2024 Dance Teacher Award Honoree Terese Capucilli Passes Down the Transformative Power of Martha Graham Technique
July 2, 2024

When teaching, Terese Capucilli frequently talks about the image of a beautiful terrace garden. “At the base of it is all of these memories as a child, and all of this learning. You can develop the garden through your life, but always reach back and find those roots.” Citing her mentor, Martha Graham, she adds, “Martha calls it the blood memory, that can help you move forward to find who you are.”

This is the perfect metaphor for Capucilli’s career. The 26 years she spent with the Martha Graham Dance Company provided a rich and fertile base from which she continues to grow as an educator. As she closes out her 25th year teaching Graham technique at The Juilliard School, Capucilli’s passion hasn’t waned—her terrace garden is lush and colorful.

One of seven children, Capucilli grew up outside of Syracuse, New York, in a home filled with music. A self-described musical theater kid, she took jazz, tap, and ballet with local teacher Augustine Skapura, as well as voice lessons, and was part of two theater troupes. During her senior year of high school, a teacher named Joni Consroe exposed her to modern dance and encouraged her to apply to the dance program at SUNY Purchase.

Terese Capucilli, wearing a black leotard and black pants, adjusts the shoulder of a young male dancer as he poses with his right arm stretched to the side and his left arm bent and his left hand touching the inside of his right elbow. The dancer wears a boxy sheath that is white on the front and black on the backside, and he looks front with his chin slightly lifted, projecting out. Behind them in the dance studio, other young dancers in various dancewear mill about.
Capucilli works with a dancer during the staging of Martha Graham's Rite of SPring at The Juilliard School. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy The Juilliard School.

“I felt like the most amazing sponge,” says Capucilli of her four years at Purchase. “I was exposed to Martha Graham technique, Limón technique, Cunningham.” From a very young age, Capucilli says that she understood the importance of her teachers. In college, that list grew to add Rosanna Seravalli, Aaron Osborne, Carol Fried Cowen, Kazuko Hirabayashi, and Mel Wong. During Capucilli’s freshman year, she met Bill Randolph, an acting student who would become her husband. 

Capucilli graduated in 1978 and moved to New York City to attend the Martha Graham School on scholarship. One of her work-study jobs was demonstrating for classes; she was paired with company member Jacqulyn Buglisi, who has remained a lifelong friend. Capucilli started dancing with artists like Marcus Schulkind and for Graham-affiliated choreographers like Elisa Monte and Pearl Lang. In March 1979, less than a year after she’d graduated, she was invited to join the Martha Graham Dance Company.

A young female Black dancer sits on a dance studio fllor during a Graham technique class. She crosses her ankles and twists her upper body slightly to her left. She places the tips of her fingers on the floor, and wears a turquoise leotard and black footless tights. Behind her, Terese Capucilli , wearing a black shirt and yoga pants, lightly touches her neck, making a correction. In the background, other students take the same floor pose.
Graham class with Terese Capucilli. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy The Juilliard School.

“We worked from the ground up,” says Capucilli of her years there. “Tasting the work, watching through the eyes and through the pores of the skin.” In 1983, she was promoted to principal dancer, and in the mid-1980s she started occasionally teaching master classes at the Graham School and on tour. “It took me a long time to want to teach,” says Capucilli. “I knew it was a great responsibility, and that what I would say or do in any classroom could affect these individuals for life. This was true in my own life.” In 1999, after subbing for Buglisi at Juilliard, Capucilli was offered her own class.

The early 2000s were a whirlwind for Capucilli. In addition to teaching at Juilliard and dancing with the Graham Company, she gave birth to her son. She also helped shepherd the company through a difficult time by taking on the role of associate artistic director and then artistic director. She was also working with Buglisi, Donlin Foreman, and Christine Dakin to develop Buglisi Dance Theater. In 2005, Capucilli left the Graham Company and became full-time at Juilliard.

Capucilli teaches Graham technique to all first- and second-year Juilliard students and occasionally repertory classes for students in their third year. She’s also had the chance to stage Graham repertoire, including Appalachian Spring, Dark Meadow, and Rite of Spring. “I always tell my students I’m not making Martha Graham dancers,” says Capucilli. “I am molding expressive artists, where one can access the utter truths of what makes us human.”

In her classes, Capucilli focuses on imagery and sensory awareness, and works to create a space where students can be vulnerable. She often brings in poetry or images of paintings to share. “You have to inspire dancers through imagination,” she says. Buglisi remembers visiting Capucilli’s rehearsal for Rite of Spring: “The studio was like a sanctuary,” says Buglisi. “The space was so beautiful and open. She brings everybody together with the technique. Nobody is left out.”

Outside of Juilliard, Capucilli teaches Gyrokinesis and continues to dance with Buglisi Dance Theater, where she is artistic associate. In 2018, she directed The Sacrosanct Accompanist, a documentary about pianist Lawrence “Reed” Hansen. Gibney Company’s Jesse Ombremski, a 2016 Juilliard alum, was one of the dancers in Capucilli’s film. “Through that process, I could see the wealth of knowledge that she has as an artist, but also the understanding that she has of the dance field and art as a whole,” Ombremski says.

Capucilli looks forward to continuing her work at Juilliard. “Her energy is remarkable,” says Buglisi. “Martha sensed it and loved that about Terese.” That life force will continue to grow Capucilli’s terrace garden. “Everywhere I go, I know that I’m carrying my teachers,” she says. “I’m moving them forward with me.”

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