Fresh out of college, in the middle of a pandemic and during a nationwide economic shutdown, 21-year-old Jared Stern ’20, from Seaford, Long Island, somehow landed his dream job.
The “interview” process, however, was anything but typical for the dancer and Adelphi alumnus.
“It was such an experience,” Stern said. “The whole [process], start to finish, was all done online.”
Like many during the pandemic, the arts industry was suffering. Auditions were put on hold. Dance companies were going out of business. Luckily for Stern, Graham 2 was accepting new members for their touring company.
Graham 2 is a preprofessional company based in New York City and is made up of the most advanced students of the Martha Graham School. While in Graham 2, dancers are supported by a generous scholarship and receive integrated training through technique classes and rehearsals. Graham 2 dancers may also be given the opportunity to perform with the Martha Graham Dance Company, which was founded in 1926 by Martha Graham, a pioneer in modern dance. Approximately 70 percent of the current main company members started their careers as members of Graham 2.
Stern credits Adelphi University and his former high school, Long Island High School for the Arts, for exposing him to concert dance, which included the Martha Graham Dance Company. Prior to entering college, Stern was simply a competition dancer for his local dance studio.
“When he first came [to Adelphi] he was all razzle-dazzle Broadway,” said assistant professor Adelheid B. Strelick. “He had character and personality. What worried me was that he only wanted to do that and I thought, ‘Yes you can do that, but you need to be versatile. So, try and open yourself up.'”
After discussing his future goals with his professors at Adelphi, being accepted into the Graham 2 company became a part of Stern’s plan and ambitions.
Stern said, “Graham was really kind of my plan since I started college from the first semester, freshman year. The Graham [technique] classes were really the only classes that I truly felt comfortable and welcomed in for many reasons, but it was also the technique that really drew me to it.”
Despite his familiarity with Graham 2, he faced many challenges in preparing for his audition. Normally dancers audition in person, but in Stern’s case he had to follow a remote process that was quite involved. He was tasked with recording five sections: programmed combinations, a floor work technique section, a performance section, a solo choreographed by himself and a solo from one of Martha Graham’s dances.
With just two weeks to prepare, Stern said certain sections were difficult to learn. “All of the videos were from the ’80s that they had on their website, so not only did we have to learn off of a video from a 1980s quality, we had to reverse the whole thing because it was just a video of a performance,” he said.
Stern explained that most of the videos provided were not in a form of a tutorial or mirrored so this made learning the choreography more challenging.
As the severity of COVID-19 forced students everywhere to study remotely, naturally, as his audition grew closer, Stern became more nervous.
“We were coming from [Adelphi] having Graham [classes] twice a week to only having Graham [classes] once a week and only doing floor work,” he said. “We used to have two full hour-and-a-half Graham classes a week doing all floor work, center work, across-the-floor work, to only having it once a week and never coming off the floor.”
Stern began to spiral, so he turned to his friend for some advice. “I was telling my friend about this audition,” he recalled. “It’s the only thing that’s happening. I’m really nervous. What’s going to happen if I don’t get in? I’m not going to be dancing. I thought she would try to make me feel better. She told me, ‘Yeah that’s really hard because everyone else is filming and you know they’re going to film it until they look perfect.'”
That’s when Stern realized this was going to be more work than he thought. “I can’t just press record, do my little dance and send it in,” he said. “You know when you go to a live audition, you take a deep breath and you only have one time to do [the dance] and that’s it. But this really took a lot of re-filming and watching it back. I know every other dancer fighting for this job is doing that, so I need to be doing it too.”
Luckily, Adelphi’s adjunct professor and former Martha Graham Dance Company member, Oliver Tobin, guided Stern through his audition process.
“Jared did a very good job of working with what he has anatomically and physically in order to make the Graham technique work for him,” Tobin said.
Despite these difficulties along the way, Stern managed to impress the company directors. Normally the company takes 12 members with two understudies, but recently they only took six members, three of whom were returning members from the previous year. The other three dancers were new members with Stern being the only new male member.
Rehearsals began for Stern and the rest of the Graham 2 company on September 1, 2020, with virtual technique classes and rehearsals held over Zoom. On the first Monday in October, they began an in-person “A” week and “B” week schedule only for technique classes. The dancers switch between virtual technique classes and in-person technique classes. “They can only fit so many people in the studios and they take social distancing very seriously,” Stern said.
Due to the pandemic, it’s unclear when the company will put on its next performance. “They’re hoping to have some sort of open performance for the spring,” Stern said. “Whether [or not] the dancers can be together and we’re going to livestream it to an audience.” He added that, “The dancers [will also] be on some sort of Zoom livestream and will be broadcasted to a virtual audience.”
See the Martha Graham Season Calendar to learn more about upcoming performances.
—This story originally appeared in the December 10, 2020, issue of The Delphian.