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

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.

Back at Last! Students Share Their Back to Campus Experiences

With fall semester in full swing, students and faculty are reacquainting themselves with face-to-face instruction and interaction with their friends and teachers. Live performing arts are back on campus, and we asked students from each unit to reflect on their experiences so far.

Kaela Seltzer
I’m most excited to play in the Tuesday night Big Band... I’m really grateful to have a spot in the band this year. Kaela Seltzer

Community School student Kaela Seltzer, flute and saxophone, is a senior at LA County High School for the Arts who is in her fourth year of attending Colburn.

What are you most excited about this fall semester?
I’m most excited to play in the Tuesday night Big Band. Earlier in high school I had the opportunity to sub in the Big Band a couple of times, and each time I left feeling so inspired and eager to practice my instruments. I’m really grateful to have a spot in the band this year.

How has your experience of being back on campus been?
It has been a really positive experience being able to play with musicians I don’t see often at school [LA County High School for the Arts]. The first rehearsal back in person felt very normal and everyone seemed excited to be back and playing together.

What is a specific or personal area of focus for you this semester?
This semester I’m focused on addressing gaps in my playing. For me this includes elements of saxophone technique that I’ve yet to dig into and addressing challenges I have when improvising. My hope is to have improved these areas by early December when college prescreen recordings are due.

Sam Portillo
I believe that having the dynamics, clarity, and delicacy in my movement will strengthen me a lot as a dancer. Samuel C. Portillo

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

What are you most excited about this fall semester?
For this fall semester, I am most excited about learning Jerome Robbins’s The Goldberg Variations. While we won’t perform it until spring semester, we will get to learn and practice sections of it throughout this fall semester. I can’t believe we get the opportunity to learn and perform such an amazing piece of work!

How has your experience of being back on campus been?
This semester is my first time on campus, and I have been having an excellent time so far! The campus has great places to hang out, and the Colburn Café provides great food as well. It is very welcoming, and I have enjoyed it a lot here.

What is a specific or personal area of focus for you this semester?
My main area of focus this semester is working on my artistry and musicality in my dancing. I believe that having the dynamics, clarity, and delicacy in my movement will strengthen me a lot as a dancer. I’ve already started working hard at it, and I’m excited to continue throughout this entire year as well!

Yirou Ronnie Zhang
Being able to communicate with music spontaneously with my friends and teachers is something that I had been dreaming about ever since March 2020. Yirou Ronnie Zhang

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

What are you most excited about this fall semester?
It is really hard to pick which event I am the most excited for since basically everything is so fresh after online learning. One thing that I am totally pumped about is being able to rehearse and perform chamber music with my peers. This also includes our string ensemble—Academy Virtuosi. Being able to communicate with music spontaneously with my friends and teachers is something that I had been dreaming about ever since March 2020.

How has your experience of being back on campus been?
My experience back on campus has never been better. Words cannot describe how delighted I am to be able to watch music-making in action, regardless of the instrument and player. I had also noticed that students, faculties, and staff of our entire school are strictly observing the COVID guidelines. They make me feel safe and secure when it comes to the risk of being exposed to the virus.

What is a specific or personal area of focus for you this semester?
I am a senior this year, so the primary focus would of course be working on my prescreening and live audition repertoire for college applications. Other tasks related to it, such as writing essays and filling out applications, are also priorities that I’d like to focus on. As always, balancing solo repertoire with chamber music, Virtuosi, and keyboard repertoire is definitely a challenge. I’m sure I’ll learn from these experiences as I manage to work through this school year.

John Fawcett
Being back at Colburn this year, I am experiencing an overwhelming appreciation for the spark of inspiration that my tremendously talented and hard-working peers bring me. John Fawcett

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

What are you most excited about this fall semester?
An invaluable element that comes with being at Colburn is the impact that musical excellence—and constant exposure to it—has on your own playing. During the pandemic, I felt a bit deprived of this asset involving a high-level musical training. Although I was still able to work with my teachers and see/hear my colleagues over Zoom, there was some magic that was lost to the whole process away at home.

Being back at Colburn this year, I am experiencing an overwhelming appreciation for the spark of inspiration that my tremendously talented and hard-working peers bring me. It’s almost as if you don’t fully realize how much you have cultivated inside this truly exceptional institution until you leave and interact with others outside of Colburn—then you truly realize how special your education is.

Excellence promotes excellence within this community, and we are all here for each other to demonstrate what this means for each of us and to lift each other up to our highest individual potentials. I believe this may have been a factor provided by Colburn’s education that I may have taken for granted earlier on.

How has your experience of being back on campus been?
Although it can be difficult to admit at times, I think that significant adversity we deal with in our lives always has a counteracting benefit for our future. We learn from struggle and hardship. In many ways, I think returning to Colburn from the adversity of the pandemic quarantine from home embraces this idea. Colburn is a truly unique place which gives the aspiring performing artist the tools needed to have a successful and meaningful career path. However, there are individual struggles that we all face, and inhibit us from following our own track that we intend for ourselves.

During the pandemic, I feel that I was able to discover many things about myself that helped me to build my character and potential to a higher reflection of the person I want to be… and as introspective as I might sound saying this right now, I really think that this time of reflection has helped me to make more use with what Colburn has to offer me than ever before! All that said, it seems to me that my experience on campus has been terrific, full of promise and opportunity, fun, and a positive reflection of any growth I may have attained from adversity I faced during the worst of the pandemic. I’m sure that many of us can share this sentiment.

What is a specific or personal area of focus for you this semester?
This is honestly not a straightforward question. During the past year, I have had so many creative manifestations of what I would like to see myself doing, especially with the extra time that I had to think and plan ahead last year in particular. The great thing about being a musician is that the avenues which I can see myself aspiring toward are almost never-ending. There are so many ways in which I find I might be able to express my passion for musical art. At heart, I am a violinist and in love with the violin’s sound. But I almost equally love the piano, or playing in an orchestra. I also love to write music, and was fortunate enough to record my piece, “Waltz-Fantasy on a Theme of Chopin,” recently.

Speaking of orchestra, I have an immense guilty pleasure for orchestral scores and figuring out how a large ensemble fits together—it’s just like architecture, except it’s aural and not visual! I would love to be a conductor someday; I feel that this job would be an ultimate void in fulfilling my goal to be a true servant of the music. In short, there are SO many things I want to do. For now, I am continuing to focus on my greatest passion, being the violin, and seeing what different directions that could take me (i.e. writing music for violin, meeting composers and conductors or gaining orchestral/other performance experience).

Student Accomplishments, September 2021

Emma Lee (cello, MM ’23), Jonathan Wisner (percussion, PSC ‘23), Cristina Cutts Dougherty (tuba, BM ’19), Javier Morales-Martinez (Community School ’18) were 2021 London Symphony Orchestra Keston MAX Winners at Music Academy of the West. They will have the opportunity to perform with the the opportunity to perform with the London Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Sir Simon Rattle in 2022.

Conservatory violinist Fiona Shea (BM ’22) won the 2022 Dorothy DeLay Fellowship at the Aspen Music Festival and School. She also soloed with the Pacific Symphony in August 2021, performing Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1.

Community School pianist Lillian Feng was selected as a recipient of the 2021 Chopin Foundation Scholarship.

Music Academy pianist Daniel Wang (’23) was selected as a recipient of the 2021 Chopin Foundation Scholarship.

DeVonte’ Tasker (Dance Academy ‘18) will join the faculty of Ballet Arts Tucson, the official school of Ballet Tucson, to teach Modern, Theater Dance, and Hip Hop/Jazz Funk.

Conservatory harpist Anya Garipoli (AD ’23) was appointed Principal Harpist with the Venice Symphony in Venice, Florida.

Music Academy pianist Lindsey Yang (’24) was a finalist in 2021 Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition.

Devan Jaquez (Conservatory ’19) has been named Principal Flute of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Isabella Bertagni (Dance Academy ’21) has been accepted into the Professional Division of the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Justin Cummings (Conservatory ’18) has been named Principal Bassoon of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra.

Conservatory cellist Benett Tsai (BM ’24) was a semi-finalist for 2021 ABC’s Young Performers Award, one of Australia’s most prestigious awards for young classical musicians.

As a first prize winner of the International Music Competition “Grand Prize Virtuoso,” Music Academy flutist Nikka Gershman-Pepper (’26) performed in the historic Beethoven House in Bonn. Nikka also performed a solo concert with the LA Jewish Symphony and won first prize of Rising Stars Grand Prix 2021 – International Music Competition Berlin.

PBS SoCal and KCET will broadcast The Music Center’s Spotlight Virtual Grand Finale featuring Grand Prize Finalist and Music Academy student William Ju (oboe, ’22).

Modern dancer Tess McCharen (TZDI ’17) signed a contract with the Limon2 dance company.

Community School cellist Nathaniel Yue received first prize in the Young Artist Category of the Chicago International Music Competition.

Abigail Ullendorff (Dance Academy ’18) has been appointed the President of the student-run ballet company at Duke University, Devils en Pointe.

Music Academy clarinetist Noah Jung (clarinet, ’22) performed in Carnegie Hall with the National Youth Orchestra.

Student Accomplishments, July 2021

Music Academy violinist Anaïs Feller won first prize in the Instrumental Division of the 2021 La Jolla Symphony & Chorus Young Artists Competition.

Dance Academy graduate Niamh Perrins (’20) accepted an apprenticeship with Ballet Tucson.

Community School violist Allison Park has been selected as a 2021 US Presidential Scholar in the Arts. Allison is one of the 20 students selected that were chosen by the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars based on their artistic achievements, academic accomplishments, leadership and overall creativity.

Conservatory flutist Austin Brown (PSC ’22) is one of only three American finalists in the Kobe International Flute Competition.

Community School violinist Moshi Tang won the Suburban Symphony Orchestra Youth Competition.

Community School violinist Nathan Lin was the Grand Prize Scholarship Winner for the Music Teachers Association of California Glendale branch.

Community School vocalist Lauren Gmelich was a finalist in the 2021 Jerry Herman awards.

Community School pianist Lillian Feng won Honorable Mention CAPMT Romantic/Impressionistic Competition.

In the Great Composers Competition, Community School cellist Irene Choung won first prize for the Music of the 19th Century category and second prize for the Music of the 17th Century category. Irene also won second prize in the Baroque Category of the Southwestern Youth Music Festival.

Community School pianist Alexander Wang won second prize in the CAPMT Competition for the Sonatina – nine and under category.

Community School violinist Kate Yamaguchi won the Book Award in Instrumental Music at the Marlborough School. The award is presented to students who have demonstrated excellence in class work, preparation, performance and leadership.

Dance Spotlight: Sircey Smith

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

To start, how are you doing? What is your life like these days?
I’m currently a trainee with Ballet Idaho [in Boise]. We’re in-person and we all wear masks. There are ten of us, and it’s a really big studio, so we’re able to social distance. We have to do an intake form every morning that asks you questions to make sure you’re not having any symptoms and stuff like that. But it’s been nice to be in a studio and learning and feeling like I’m actually dancing again. I’ve been here for a month almost.

You like Ballet Idaho so far?
I do. I really like it. I’ve loved all the teachers. The group of trainees—I think we’re all just super excited to be back. So, everyone is super positive and just really uplifting.

Most of us haven’t been really dancing for several months, so everyone’s figuring out their place, and at least personally, I’m trying to remember, how did I do this? Muscles are definitely very sore, but it’s been nice. And I really love it so far.

Has there been any issue or hesitation around getting back into it and being around people?
I think most of us try and social distance a lot. And most people aren’t going out just because if we want to dance, we all have to make sure we don’t have COVID. And I think we all have that trust with each other that we are staying as safe as possible so we can all dance in person, because it isn’t fun doing it on Zoom in your small apartment or trying to figure out the space.

When did you begin dancing?
I began dancing when I was 12. I used to do competitive gymnastics, and I stopped that in middle school.

What made you make the transition from competitive gymnastics?
I loved gymnastics, but I was always scared, and I loved to dance. My floor and beam routines were always extremely dance-y. And I was like, I really like dance. I wonder if I would just like to do that and not have to do flips from a bar four feet off the ground. I mean, there’s some scary things [with dance], but it’s completely different. If you fall, your injury is probably going to be a little bit worse if you’re ten feet off the ground. It’s about your movement and not so much the tricks that you’re doing.

How did you join the Colburn dance community?
I was at Los Angeles Ballet Academy for about a year and a half. One of our friends, her son actually did music at Colburn, knew there was a dance program. Colburn was a lot closer for my family, and so I auditioned for the advanced program in the Community School and got in. So, I started Colburn in my freshman year, and I was in the Dance Academy for two years.

What was the experience like? What did you think of Colburn?
I loved Colburn. The teachers are amazing. I mean, from the ballet teachers to the contemporary teachers and the tap teachers we had. I’d never done tap, and the teachers knew a lot of us hadn’t. They were just like, “Just try it.” I always felt really comfortable just going for things and feeling like I was in a non-judgmental space. I feel like I’ve grown so much from Colburn, and the experiences that I’ve learned, I’ve taken them to Ballet Idaho.

The Dance Academy curriculum introduces other genres while you’re focusing on ballet. Can you say more about that experience?
We always have technique ballet classes and pointe classes and variations, but sometimes, in different parts of the semester, we’ve had tap, contemporary, urban movement, which is kind of hip hop, but not. We had eurythmics, which is learning about music and moving with music. And we learned piano, which I love. That was probably one of my favorite things that wasn’t ballet based.

Do you still play piano?
I don’t because I don’t have a piano in my apartment, but I wish I could.

When you think about the cross genre experience at Colburn, how much of that informs your movements today?
I think you are able to have different movements and different dynamics. So, if you’re doing a movement that’s a little bit “sharper,” you can relate it to tap. Or contemporary, it’s really the upper body I’ve noticed. So, you can use that contemporary movement technique in ballet, which is fun to play with. You have more of a vocabulary with your body.

When did you know dance was the goal and not just an extracurricular activity?
I think when I went to Colburn. I was really falling more in love with it, and I really liked progressing and having to work for things. If you love what you are doing, you might as well go for it. Not to say you don’t have days you don’t like, but there’s still something inside of you. You wouldn’t be there on those days if you didn’t love it. You get driven, and you work for things. It’s fun, but it’s hard.

What were your favorite or most memorable experiences at Colburn?
I loved the connections I made with my teachers. In Dance Academy, we would go on field trips, and everyone would be there. Sometimes, we’d go see shows or we would go to a museum. Those were always fun for me because I felt like we bonded a little bit more.

This is a pretty big question. Why do you dance?
For me, I’m very active. It’s something to be able to do that, [to dance], that I can let out energy, and it’s definitely a more expressive thing. I’m not a competitive person, [but] it’s like a game in a way, where it’s more of your self-competitiveness. What can I do better today that wasn’t great yesterday, or yesterday that was really great? Why isn’t it working today? That’s how I stay motivated and just continue to do what I do because it’s this constant cycle.

What are your interests outside of dance?
I’m currently working with the Biden campaign in Idaho, which I love. I think it’s so cool. It’s so interesting. We phone bank. We text bank. We have discussions of how to reach out to people who either aren’t registered or don’t know what to do or who to vote for—not just presidential, but down-ballot. I think it’s super important because it plays into everything. The arts should be, in my opinion, funded more. And that starts with our government. It’s really nice to do something different outside that feels meaningful.

I’m registered to vote [in Boise]. I just got confirmation a couple days ago. It’s my first election, so it’s super exciting, and one I will definitely remember.

The conversation around equality and community activism happens so much faster in the cultural sphere because there’s just a free exchange of ideas.
There’s so much creativity with that. There’re so many ideas—good, bad, whatever. But there’s a way that people are able to bring them together and make it work. If you want it to be different, then vote for the change that you want. May not happen. But soon enough, if you also tell your friends or post about it, in a couple of years it could be different.

Fall Registration Begins for Community School and Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, Featuring New Online Programming

Over the past few months, as we have pivoted and adjusted to our collective new reality, Colburn has remained dedicated to providing the best possible online education for our students. As we transition to an online Fall semester, the School will continue this commitment. Academic leadership and faculty have spent countless hours exploring best practices in online learning, investigating new resources, and planning a variety of unique opportunities for students in each unit to create the most enriching, rewarding, and effective learning experience for all our students.

As the Fall semester begins for the the Community School of Performing Arts and Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, students will benefit from new online offerings to help them perfect technique, build musicianship and artistry, and develop new ways of learning throughout this challenging time.

Community School of Performing Arts

Community School students will be able to continue their private lessons and group classes (early childhood, instrumental group classes, jazz workshops, chamber music, and drama) remotely. Students who register for private lessons prior to August 31 are eligible for special incentives including no payment plan fees, the same tuition fees as last year, a $25 loyalty discount for continuing students, and a sibling discount.

Students can also take advantage of new classes for the fall, including gap year packages for students planning to defer their undergraduate studies; a master class series with celebrated guest artists; and new online group classes. Additional classes will be announced as they are confirmed.

One such class is the Music Production course taught by Brian Langsbard, which teaches the basics of Logic Pro X, recording, engineering, and mixing—especially valuable for students who may want to share recordings digitally.

Music lovers will be able to take a new Music Appreciation and History course for adults: a four-week lecture series on Beethoven and the Ninth Symphony taught by Music History Chair and A Serving of Beethoven host Dr. Kristi Brown-Montesano.

In addition, string players can also choose from two levels of Violin Sight Reading and Musicianship and two levels of String Workshops for Violin, Viola, and Cello. These group classes are designed to give students the feeling of community while providing them with the necessary skills that will enable them to evaluate and analyze their own musical progress. Additional classes for advanced violinists will be added soon.

Registration begins on August 1 for returning students and August 15 for new students.

Trudl Zipper Dance Institute

The Trudl Zipper Dance Institute has outlined three goals for students in the Colburn Connected virtual dance program this fall: engagement, progression, and inspiration. Even in the students’ at-home studios, the study of dance is productive and meaningful. There are many ways to keep students connected to their Colburn family in their dance technique and in their personal artistry while staying safely at home.

Engagement: Each upper-level student will receive private lessons to assess progress and set achievable goals for the semester. Class sizes for all levels will be small to increase the amount of personal attention each student receives.

Progression: Each individual student will be made aware of their technical goals for the year and will work with their teachers to accomplish those goals. We will support student progress by increasing their strength and stamina with cross-training opportunities and helping them to create an optimal home studio learning environment.

Inspiration: The faculty and staff of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute will work to inspire students by adding film and choreographic projects for all levels that will provide the students an outlet for their creativity, keep them dancing, and help them develop their artistry in new ways.

In addition to the 100+ dance classes offered each week in ballet, modern, tap, and musical theater, Colburn Dance is including new “Plus” classes to supplement our students’ dance training and physicality. Students will be able to take master classes with notable professional artists, create solo dance videos and audition videos for advanced students, and take cross-training classes and wellness lectures.

In particular, a new Artists of Influence curriculum series will be offered to enhance students’ historical knowledge, highlighting dancers of color. Later in the semester, all dance students regardless of genre will be able to participate in a new winter film, recorded remotely. The working title is Sweets from the Nutcracker, performed to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.

Registration begins on July 28 for returning students and August 10 for new students.

Colburn Alumni Take Back the Narrative with New Podcast

Allow us to introduce So, How’s That Going?—Colburn’s first alumni-powered podcast and a joint project between the Alumni Office and the Center for Innovation and Community Impact (CICI). Envisioned as a series of insightful and inspiring conversations with alumni, So, How’s That Going? premiered on April 3 with a debut episode featuring voices of former dance and music students as they wrestled with the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The podcast seeks to take back the narrative on what a life after a performing arts education really looks like, from landing the job to navigating the community. The title itself is a nod to the often-skeptical response even the most accomplished alumni of an arts education might expect to field.

Over a series of production meetings, what began conceptually as a collection of professional development webinars that would be produced by CICI evolved into a format that put the experts front and center. The stories of our alumni community continue to unfold far beyond Grand Avenue. Alumni are on the stages of New York City, in the labs at Northwestern, in classrooms in Georgia, on the silver screen worldwide, pursuing virtual business ventures, and more. And while our world-class staff provides excellent professional development know-how, we look for ways to strengthen the alumni network and to inspire each other.

Dr. Nate Zeisler, the Dean of Community Initiatives, has worked for years to provide professional development resources to our students, and the recent formation of the Center for Innovation and Community Impact as well as the Alumni Office has made it easier to adapt these resources into useful tools for alumni.

The Alumni Office works to help alumni build and maintain networks with others passing through the school’s hallways as well as to offer resources and direction in navigating the great hallways beyond. One meaningful tool that can serve both of these causes is mentorship. Establishing a connection between one alumni and another, each with their own unique experience or cachet that the other can tap into, can be the basis for long-lasting relationships. So, the question shifted from “What can we do to guide alumni?” to “How can we empower alumni to guide one another?”.

Prior to the COVID-19 closures, the podcast’s inaugural guest was appropriately the first piano alumnus of the Conservatory, David Fung (Conservatory ’09). David’s remarkable story took him from medical school to music and then around the world. He now splits his time between New York City and a faculty position at the University of Georgia. Given the current state of the performing arts and the world at large, we opted to take a cue and match the conversation that was already on everyone’s lips. We reached out to alumni Anatalia Hordov (Dance Academy ’16), Nicholas Rose (Dance Academy ’15), and the members of the Calidore Quartet (Conservatory ’16) to see how they were being affected and ask their advice for young alumni going through such unexpected and drastic changes.

Dr. Zeisler, who also guested on the first episode to provide broad perspective on the situation, later remarked, “I hope that this podcast will help unify our strong network of working artists and enable all of us to learn from alums who have created wonderful careers in the performing arts.”

While So, How’s That Going? is driven by and for alumni, the benefit of hearing their stories and sharing their insights resonates across every layer of the Colburn community. For our current students, we hope the podcast serves as a way to stay connected to the friends, faculty, and families surrounding them even after they leave and find connections out in the working world. For our families, we hope that it gives a sense of the beneficial consequence of a performing arts education and the community it sustains. For our faculty and staff, we hope it renews their passion for hearing about the accomplishments of artists that their work supported and nurtured on campus. And for our friends in the community at large, we are excited to introduce you to some of the incredible artists and humans that Colburn has nurtured over its history.

Chicago-based journalist Sydney J. Harris once wrote, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” A performing arts education is not without its challenges—real or perceived—in opening those windows to long-term success and growth in a modern world. As the recent pandemic has reminded us, we’re all in this together. Hours spent in practice rooms and preparing for performance hone the craft but don’t always tap into the resource that is the person in the next studio over.

So, How’s That Going? aims to open a window into those lives and gives everyone the opportunity to see what’s possible when we can really connect.

Listen to the first episode now and stay tuned for the next quarterly episode featuring David Fung this coming July.

Johnnie Hobbs III

Johnnie Hobbs III is a filmmaker and tap dance teacher. His directorial efforts include Pan African Film Festival Best Film Nominee Nostalgia, short film drama starring Dule Hill (The West Wing, Psych), Chloe Arnold (Syncopated Ladies) and Jason Samuels Smith. Winner of Best Short Film at The Cleveland Urban Film Festival, NOSTALGIA has been shown on Aspire TV, and SHORTS HD Channel. Johnnie has since directed and produced five other short content works. In addition, he has directed motion capture pre-visuals mocap company, House of Moves.

A long time tap dancer and performer from Alaska to Guatemala, Johnnie teaches as an Adjunct Dance Professor at AMDA LA, Hussian School, as well as the Colburn School and Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles. He recently provided choreography for Kelly Marie Tran’s 2021 MISCAST performance for MCC Theatre, from The Book of Mormon. He’s been an Artist in Residence at University of Colorado, guest speaker at Broadway Dance Center, Temple University, Santa Monica College, and Art Institute of Philadelphia to name a few.