Years of rigorous training granted Julia Eichten admittance to the highly selective dance program at the prestigious Juilliard School. It was there on the campus in New York City where she encountered French-born dancer/choreographer Benjamin Millepied, best known for his choreography and performance in the 2010 film Black Swan. It’s said that timing can be everything: Millepied was in the process of forming a new dance company to fill the void in the dance-starved city of Los Angeles, and invited Julia to collaborate on the new venture. Julia left NYC, moved cross-country to make Los Angeles her new home and to devote her creative energies into the fledgling dance company. LA Dance Project made its long-awaited debut at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2012, with Julia at center stage. Now nearing the end of another series of tedious rehearsals, Julia eagerly anticipates taking the stage this weekend on what will be the company’s new home turf: the recently restored Theater at the Ace Hotel. As a former dancer and longtime supporter of the arts, it is my unique pleasure to introduce to you dancer Julia Eichten. –Ashley
How did you find your love of dance? What was your early training like?
I was always dancing it seems… I had three older brothers who were always making me dance for them and put on little shows. We were dancing to Vanilla Ice all together when I was one! My mother put me into classes when I was 4 years old at Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, MN. My first dance classes were in ballet, tap and jazz.
You recently graduated from the prestigious Juilliard School, congratulations! What do consider to be the most valuable part of your training there?
Wow, what a tough question! I would say there are two very important things I learned and carry with me, one being that nobody can be you better than you, so be yourself! Also that all dance is dance, whether it be Horton, ballet or Cunningham. They are all different forms, but if you can think about everything being dance, the possibility for what you can do within the different forms becomes limitless.
You’re one of the founding members of the LA Dance project. How did the troupe come to form? What would you say the artistic vision of the company is?
Yes, I am a founding member and very proud to be. The company formed over a few month’s time in early 2012. I had known about the project from Benjamin [Millipied], as I worked with him at Juilliard and he invited me to be a part of The vision of the company is to promote new collaborative work by emerging and established artists and also to revisit important and influential dance collaborations from the pastthe project about a year before we even began. Benjamin had been in talks with the Music Center for a few years about having a company in LA., so in the beginning of 2012, he started to hold some auditions: an open one here in LA and then some private ones in N.Y. Throughout this time, Benjamin gathered some people he knew and some new dancers, and with that, we had our three women and three men, as of July 2012. It was completely exciting to be asked to be a part of this project. I could feel right away that Benjamin truly understood who I was and how I worked; he was hiring me as an artistic collaborator, not just a dancer. It was so appealing, working in such a tightly-knit group, performing immensely and in surprising and unsuspecting venues. A bit of a dream job! The vision of the company is to promote new collaborative work by emerging and established artists and also to revisit important and influential dance collaborations from the past, such as Merce Cunningham’s, Winterbranch. As a company we are wanting to create innovative platforms for contemporary dance and expand the experience of dance and dance education for all people of all ages.
How did the Juilliard dance program shape your choreographic aesthetic? Who are some of your choreographic heroes?
Well, I hadn’t choreographed much before Juilliard. My voice very much developed there and what I wanted to see in dances, became much more apparent to me. Many of the influences, as far as aesthetic, I think, came with the help of watching and seeing a lot of workshops in my early nobody can be you better than you, so be yourself!days at Juilliard. Pieces by Bret Easterling and Charlotte Bydwell to name a few that inspired me. I also think that New York City, itself, had a huge influence on my work. I was friends with DJs in the underground scene and was listening to a lot of electro and house music. That scene and energy is very present in my work’s aesthetic even today. A lot of my heroes are my friends who I trained with so closely and intimately at Juilliard. Not necessarily choreographers all of them, but I was surrounded by dancers and artists and we were always creating, even if just in our apartments. It was a wonderful time and the people that influenced me continue to be closest confidants and a source of a lot of my inspiration to this day.
One of my biggest choreographic heroes is Anna Teresa de Keersmaker. She is bold and is not afraid to take risks. She really is a dance-maker, I think that is what is so pleasing to me about her work, plus I am a sucker for composition! Also, William Forsythe is a huge inspirations in many aspects–his choreographic methods, pieces and ideas are ever-evolving, changing and growing. When working with him last fall on a piece we perform, “Quintett,” a phrase he continuously used throughout the rehearsal was “to live fiercely.” That phrase really stuck with me and I constantly am using it. I think that pushing and growing beyond your own limits and using the fear to fuel you and conquer your fears is what it’s all about. Live fiercely!
It seems you travel extensively, performing across the country and overseas. How do you stay fit and healthy while touring?
WATER, is a huge part of staying healthy on tour, whether it be drinking enough on a transatlantic 10 hour flight or after you get there. Then to stay awake and try to conquer JETLAG! (Which is a very, very real thing.) I also try and have as balanced of a meal as I can. Sometimes tracking down green vegetables can be quite the task, at a restaurant on France, but I track down the local markets–they have some of the freshest food I have ever eaten.
Do you have any essential travel tips to share with us?
Less is more! I am still mastering this, but the more you travel with just essentials, the easier every mode of transit becomes. Makes everything simpler and a bit less chaotic. I also love to bring teas with me, especially Bedtime Yogi Tea, that is my favorite remedy for the nights of jet-legged sleep!
Female dancers typically have to make the choice to put relationships and starting family on hold while pursuing their often short-lived performance careers. Have you had to make a decision in this regard? Do you plan to have a family in the future?
I have had to make decisions about relationships as I was in a serious relationship when I was moving to LA from NYC. Thankfully, I have a very understanding and supportive man in my life and I am happy to say we are making the long distance thing work for us. No family yet for me, but someday I definitely would love to have my own, as my family is a huge support and part of my life.
I’m extremely excited to see LA Dance project christen the newly reopened theater at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA! After the curtain closes on that run, what’s next for you and LA Dance Project?
Firstly I would like to say, we are beyond thrilled to have this partnership with the Ace Hotel. We both share the idea and importance of reviving the arts and culture, especially in downtown L.A.! Immediately after we will have a day or two off.Then we are off to Paris, France, where we will be premiering the full piece of Hiroaki Umeda, along with showing pieces by Emanuel Gat and Justin Peck at Théâtre du Châtelet. Following Paris, we do about a month of touring in France and then finish the trip with two performances in Russia! After that we have a little break and then back to the grind.
What do you think your life will look like ten years from now?
In ten years time, oh goodness…! Ten years from now, looks like dancing and creating with my lovely friends and confidants, sharing work around the world, with a variety of audiences… From elder to toddler, dancer to non dancer… I hope to be continuously spreading the joy that dance brings me and spreading it to all!
Thanks, Julia for sharing a glimpse of your life with our readers. Merde this weekend!
LA Dance Project will perform at the Theater at Ace Hotel Thursday-Saturday Feb 20-22. Click here for tickets and more information.