by Byron Woods
Each year, thousands of young ballerinas dream of entering The Juilliard School, the pre-eminent conservatory in the United States for professional training in the performing arts. Of those, only hundreds actually work up the resume—and the nerve—to show up for one of nine regional auditions held annually across the country.
The day begins with an advanced ballet and modern dance class—where three-fourths of the applicants are weeded out. The survivors from that round present a two-minute solo they’ve prepared: two whole minutes to show your full range and achievement as a performer. In New York, 22 members of the dance faculty are your audience—not the entire department, perhaps, but a generous representation nonetheless.
They sit and silently watch you perform the work in the video clip here. When you finish, they don’t applaud. Instead, one just says “Thank you,” and you leave.
Should you make that cut, you’re invited back to be taught a section from a piece out of Juilliard’s repertory, to see how quickly you pick up new choreography, how you function in an ensemble rehearsal, and how you respond to corrections. Survive that, and there’s the interview; a cozy one-on-one, with open-ended questions about everything from your source of inspiration as an artist to your views on the greatest challenge facing your generation.
Thousands dream of joining the ranks of famous alumni, including Martha Clarke, Susan Marshall, Ohad Naharin and Paul Taylor; of being taught by a faculty that has included Martha Graham, Anthony Tudor and José Limon.
In the end, only twelve are chosen.
This year, one is coming from Raleigh. Her name is Lea Ved.
Further details after the jump.
Ms. Ved is 18 years old. She stands 5’ 2”. True, that’s a bit small for a ballerina, but then she has what her dance teacher, Lindsay Collins Shaw of Raleigh’s Carolina Dance Center calls “perfect dance proportions”—long arms, long legs and a relatively short torso—and with them, what are known in the business as the physical lines you have to have for ballet.
A couple of other factors might make Ms. Ved an atypical Juilliard applicant. Though she graduated from Enloe High School in June, it’s been several years since she was involved in that school’s celebrated dance program.
“It took up too many periods during the day,” she explains. “Academics have always been important—really, I’m a math and science person.”
Probe further and you find that Ved has wanted—and actively planned—on being a doctor a lot longer than she’s wanted to be a dancer. Her high school career is studded with classes like microbiotics and genetics, prerequisites all toward a pre-med degree. A medical bioscience academy at Enloe had her doing volunteer work at hospitals and retirement homes, and shadowing an orthopedic surgeon, an emergency room doctor and a chiropractor on their jobs.
So even though she’d studied at Carolina Dance Center since eighth grade, and had grown up with two different forms of cultural choreography—her mother’s Filipino dancing and her father’s classical Indian dance—she’d still regarded the art form for most of her life as “a very important hobby, but not something I necessarily thought I could do as a profession.”
That view changed after a summer program at the Boston Ballet in 2006, and a similar summer program at Juilliard the year after. For the first time in her life, Ved found herself among a number of excellent young artists who were intent on making dance their life’s work. The experience made her rethink things.
“It changed my mindset,” she recalls. “I delved into seeing just how much better I could become in class, and as a performer. As a result, in my junior year in high school, I was rethinking my career path. It was the year I embraced myself as a dancer, to see how far I could go with it as a career.”
By all accounts, Ved is still in the process of finding out. She’ll learn more once her freshman year at Juilliard starts Sep. 10.
“Sometimes you have a student who has the ability, the determination and is also very genuine about the whole thing,” muses Shaw, whom Ved refers to as her mentor. “Lea is naturally gifted, more blessed than most dancers I have ever come in contact with.
“Her movement quality is very fluid,” Shaw continues. “Everything seems effortless, but she’s so strong. She has the perfect combination of strength, technique and lyrical quality.”
Missy Blackburn, a jazz instructor at Carolina Dance Center, focuses on the young artist’s versatility. “Some students are good at ballet, while others are good at jazz or contemporary dance. Usually dancers excel in one form and are just okay in others.
“But Lea is good in them all. She does a phenomenal job of picking up choreography and internalizing the music; she’s excellent at improvisation… She’s one of those dancers where you create your choreography and when you see it on her, it’s even better than what you did with it. She just takes it to a different place.”
In less than a month, that place will be a Manhattan dormitory building conveniently located on the campus of Lincoln Center. Ms. Ved now hopes to spend some quality time there in the not too distant future.