Stitched together from hundreds of video clips, the Juilliard School’s interpretation of French composer Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” is a work of art. The performance, appropriately dubbed “Bolero Juilliard,” merges the talents of some of the school’s most illustrious alumni (think Jon Batiste, Patti Lupone, Laura Linney, Christine Baranski) with that of its current crop of students.
The project was proposed by Juilliard President Damian Woetzel and was executed with the artistic leadership of the choreographer Larry Keigwin, who worked with Nicole Wolcott to create what Keigwin described as a “portrait of art-making and shared experience amid physical isolation and uncertainty.” The score, which veers into a jazz-infused rendition, was arranged by David Robertson, Juilliard’s director of conducting studies, and Broadway’s Kurt Crowley.
The video was borne from a shifting understanding of what collaboration means in the face of not being able to gather — especially when connection is not only needed but required.
“As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has forced the Juilliard community to scatter around the globe, we have begun to rethink how we can maintain and even enhance the creative ties that bind us so easily and regularly when we are all under the same roof at Lincoln Center,” Juilliard’s Benjamin Sosland explained in an essay titled “Creating ‘Bolero Juilliard.” “As President Damian Woetzel asked, ‘What can we do together even while we are alone?’”
Stretched across rectangular Zoom boxes, the individual performances (charming in their homespun efforts) were recorded in separate locations and merged together. The choreography was taught virtually and responded to “emotional concepts,” such as “Interior Lives” and “Soothing.” The repetition and unchanging rhythm of “Bolero” could stand-in as a metronome for the days that bleed into weeks and months under the blur of self-isolation (do we ever know what day it is anymore?).
The video begins with Jon Batiste, who plays out the familiar tune on the piano before a cast of students dance into their own individual frames, opening their arms and fluttering their hands. Yo-Yo Ma joins in early, offering a pulsing rhythm. Patti Lupone applies and blots lipstick; Christine Baranski reads a book; Isabel Leonard sings. Performers drink coffee with one hand while the other plays an instrument.
About halfway through the 10-minute interpretation, the performers start to lose it: crawling into a couch; struggling with sweaters; staring directly into the camera. This anxiety, exacting in its familiarity, resolves through meditation, breathing, running and jumping outside. Ultimately, the performers turn their cameras upward, revealing the sky — a constant that unites us all.
“‘Bolero Juilliard,’ assembled by a team of artists all working from remote locations, is part narrative, part collage,” Sosland said. “Most of all, it is a collective endeavor that captures a snapshot of a specific global moment and the possibilities of creative connection in an uncertain world.”
Juilliard isn’t the first to perform a socially-distanced version of Ravel’s classic. In March, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra whittled the piece down to two-and-a-half minutes, and in April, the National Orchestra of France came together virtually to release their own rendition.
Top Image: "Bolero Juilliard." Courtesy: Juilliard.