Mon Dec 19 2011
How did you learn you got into the company?
Robert told us in the small studio. It was just kind of random.
You, Rashaun and Marcie?
No, Marcie got hired about a month later. Paige [Cunningham] and Ashley [Chen] had given their notice and I do believe Rashaun found out earlier than that day. It wasn't super formal. Robert brought us into the small studio and was like, "You know that Ashley and Paige gave their notice, and Merce will be hiring Rashaun and Andrea." And that was the moment I found out. I didn't really know how to react and you know, here are my friends—I was shocked honestly. Then, and probably I was the one who was like, Let's do this—but Rashaun and I were like, We should go in and thank Merce. And that was really strange because we were like, "Thank you!" And he was like, "Okay." That was very awkward. And immediately we were told to start learning new material.
Whose roles did you take over mainly?
It was a real mix. Right off the bat the Paige--Banu [Ogan] lineage. But there were some of Cheryl's [Therrien] roles that I got, like in BIPED and Fluid Canvas and Split Sides. Marcie got some of Paige's and Banu's roles. She does Banu in BIPED. And when Derry left six months later and Julie Cunningham came on, I feel like Julie, Marcie and I split Cheryl's, Paige's and Derry's parts. If there was something new [added] to Event material, then I would get the part that Derry had done, because I was the tallest girl. I tended to get the tallest-girl part.
How tall are you?
I'm 5'8." I look taller than that. I believe Derry was taller. It may be proportions. I have my dad's legs. It's like I have no torso. [Laughs]
What are some pieces that are really close to your heart?
Suite for Five. I got to do the orange girl right when I joined and then, six months later, Derry left and I got Carolyn's part, the yellow girl. I was doing this with Cdric. And I think that was a moment—I was so terrified, yet so excited and I've always felt a closeness to the material, the kind of classic Cunningham technical material. I've always felt like it fit me. And it's taught me so much, just about breathing. I remember when I was first doing it at the beginning of the duet, I would hold my breath and Cdric would just be like [Exhales] and he'd look at me and I'd be like, Oh right, I have to breathe to do this part. I mean it's an endless challenge. It's one of those pieces where it's always hard, but it's always amazing. Derry told me, "It's so amazing to rehearse this piece and it's so scary to perform it." It's so stark and pure. I've always loved doing the Way Station duet for Event material, which is also Derry's part with Cdric. A lot of balancing and relev. And Merce fiddled with that. He played with the balances for me. And he would always shift material. Not all of someone's material when they inherited things, but he would definitely have his eye on something and shift it a little bit for the newcomer, and that was a moment where he played with the material on me. So I always felt like that was special. BIPED is just incredible to do, and the same thing with Ocean. That was Banu's part in Ocean. For me, Ocean was the most well-rounded piece I ever got to perform. By the end I just felt like I got to do a little bit of everything. You know, come out spinning in a solo and do a slow trio and then come jumping out at the end. It's just such an epic journey.
I do love it.
And it broke my heart because I got injured in the dress rehearsal at the Quarry [Rainbow Quarry in Waite Park, Minnesota in a presentation of Ocean by the Walker Arts Center], so I didn't get to do that run. I tore my calf. My knee had been bothering me for a while, so I was weak in that area, but then the cold weather—I just got a tear and couldn't do the run. We're going to do a bit of Ocean from the beginning of the Armory. I love that Robert chose to bring back a little Ocean.
Do you think other things have been left off this tour that you would have liked to have seen or danced again?
I understand why everything was chosen. It's shown the longevity of the work, in that there's so many pieces from so many different decades, and especially the older work and the smaller, double-cast work. I would have liked to have seen at least another piece from the '90s, Scenario. I can't speak for anyone, and I obviously would hesitate to do that, and I know that it was really important to bring back Antic Meet and RainForest, but I just have such a love for the work that happened in the '90s. That company and those epic pieces. We've done a MinEvent of Scenario, but not the whole piece in its entirety. If I could have picked one, it would have been Scenario with costumes, with the floor, with everything. Some of us even know 75 percent of it. I love Ground Level Overlay, but I did get to perform that. I love Beach Birds. But I would say Scenario. There's just something about that decade, the refined dancers and everyone got to dance in a lot in those pieces. It's interesting because we have so much double-cast now that you either do a whole bunch one night or you don't do very much. The fun thing about Roaratorio is that we're all onstage and we get to dance a lot.
What were your experiences of working with Cunningham? What was he like in the studio?
You were on your toes because you didn't know who he was going to spot. You know, you think he's looking at one person and he's not. He'd do that in class, too. I mean, you could stand right in front of him and he would see a person in the corner over there. And if there was a new person taking class and they were interesting to him, he would say something. He would pull someone aside and work on something, and it was always something you wouldn't think. There would always be the obvious things—something went wrong in a section or we'd run the entire section over again or the timing was off and we'd have to do that. But it was those moments where he would pull you aside and be like, "You know, do this entrance and lead everything from your elbow." And it was always the smallest statement, one sentence even. Or a couple of images or something like that and it would just change your track a little bit. And then the new work, where he would direct you to go next was so special. His word for the double duet in XOVER, was "savage." And then in Nearly Ninety, it was just like, "Okay, Andrea, I'm going to have you be still almost the whole piece" and how do you manage that? He was amazing to work with. "Just take your right foot and step over your left foot" would all the sudden thread into this chain of material and you'd have a solo, and it took only a matter of minutes. It's those eyes in the corner seeing the bigger picture, and you forgetting that he was seeing the bigger picture. For a choreographer, he trusted his dancers. He loved the individual; he trusted us with his work—he'd give you a lot of room for a while, especially as a newcomer. And you'd have to do an entrance over and over again—there was kind of an initiation in that way—but the fine-tuning, he let you find your way and it was okay to stumble and get back up again and try again. And in the way he would take on the characteristics of each of us individually and just shift the work. It was fascinating. I loved watching it happen to other people and watching that person evolve in the moment.
What was he like while creating Nearly Ninety?
For a big part of it, he worked with the understudies while we were away and 80 percent of that piece was created on them. So there was definitely a time where I was a little bummed.
You're such a nice person.
[Laughs] And it was corresponding with us bringing back Ocean for the Quarry and at that time I had this knee--calf thing going on and it was also the summer and during the summer I have had some knee problems because of the humidity. So I remember being very overwhelmed. You want to look good when he's creating a new piece, because you want him to give you material, and I'm trying to deal with Ocean, which was a big piece for me. I was not feeling great in my body. And I was bummed because I was like, Okay well, there are a lot of sections with four people and there are four RUGs [Repertory Understudy Group] and that kind of thing. But then it started to evolve because the piece wasn't finished, and there was a duet that he gave Rashaun and me that was created on the understudies, but they transferred the material to us and it was so very different. He had a traditional sense of partnership—the woman being supported by the man—and this was a case where we supported each other for the whole duet. I wouldn't have wanted to do this with anyone but Rashaun. We've always worked really well together since we were understudies, but we didn't necessarily get to do so much with each other because I was partnered up with Cdric and he was partnered up with some of the smaller women. After Cdric left, Rashaun and I got these opportunities; it was almost like Merce always saw more, you know. And he gave us this treasure that goes differently every night we perform it, because we're both on one leg the whole time supporting each other. I remember the day he was like, "Learn this material." And it took us a very long time to manage it and figure it out. And I remember we did this photo shoot and it was with Merce, and we were doing material from the duet and it was like our rehearsal with him. We finally got this moment with him in the space where we just did it over and over and over again for the camera and it became ours. And he was like, "Yes, oh, this is better, this is getting better," and we let go of some of the things that they had taken on as the understudies. And then he started creating a little more material. He finished the last 20 percent of the piece or whatever. And he actually wasn't even using the computer anymore. I got a couple of things from him. So I feel like I had maybe less material in Nearly Ninety, but everything was very special. And there was a small solo and a trio I do with Daniel Madoff and Rashaun that he created on the spot for us.