor of French, Tulane University

Images from the Herbert and Trudl Zipper Archive at the Colburn School; reproduced with permission from Celia Pool and Gavin Perry.

About the collection:

The Herbert and Trudl Zipper Archive consists of materials dating from approximately 1900­–1997 from the lives of Herbert Zipper (1904–1997), his wife Trudl Dubsky Zipper (1913–1977), and members of the immediate and extended Zipper family, including sister Hedwig “Hedy” Zipper Horwitz/Holt (1907–1989), and maternal uncle (by marriage) artist Arthur Paunzen (1890–1940).

The archive includes personal and professional photographs, decades of personal and professional correspondence, unpublished and published sheet music and scores, books, audio, music, and video recordings on various media, concert programs and related publicity materials, award plaques and certificates, framed and unframed artworks, a set of 1939 encyclopedias, a wood/stone sculpture and a portrait carved by Herbert Zipper, a bronze and a stone sculpture of a dancer, and more.

The collection was originally bequeathed to Crossroads School by Herbert Zipper and retrieved from Zipper’s home, garage, and office spaces by Paul Cummins after Zipper’s death in April 1997. Since then, the collection has been housed at Crossroads School and in 2019, Crossroads School donated the collection to the Colburn School.

The collection is in a state of sorting and processing and requires cataloging, digitization, conservation, and re-housing of materials. With over 400 boxes of materials, the School is currently raising funds to support the processing and conservation of this important collection.

With the support of a generous gift from Ann Mulally, we will begin this summer the multi-year project of processing the archive—cataloguing, digitizing, and making available to the world of researchers, historians, dancers, artists, and arts lovers—people like Felicia McCarren. If you would like to join Ms. Mulally in this effort by making a gift, please contact the Philanthropy Department at

For research and access inquiries, please contact

Tess McCharen on Limón2 and Her Journey to Modern Dance

Dancer Tess McCharen studied at Colburn for four years before making her way to New York City where she was recently appointed as one of the founding members of Limón2, a new dance company under the umbrella of the José Limón Dance Foundation. The original Limón Dance Company was the country’s first modern dance repertory company, and Limón2 is dedicated to the development of young professionals and to the creation of innovative programming and accessible community engagement.

“It is a big honor to be one of the founding members of the Limón2, especially with its creation being during such unprecedented and uncertain times, especially for dancers and artists,” Tess reflects. She is one of seven young women that were selected to join the inaugural group, which will share the movement and intention of José Limón while also working to discover their own artistry, embodying a variety of contemporary dance styles. This past fall, they were able to work with Gregory Dolbashian on a piece called “The Bird in Your Hand.” Tess described the freedom of creativity she experienced working on it, recalling “The process was extremely collaborative. We were given phrase work and choreography, but we were also given the space and opportunity to make everything our own.”

Tess discovered her passion for modern dance during her time here at the Colburn School. “I had seen various modern dance companies like Graham, Ailey, and Paul Taylor but had never done modern dance myself.” With the help of her mother—who was also a modern dancer—and Colburn, she discovered a new world. “Once I started working with Tamsin (Carlson), I really fell in love with Cunningham and modern dance.” She discovered Limón during this period of growth as well, and the training continues to serve her to this day.

“Colburn was the best preparation I could’ve asked for,” she asserts. “I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today if I had not gone to Colburn.” Aside from the variety of classes and access to world-class teachers and choreographers, Tess also highlighted another ongoing benefit: community. “I’m still good friends and in touch with the many people I met there…I met my best friend at Colburn when Tamsin gave us a little duet in her piece.”

Looking to the future, Tess feels a sense of optimism in her upcoming work with Limón2 but also for dance in general. “As draining mentally and physically as Zoom dance is, I have to say it has opened up accessibility in ways we hadn’t imagined before,” she says, referring to the restrictions that were put in place during the pandemic. “It opened up the world of dance a lot…Now, almost every show has a virtual viewing option. My family in LA was able to watch me perform two weekends ago.”

As she continues to develop her career in New York, Tess is certain of one constant: change. “Even when I moved to NYC, I had never really done contemporary dance before, so that was already a big learning curve…the best thing I could do and can continue to do is just be open and willing to learn.”

Follow Tess on Instagram
Learn more about Limón2
Photo by Anthony Collins (@anthonycollins_art on IG)

Ava Dhira Metzger Gains New Perspective from Student Choreography Workshop

Ava Dhira Metzger grew up in a household that embraced and celebrated dance and music. It wasn’t until she was nearly a teenager that she discovered her own passion for the performing arts. Despite her father being a professional ballet dancer and instructor, Metzger didn’t start taking ballet classes until age 12 at a small studio in Pasadena, California.

As she mastered the basic positions and graduated onto more complex techniques, Metzger sought a more challenging learning environment. That decision led her to the Colburn Community School of Performing Arts, as well as the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute Summer Intensive program. With the encouragement of instructors, including Visiting Artist Jenifer Ringer, Metzger auditioned for and was accepted into the Dance Academy.

“After doing some reflection, I decided this is something I want to learn more about,” she says.

Exploring Her Expression

Metzger, who is now 16, continues to explore her artistic capabilities. On top of Dance Academy classes, she enrolled in the Student Choreography Workshop taught by Cara Scrementi, Colburn’s stage manager. The workshop examined the many elements that come together for a live stage performance. For a capstone project, each student choreographed their own 2.5-minute solo.

“It’s a daunting thing to tell a bunch of teenagers that you have to choreograph yourselves in a relatively long piece all by yourself,” Metzger says. “When learning a well-known piece, you are told what the vision is and how to communicate it. So it is different when you are in the driver seat and have to make all the decisions. This was the first time where I had a full concert piece on my own. I picked the music, the costumes, and did the choreography myself.”

Of course, the students were guided through the creative process. Scrementi kicked it off by introducing various short-form pieces.

“We were creating smaller phrases of dance and learning about creative methods to use later when we started creating our choreography. We also examined the relationship with music, or whether there should be no relationship with the music. We learned about the different tools to expand a phrase and creating longer passages of movements,” Metzger explains.

“Cara shared notes during rehearsals and would tell us to show the progression of our steps more. But she also would stress that ‘it is your prerogative,’” Metzger continues. “I always felt we had autonomy. Cara respected our creative vision. We were in control of our vision.”

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute Dean Silas Farley and Associate Dean Darleen Callaghan lent their insights and advice, too.

“It is interesting because Silas has so much genuine passion for ballet techniques, and passing those on. That is always so cool and inspiring. He has great energy to be around,” says Metzger. “He and Darleen emphasized the idea of dancing in class. They also stressed to us to present what we created in a clear way.”

Constructing a well-choreographed performance isn’t just about assembling movements or putting together a series of steps, turns, and leaps. The class challenged Metzger to convey a narrative not only through her dance, but with the music, too. At first, she thought a traditional classical piece would fit her best. But as she worked on the choreography, Metzger realized the music simply wasn’t speaking to her. It wasn’t motivating her dance decisions.

“I did some reflecting and realized I wanted to try playing around with it. I started looking at music that was less structured, like sound scapes,” she remembers. ”I wanted to try some movements that were more contemporary, but still ballet based, but a lot that wasn’t purely classical.”

Experimenting with different musical pieces, Metzger finally found a connection with the song “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson. Nearly instantly, she recognized it was the music that supported the expression she sought for her solo.

“The idea popped into my head that this would really work. I was so inspired and connected to it,” she says. “Once I found the music that resonated with me, I was able to choreograph my solo over the span of three days. It happened so quickly. It’s like I knew it was supposed to happen. It was like these moves were always the steps and I just had to find them.

“My favorite part of that solo was how it made me feel so centered. Every time I performed it, I was in an intense space that felt so calm and within myself,” she adds. “I did the solo on pointe and the steps I had taken were from ballet, but the way I moved between them, the transitions, I feel were really inspired by modern techniques. To me, ballet feels so ethereal, and this solo felt more grounded, calm, and rooted.”

Peer Review

As a performer, designing an original solo definitely delivered a sense of accomplishment. However, throughout the process, Metzger felt like she was part of a collaborative ensemble. She leaned on the creative energy and moral support her fellow Dance Academy classmates offered each other. She says every rehearsal eventually ended with impromptu brainstorming sessions during which dancers shared ideas, suggestions, and critiques.

“In a way, it was very independent, but it was a big sense of community, too. It was encouraging. That was my favorite part. We even learned different parts of everyone else’s pieces,” she says.

A New Self-Appreciation

Now that she’s gone through the creative process, Metzger is keen for an encore.

“I think this class and performance were so enlightening. I learned so much about myself as an artist and my style of movement, my artistic fingerprint,” she explains. “I learned what I enjoy creating and performing. I like developing the technicalities of how to explain your vision. It made me think differently about myself. I’m the most authentic version of myself this year, and I want to take that into future performances.”


The Trudl Zipper Dance Institute takes pride in moving the art of dance forward by teaching and extending the great traditions of ballet, modern, and tap to all students who desire to learn, regardless of age or ability to pay. Special appreciation goes to Colburn Society members Ann Mulally, David Kobrin, Aliza and Michael Lesser, Lucy Farber and Jim Bright, Mazie and Gabriel Hoffman, Anne and Jeffrey Grausam, Meltem and Mehmet Ozpay, George and Linda Cassady, Susan Friedman, and Layla and Gac Kim, whose annual support makes dance scholarships at the Colburn School possible.

If you would like to learn more about giving to the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, contact

Dance Spotlight: Giovanna Martinez

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did you get started in the performing arts?
When I was younger, I would always run around the house, so my mom thought it was a good idea to put me in ballet. I started ballet when I was three at a community dance studio. Then when I was around 10, I started getting more serious about ballet, so I moved studios to a more professional one. At 12, I actually discovered musical theater. That’s when I did my first musical theater performance, Beauty and the Beast. I played Lumiere. I went on to perform more roles such as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family and Millie Dillmount in Thoroughly Modern Millie. I just enjoyed being on stage.

Something about musical theater that’s different from ballet is that you can use your voice. When you no longer have any words to say you can convey emotion through song. I like having that option. Ballet is very different. You don’t get to talk so every emotion must be conveyed through your face and body language. I love and see the value in both.

How do you see the two genres overlap?
I have seen many shows on Broadway with ballet in them. I love it when they incorporate ballet because it is the perfect mix for me. One of my absolute favorite shows that I have seen on Broadway was Carousel. It was choreographed by my favorite choreographer, Justin Peck. I was at the edge of my seat the whole show. I just could not get enough. His choreography is mesmerizing and brought in the perfect mix of ballet and theater. They also brought in some [New York City Ballet] dancers for the run of the show, which I thought was so cool because they are living my ideal life of being a dancer and on Broadway at the same time.

Elements of theater are also brought into ballets with some sort of a storyline. I love these ballets because I can bring my acting skills to them. Another one of my favorite choreographers is Jerome Robbins. His ballets are very theatrical, so I tend to gravitate towards them.

How did you find your way to Colburn?
I always loved and preferred the Balanchine technique, however my dance studio at the time was very classical, and I would often find myself wanting more leeway from the basic classical ballet so I could express myself without restrictions.

I had a friend that went to the same dance studio at the time, and she moved to Colburn. I ended up auditioning for Dance Academy and got in. I was so excited to be able to dance Balanchine technique with such amazing faculty. Once Covid hit, I ended up doing my first year of Dance Academy on Zoom. Though not my ideal year, I learned so much and felt very strong when it came time to join my friends back in the studio.

How have your classes been going so far this year?
It’s been great. It’s definitely different being back in the studio around all my peers. I feel like the energy is so much different than just being in your room by yourself. We used to have a slightly modified schedule so we wouldn’t be so hard on ourselves during Zoom, but now we’re back into the full schedule and I am loving it.

How do you think your training at the Dance Academy will help you in musical theater?
I always say that ballet is the root of all styles because it helps you with everything. Once you know ballet, you can merge into jazz, contemporary, tap, even hip hop if you want to because you learn how to find your place of center. Also, I think the more skills I have under my belt, the better, because you never know what a show calls for. So it’s great to learn as many skills as possible for the highest chance of booking a role. When I look back on the best opportunities I’ve had, it’s because of my dance training. It really does make a difference.

What are you working on right now?
Right now, we are going to be the first students to do The Goldberg Variations by Jerome Robbins. It’s very exciting because we’re some of the very few dancers that have gotten to do this material. It’s very challenging to say the least. So, we’ve been working very hard in the studios to put on a great show. I just love Jerome Robbins’ work so it’s very exciting to be able to do one of his ballets.

How would you describe The Goldberg Variations to people who might be unfamiliar with it?
It’s very fast paced, even for the pianist. The steps themselves aren’t very far off from a regular ballet class but they’ve got that classic Robbins spin on them that makes it so enticing.

There was also a student choreography show at the end of the semester. Would you speak about that?
Last Saturday, we showcased our works. I was very excited when we first heard about this project. I love choreographing. I usually choreograph for myself for fun, and I’ve even gotten the opportunity to choreograph a few numbers of Annie the musical for a local theater. I love exercising my creativity and showcasing my ideas. My piece is called City Strut with music by Benny Goodman. It’s a very jazzy solo heavily influenced by George Balanchine’s Who Cares?

What else have you been involved with recently?
In September, I had the opportunity to play Diana Morales in A Chorus Line at the GEM Theater in Garden Grove. That opportunity came out of nowhere. I saw a Facebook post saying ,”We’re looking for a Diana in A Chorus Line,” and I thought to myself, “Wait, I’m perfect for Diana.” Though I was a bit young for the role considering she is 27 and I am 16, I still went out and auditioned anyway because I had nothing to lose. I ended up getting the role on the same day that I auditioned.

We had rehearsals for about two weeks and then we went into tech for another week. We had a four-week run, and it was probably the best experience of my life. I’ve never been a part of a cast that has been just so caring towards each other and so talented. The show itself holds such an emotional place in my heart because the show was based on real stories. Singing “What I Did for Love” every night brought me and the audience to tears, and I loved feeling their energy.

That sounds incredible. What was significant about that experience?
I feel like I really grew as an actor and person during that time. My director, Damien Lorton, was absolutely amazing. He really knows how to bring out emotion from all of the actors. He took a scene and turned it into something that I had never thought of before. I’m very grateful for him and my cast mates. I’ve learned so much from just watching them perform. This is the first time I have done a show with only adults around me. I was the youngest in the cast by far; it was very different. When I first walked into the theater, I was terrified, feeling like I had to live up to their expectations, but they reassured me and built me up.

What’s your dream role?
I have a lot but to name a few dance-wise, I would love to be in Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Who Cares?, and Carmen. For musical theater, I would love to play Maria in West Side Story, Nina from In the Heights, Anastasia in Anastasia, and Natalie in Next to Normal.

What drives you to keep going with your art?
When I was younger, I had a hard time with kids at my school. I was bullied a lot and made fun of for having these big aspirations. I always found that interesting because I had big dreams for my future, but other kids thought that was weird and were dragging me down for it. I ended up switching to homeschool when things got too hard at school. My dance schedule was changed to the morning, which was better for me in the end because I got more time to train that way.

There is a flame in me telling me to keep going no matter how many noes I receive and no matter how many people are trying to drag me down because there will always be people trying to drag you down in this business. What matters most is what you do about it and how you take that negativity and make something wonderful. So, I will not take no for an answer. I will keep going until I get a yes.

Do you have any advice for dancers younger than you?
Someone else’s success is not your failure. Spending all your time upset about the things you don’t receive doesn’t do you any good. You can still be a bit disappointed but don’t let that take over and define who you are. Just keep working hard and eventually everything will fall in line.

Special appreciation goes to the Colburn Society members whose annual support is directed to the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, including the extraordinary generosity of Ann Mulally, David Kobrin, Aliza and Michael Lesser, Lucy Farber and Jim Bright, Mazie and Gabriel Hoffman, Anne and Jeffrey Grausam, Meltem and Mehmet Ozpay, George and Linda Cassady, Susan Friedman, and Layla and Gac Kim. To learn more on how you can support our students, contact

Winter Countdown 2021: Students Share Fall Reflections

As part of our Winter Countdown 2021 series, we reached out to some of our students to reflect on their semester experiences and hopes for the spring semester.

Dance Academy student Samuel C. Portillo, ballet, is in his first year with Trudl Zipper Dance Institute.

As the fall semester comes to a close, would you reflect back on the past few months and share a particular memorable moment or personal triumph?
This semester here at Colburn has been an amazing experience. I felt like I have grown a lot as a person and a dancer while I have been here, and I have had many good memories made so far. A particularly memorable moment for me this semester was when the Dance Academy went to see Alonzo King LINES Ballet at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The performance was breathtaking, and a performance that I will always remember.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
I am personally looking forward to performing Jerome Robbins’ The Goldberg Variations in the spring semester. I can’t wait for the opportunity to perform a piece such as this!

How are you spending your winter break?
Over winter break, I will be going back home to Colorado to spend Christmas and the New Year with my family and friends that live there. I will be resting, watching movies, and getting my wisdom teeth removed, haha!

Yirou Ronnie Zhang, violin, is in her third year at the Music Academy, following three years with the Community School.

As the fall semester comes to a close, would you reflect back on the past few months and share a particular memorable moment or personal triumph?
This past semester was even crazier than I thought. While balancing my practicing, recordings, college essays, and academic school work, the unique pandemic precautions atmosphere was also something that had always been hanging over my head. I am beyond grateful, of course, that we can safely return to in person studies. Without face-to-face interactions with my peers and teachers, I would not have the strength to cope through these challenges.

Over the past semester, my biggest accomplishment would be completing my college applications. Many friends of mine had also undergone this process, and I am extremely proud of every one of us. For myself, though, I wished I could do better for my prescreening videos. I could have been more persistent with goals that I set for myself and also have more fun with the music itself.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
In the spring semester, I look forward to the new round of challenges that comes with live auditions. Preparing repertoire for that will be even more difficult because of the nature of live performances and exhaustion from traveling. I am sure, however, that things I have learned about my repertoire as well as myself during this past semester will be a great help in this process. I will also treasure with my heart the support and advice from all my teachers.

Another event I am excited for is the senior concert. I hope I will have a chance to perform then, because it would be significant for me as a violinist and as a person. That performance would mark the end of my high school experience and help me dive into more challenges in the upcoming school year.

How are you spending your winter break?
For winter break, I will stay in the Los Angeles area with my parents. I will enjoy time alone with myself and my family. I will have to keep working on my live audition repertoire so that they are prepared enough for recordings and performances once the spring semester starts. During these three weeks, I will sure miss Colburn—my friends, teachers, classes, and the campus. I will be grateful for all the time I spend at home, while at the same time be very excited for the new semester!

Conservatory of Music student John Fawcett, violin, is in his fourth year at Colburn.

As the fall semester comes to a close, would you reflect back on the past few months and share a particular memorable moment or personal triumph?
In October, I was extremely happy to be hired as Concertmaster for a new promising orchestra here in Los Angeles, called the “California Young Artists Symphony.” It’s not the LA Phil, but through the organization, in which we have just had our inaugural concert, I have met so many more wonderful people and musicians from the larger artistic community in Los Angeles. It has helped me form a more accurate picture of what the music scene looks like here and how our art is best used to contribute to the community in creating an organization like this. I look forward to several more concerts with this community, and to see it grow in what is likely to be a beautiful addition to the arts in classical music here in Los Angeles and beyond.

Aside from this opportunity I have been given, I have finished with applications to study within masters programs throughout the United States. The process of recording, applying, and reaching out to teachers, etc.… took certainly a lot of preparation, and I feel that I was able to grow significantly as a player. I feel generally happy with how I am sounding, as perhaps I am getting closer to my own conceptualization of how I would like to sound on my instrument. I have a whole world of thanks to give to my teacher here [at Colburn], Robert Lipsett, for challenging me to be at my best so that I may accomplish these goals in my playing.

What are you looking forward to in the spring semester?
One of the best things that I can do for my own future is to put a lot of time and effort into my own craft as a violinist, and I certainly intend to work a lot in this regard so that I can reach my potential as a violinist. I would also like to start thinking about my future career; I plan to apply for the Concert Artists Guild, in which the final recipients receive Concert Management. As I would certainly be incredibly honored to receive an award, my goal is simply to add to my experiences in whatever way possible. Tying into career building and professional studies, I am much looking forward to giving recitals here at the Colburn School, as is required for students throughout their time studying. I have been thinking about my program and am certainly motivated not only to share what I have to say through my music in this regard next semester, but also to come up with an engaging program for everyone that displays a wide variety of musical ideas.

How are you spending your winter break?
This break, I will be going back home to Central Oregon to spend time with my family, my two rambunctious dogs (they need exercise!!), and friends that I have not seen in too long. I will also be heading to New York with several wonderful colleagues here at the Colburn School, as we will be participating in the annual New York String Orchestra Seminar that takes place over the holidays with the violinist superstar, Jaime Laredo. But aside from this very exciting obligation and visiting my home, I also would like to spend time playing the piano and composing over the break.

Ballet Dancer Declan Wilding Cran Stars in American Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker

This interview has been edited for style, length, and clarity.

How did you get into dancing?
When I was seven, me and my mom went to go see The Nutcracker in Glendale. And when I saw the Russian dolls dancing, I just knew that I had to dance. My mum signed me up for classes after that and I have loved it ever since.

Is there another experience that influenced you to want to dance?
Also when I was four, I watched my older cousin Finn dance, and I wanted to do it. I tried a lesson, but it was all little girls in tutus and tiaras. So that discouraged me, and then when I was seven, I knew that I could see beyond the tutus and focus on dancing.

When did you start attending classes at Colburn?
I only started coming here last year during the pandemic online. It was a rough start to a new school, but it went well once I got used to it, and now that we’re back to in person learning it’s great! I really love my teachers.

Which classes did you take when you started?
When I started, I think I just took Ballet III.

So you started attending Colburn last year. Is there anything different or unique that you’ve experienced at Colburn in comparison to your former dance studio?
My old studio was more focused on choreography, less technique, and at Colburn, it’s more about technique, which is, I’d say, better for my dancing.

And why do you say technique is better for your dancing?
I love choreography, but I feel like I wasn’t getting the full movement. I wasn’t getting the technique behind the movement.

You spoke a little about choreography versus technique. Are there other areas that maybe you weren’t aware of until you started dancing at Colburn?
I think I knew about all of ballet, but I just didn’t know that it was so in-depth, in different parts. I never knew that there are so many different things you had to learn for one move or step.

How is it balancing your dance classes and your academic classes?
I go to school in Burbank, and it can be a long drive, but it’s not [negatively] affecting things; I still get my homework done. They’re going well together.

In addition to your dance life, is there another thing that you enjoy doing?
I really like animals, and I like to ride horses. Also in school, I really like music.

Oh, that’s wonderful! What kind of music do you like?
I don’t know, like alternative rock, indie rock. Currently I’m really into Nirvana.

That’s awesome! Okay, let’s go back to dance. So you’ve discussed ballet quite a bit. Are there any other genres of dance that you are interested in?
I used to do tap, and I really want to pick it up again—hopefully in the new year. Also I want to try modern.

What do you enjoy about tap?
I just like being able to move; it’s almost like a nervous energy; with tap it’s a way to let it out.

What is it about ballet that you really enjoy?
It just makes me happy. And I feel like I can get out my emotions, and it just makes me feel happy. And I like moving around.

It’s great that dance is able to give that to you. Do you see yourself continuing in dance professionally when you’re older?
I don’t really know yet.

So you have been selected as part of the cast for The Nutcracker with American Ballet Theatre. How did that come about?
We got an email from Colburn, and it said that [American Ballet Theatre] was looking for a boy about my height and my age to dance in The Nutcracker. And I thought to myself, I’m probably not going to get it, but I said, yes, and I want to get it. And I want to do the audition.

Can you tell us a little bit about what the audition was like?
I was super nervous. I thought it was going to be me by myself on a stage with like 10 people watching. But no, it was just a class with the teachers. I think there were four other boys. One of them is my friend from Colburn, and it was actually really fun, and they just picked one of us.

What role were you cast as?
I was cast as the Nutcracker prince, the Nutcracker.

And how have the rehearsals been?
They’ve been going great. They’re really fun. It’s mainly been once or twice a week, so far. But I think it’s going to get more intense, like for the tech week, it’s going to be every day.

What are you looking forward to the most about being in The Nutcracker?
I think just the experience of being in it because it’s fun, and I’m really excited to meet the company from New York.