Jaya Dhand Talks Performance Focus, Her Colburn Experience, and What’s Next

Jaya Dhand, Colburn Dance Academy Class Three

"...the whole ballet has a lot of subtle moments where we all have to work together to keep a very specific mood and atmosphere." Jaya Dhand, Colburn Dance Academy 2017

Ballerina Jaya Dhand, 17, is just days away from completing her second and final year at the Colburn Dance Academy. On Saturday, June 3, she’ll cap off her time at in LA by dancing principal roles in Antique Epitaphs by Jerome Robbins and in Benjamin Millepied’s choreography in the Dance Academy’s celebratory Pinnacle performance at School of Visual and Performing Arts.

We sat down with Jaya to discuss her upcoming performance, her journey, and what’s next post-graduation. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

What will you be dancing in the Pinnacle performance?
I’ll be dancing one of the principal roles in the Antique Epigraphs by Jerome Robbins and in Benjamin Millepied’s choreography. I’m performing the first solo in Antique Epitaphs and it’s different than anything I’ve ever done.

How is it different?
It doesn’t have a lot of ballet steps, so it’s really unique. There are parts where I’m running backwards on my toes, and another part where I flail my arms around then fall to the ground, and the whole ballet has a lot of subtle moments where we all have to work together to keep a very specific mood and atmosphere. For example, there are parts where we are all just walking and so we have to keep our chests up and our gaze focused so that we are still performing, not just walking. Like Jenifer [Ringer] always says, we have to “make something out of nothing.”

That sounds like a challenge. How have you had to adjust and what have you learned?
I’ve been adapting to the character, because it’s so much less about what my feet are doing and more about what I’m doing from the waist up. I’ve learned a lot about how to use my eyes. It’s amazing how much it can change what the solo looks like when you keep your gazed focused, and for a lot of the solo I have to keep my eyes straight forward. It doesn’t have the same affect if they are looking up or down. It’s another thing to focus on, and it’s hard to do. It’s hard to feel that serious!

So how did you start in ballet?
I started when I was three years old. My mom was pregnant with my little brother, and she started me in ballet classes. I also did softball and soccer when I was a kid, but ballet was the thing that stuck.

What was it about ballet?
I think it’s the freedom of what you can do with your upper body, but also how there is so much precision in it too. It’s a good balance of discipline and expression.

How did you get to the Colburn School?
I had a friend here that I met the summer before. I saw some of the ads, and I was reading Jenifer’s book Dancing Through It. I thought it would be a nice place to come audition, and I loved the class so I stayed. It’s a very nice intimate environment.

How has your dancing changed or developed here?
I feel like they’ve helped me mature my technique a lot. They focus on artistry, making every step as big as you can and every position as lengthened as you can. It’s helped me be able to express myself more in my dancing.

What has it been like to live and study here?
It’s amazing to be around not just talented dancers and faculty, but the musicians here too. It was so surreal to perform with the Colburn Orchestra in Walt Disney Concert Hall [at the April gala concert], because they are probably some of the most amazing musicians I’ve ever heard. Living in LA has been different than what I’m used to at home because I live in a little suburb, so it’s nice to be able to step outside and have lots of restaurants and museums.

Where are you off to after graduation?
I’m going to Indiana University for their ballet program. Actually, of our Colburn faculty members, Carla Körbes, is going there to teach, too. Right now we work with her once a week and she and another faculty member at Indiana, Kiera Nichols, actually set Antique Epigraphs on us. It’s nice to know that what I’ll be doing next year will be a good extension of what I’ve learned the past two years here.

What made your decision to go to Indiana rather than directly into a ballet career?
The idea of being able to go to college and pursue ballet was appealing to me. I’m also planning to do a dual major in marketing and ballet. I would like to be a professional dancer, and I’m getting the business degree for an after-ballet plan.