Juilliard’s First Black Dance Director Is Dragging Ballet Out of the 1800s


Photo: Courtesy of Juilliard

On a December evening, audiences looked on, amused, as the senior class of Juilliard students clamored over one another to grab a microphone onstage. The dancers stumbled around, some manic, others deliberate, before rattling off disjointed memories and repeating jumbled phrases like a cassette tape pausing and rewinding ad nauseum. The movements were inspired by the late saxophonist John Coltrane, who said of performing: “I start in the middle of a sentence and I move in both directions at the same time.”

Such is the current state of dance at Juilliard as the program works to preserve select traditions while transforming itself from a homogenized thing of the past to a model of progressive dance education. In 2018, the school hired Alicia Graf Mack to head up its dance division, making her the youngest person, and the first woman of color, to lead the dance department in the institution’s 70-year…

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