Mon Dec 19 2011
What was the audition like?
It's several classes: You take a ballet class, you take a modern class and then you do a solo. And then there's a cut. You do more—improv, more dancing, more class and then another solo. And then you find out. I did know I was going to get in; I could just tell by the end of the day that everything had gone so smoothly.
This was before Cunningham started being offered at Juilliard, right?
Yeah. It is really crazy. There are times when I've thought, I could've been so much younger when I got this job had I known about Cunningham. But I really wouldn't change anything that I've had to get to where I've gotten. Everything has just made me stronger and more diverse and I've gotten to meet so many incredible people. So I feel like I went to Cunningham at the right time.
Who did you dance with before?
I actually freelanced a lot with Ellen Cornfield and my good friend Charlotte Griffin, who I went to school with. She was my roommate and is solely responsible for me going to Cunningham actually. She kept pushing me to go to Cunningham. And I was like, "But it's so unemotional, Charlotte. I don't want to go to Cunningham." And she said, "I really think you need to go to Cunningham." She saw Derry Swan perform Way Station and possibly RainForest at ADF, and she was like, "This man loves tall, technical women, and you need to go there, and you're making up stories about what you think it is—you've never taken a class." So I took a class and I loved it. I was working primarily with Lila York. I was freelancing with a lot of little choreographers here and there and probably working with Ellen Cornfield the most out of those choreographers. But I was Lila York's assistant for four years. She would create material on me. It started with one gig. I went to Boston Ballet with her the first year, and then each year I would do more and more. She was creating her pieces on me, and then I would go to the ballet company with her and help her transfer the material. Her work is so step-heavy so for her to transfer all the material by herself was grueling; we had a great rhythm together. And by the end, I was also staging Celts, one of her ballets, by myself. I was kind of her rehearsal assistant and stager. But then there was this point where I was like, Okay I'm in my mid-twenties and I've done it in revearse. I'm a rehearsal mistress; I should be dancing. We finally talked about it. I remember I was at the Royal Danish Ballet with her, and there were all these injuries going on; there was actually a moment where they were going to possibly let me do a piece. And I was like, If I could do this, than why am I not doing this? And she understood. It was a hard moment because we had such a good rapport together, and financially it was great for me. It was such a great experience. I met all these directors and I even almost got a job at the Royal Danish as the modern assistant rehearsal director. I was like, I'm not even 28. I need to be dancing. And I had been taking classes at Cunningham. I tried to get a job in Europe, and I came back and became an understudy at Cunningham; it just happened naturally, once I had like broken up with Lila—I don't know. It felt like that, like a little bit emotional. [Laughs]
I knew you were connected with her, but I didn't know to that extent. Her work is so different from Cunningham's.
Yeah, and at first it was so funny because she was just like this big [York is small] and I'm this big and we were like, How is this going to work? But you know, actually she taught me how to be fast.
I had always pushed myself because I'm tall, to dance quickly, and because of my tap training, I do think I have a natural inclination for rhythm, but Lila has quick, little feet. You know? Petit allegro, the [Paul] Taylor influence. I would be right in front of her, and she'd give me steps, and she'd have a video camera on and I'd have to do it. She's a big component of me being able to be a tall woman who can move quickly.
Did she just work with you?
She would sometimes get up and show me material. A lot of jumping. And then, there were always wild counts in her work—even though it was to music that would typically be in eights, she would break that down. So it would be like, Here's a six, a five and a 12. Her adagio work wouldn't be like that; it was much more abstract.
But it's interesting that you worked on something from the inside-out at such an early point in your career and then flipped it around.
Yeah. At Cunningham, I took classes, but I was working so much that I wasn't able to be consistent there. I would go off with her for weeks, months at a time, and I don't know. I knew I could put myself in the right place at the right time. I was working with Ellen; I had met Ellen through the Cunningham studios. And I do believe Ellen talked to Robert [Swinston] about me, so there was a little bit of an in there. And there was good timing. An understudy left, and he called me one day. I actually didn't really know he knew me so well, because I couldn't really take the early classes that often. Had I known better, that's the place where Merce would see you. Robert called me Fourth of July weekend and was like, "Come and take company class. I want Merce to see you. We have a spot open for an understudy." I became an understudy. And then about a year later, I found out that I was going to be hired. Rashaun [Mitchell], Marcie [Munnerlyn] and I joined in January of 2004.
What was your understudy experience like?
We were a good group. It was a little bit different then it is now—it was an ever-evolving thing. As Merce aged and traveled less, he worked more and more with the understudies to create material. Our group was kind of the first that he started that with. So it wasn't a ton of material. And it was actually hugely controversial at the time. So it was stressful and it was interesting because it did evolve. It was amazing just four years later to watch the group work with him on so much more material. I just felt a little bit guilty that we were working with him, even though it was what he wanted and how he wanted to work [with us] because the company was gone. At the time, it felt strange. It was totally scary to teach the company the material. I remember Cdric [Andrieux] was the first one I had to teach material to. Rashaun and I had learned part of a quartet—it was two duets, really. Derry and Cdric were doing this particular movement, and Rashaun couldn't come that day, and he had been an understudy for a while. I had to teach it on my own and it was just so nerve-racking; I was kind of mad at Rashaun. I don't know why he wasn't there.
How did it go?
It was fine, they were fine. They were nice. I ended up dancing so much with Cdric after Derry left that we became great friends. So it all worked out. You're just where you are, and being an understudy we all just looked up to the company so much.
Is that what was so stressful about it?
Yeah, I just couldn't imagine dancing with these people. I looked up to them so much. I thought they were all so beautiful and even though getting hired was something that I clearly wanted, you just don't expect it to happen. And it's been wonderful that the three of us have been on this journey together. Our group was the one that reconstructed Antic Meet. We had a good time doing that piece for children; it was really hysterical. We would do it for outreach [programs] for children, which is almost the best way for that piece to be performed, because they just find all of the comedy hysterical. Now the understudies have a lot more material. They do Summerspace, but Antic Meet was our baby.
Can you talk about what Merce was like during the process of the reconstruction of Antic Meet?
Similar to all the reconstructions. He wouldn't pay attention. He wasn't really interested. He'd be working on his new material all the time. Rolling his die and making notes and maybe glimpsing and then, you know, he would peek. And then he would work on it. And I don't know if Antic Meet was different than other reconstructions in that the movement is so specific. It's vaudeville and ballet and it's definitely a tribute to all these forms, whereas his other work is different. But I remember all his reconstructions, even for the company being that way. Second Hand—he just wouldn't watch it. And then he would start to take a peek and then he'd see something that he wanted to change. He worked with Rashaun a lot in the overalls solo. And played with timings. Even when we brought back CRWDSPCR, which was less of an older reconstruction, he changed timings and took out bits.