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At Juilliard, Charlotte Griffin Found Her Own Groove.

What do you do when you have the opportunity to work with emerging composers, budding musicians, some of the most talented dance students in the world? Charlotte Griffin was faced with this question five years ago as a 19-year-old dance student at the Juilliard School in New York City. The opportunity might have seemed more daunting than remarkable--especially for Griffin, who entered the conservatory with less technique than many of her classmates. But she decided to take advantage of the resources at her fingertips and headed for the rehearsal studio to try out some movement.

In many ways, Griffin wasn't a typical Juilliard student. She started college early, after leaving high school and passing the GED (the high school equivalency test). Technically, she didn't fit the mold either. Griffin had taken jazz and tap but just a little ballet, and no modern--not a lot of training for a school that tends to demand a high level of expertise. But Benjamin Harkarvy, director of Juilliard's dance program, admired her spunk and personality as a dancer and recommended she be admitted anyway.

When she arrived as a freshman, she was overwhelmed by the competitive and technically intense atmosphere. Dancing every day, all day was a new experience for her. Learning new dance vocabularies probably challenges many first-year students, but it felt particularly foreign to Griffin, who loved dancing but wasn't used to the physical demands of the craft.

Griffin excelled in her modern and jazz classes, but ballet was a struggle. "I felt like an elephant wearing high heels," she says. She preferred watching dancers in ballet class to doing it herself, but struggled through with help from teachers like Andra Corvino.

Lack of classical skills wasn't her only problem, however. From her first days at Juilliard, Griffin was warned that she did not possess the typical professional dancer's body, but she decided not to let that bother her. She acknowledges that there are certain body types associated with particular dance forms. But says she felt there was something really wrong about working incredibly hard and then failing simply because your body wasn't long and lean. Griffin decided to try a wide variety of dance styles and techniques to keep all her options open.

To expand her learning beyond the classroom, she sought out older students and teachers who recommended dance videos and books that developed her knowledge of choreographic styles. But Griffin also learned a lot by watching her classmates move. In addition to appearing in pieces by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon, and Agnes de Mille, Griffin performed in many original student works and found them especially invigorating since the choreography and concepts seemed so fresh and current.

But it wasn't until her junior year that everything jelled. It happened in an optional course called Composers and Choreographers, taught by Elizabeth Keen and Pia Gilbert. In this class, Griffin developed her own unique way of moving. Choreography became her passion and she became fascinated with all the components that go into making dances. The class also gave Griffin the opportunity to collaborate with student composer Milica Paranosic (also at Juilliard) who created a score to accompany her movement. At first, she had no idea her gestural dancing would ever make it out of the studio. But Griffin's choreographic spark was obvious to some of her teachers.

Since graduation, she still uses the lessons she learned in Keen and Gilbert's class almost every day. And both Harkarvy and Keen continue to nurture and champion Griffin's choreographic pursuits. Harkarvy has invited her back to restage old pieces and create new ones on current students and Keen continues to give her choreographic advice.

Though Griffin has left the comfort of the resource-rich college atmosphere to dance, choreograph, and teach, she works with composers she knows from college. This allows her to suggest ideas and, when necessary, to adapt the music to suit the dance. Original music is usually her first creative impulse. But she'll change it to fit the movement of her performers. "The dancer is everything!" Charlotte exclaims as she watches her dancers rehearse.

Like many choreographers, Griffin prepares most of her choreography before meeting the dancers. Rehearsal time is precious and she believes it best not to waste the dancers' time while she creates. She also tries to keep rehearsals fun and relaxed so everyone feels comfortable learning and exploring new movement. Recently, on a nice day, she and the cast of a tough piece called Practicing Joy even left the studio and rehearsed in Central Park. She tends to look for dancers with easygoing personalities, clear stage presence, a good sense of natural dramatic behavior, and an open mind.

In her senior choreographic piece, Too Much, which is about making the transition from college into the working world, she taught a few phrases but also used some of the dancers' own movements and spoken words, which had developed out of writing assignments. When Griffin restaged this work on current Juilliard dance students in December, she changed and reworked many sequences to keep the ideas fresh.


These days Griffin also teaches dance to children and performs with Yasmeen Goddert (whom she met at the American Dance Festival), Sue Bernhard, David Neuman, and Karen Graham. She choreographs and performs for actress and comedienne Kate Rigg, and is creating movement for an animated short film by graduate students at the School of Visual Arts. Griffin has plans to expand her horizons by getting into multimedia and commercial work. Chances are, those are just some of the many areas she'll explore. According to Keen, "Charlotte is willing to put in the time for discovery."

Alexis Silver is a first-year student at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she is an active member of the dance program.
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Title Annotation:Juilliard School of Music choreographer
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:JULIA ADAM.

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