Mon Dec 19 2011
Jamie [Scott] and Melissa, the two of them I just can't get enough of right now. I just want to soak up this fearless moment for them in the work and try to send them lots of really good energy that they'll continue forward. John and Dylan—they're just really fun to watch.
What can you tell me about saying goodbye to Merce and that situation? Were you all aware of what was happening?
We didn't know exactly what was taking him. They were very quiet about what diagnosis he had, but that it was the end was very clear. I mean, there was the natural progression that he was teaching, but in hindsight you look back and it's like BAM happened and really only three months later, he was gone. But he was still teaching a bit in May and he did Dia: Beacon [Events] with us in May and then we went to Madrid and came back, and he was just much more frail. Like coming to the studio, they were concerned for his bones. So that limited [his time], and then the progression happened that he just couldn't come and there was a moment where they told us it was the end and it could be weeks and it could be a couple months, and it was like that. We went and we said goodbye. We were lucky enough to get to go and say goodbye and then he lived a little longer, and we got to say goodbye again. So the first time was extremely emotional. I've actually never done anything like that before. I hadn't even done that with my grandparents. I felt very adamant that I needed to tell him thank you. So I just went up to him and I was crying and I said thank you, I love you and he, typical Merce, he was like, "Well, thank you very much, that's so sweet." [Laughs] I was like, You are awesome; I love you! I love the way you just can simplify things in the profound way. And then the next time was a week before he died. We were going up to Jacob's Pillow. My very good friend was going to take a Bollywood class and she asked a couple of us if we wanted to go. So Melissa and Marcie joined us, and our group was really, really lighthearted. We'd already said goodbye to him and we were just chatting and he was doing really well and we kind of told him that we had taken this class, so the three of us got up in front of him and did Bollywood for him, and it was hysterical. I remember leaving laughing. It was joyful. We had a great ride going up to Jacob's Pillow and then he watched us one last time on Skype, and he passed on the Sunday after our show that evening. It was a really wonderful week to be up at Jacob's Pillow. I think we all were really clear about performing for him. I feel lucky because we said goodbye to him and then we got to see him again. And then we danced for him.
Do you think the company should disband?
That's such a hard one for me. I feel like there's so much that I don't know about the decision making, but I do get the sense that there's something fitting that it end this way and then perhaps it starts again in a different way. I think that to have one thing close and then reopen, it's seeing how we're going out and how he's finishing in all this is so grand, it's so big, it's so positive, it's so energetic. It's really beautiful. So somehow for everything that he built to end on such a high note? It would need to be reconfigured anyway.
So somehow this is fitting. And I know there's a lot to manage and I'm so not privy to those conversations. I know there's a lot of different opinions about it; it's also sad and terrible at the same time because we're this company that knows his work and in London, where they're just like yelling, "Bravo!" I've never had a curtain call like that before. The curtain came up and tears are rolling down our faces because the surge of energy just was indescribable. So then you're like how is it possible that the Cunningham Dance Company is going to do our final BIPED on December 23rd? It seems unreal, but I do actually also get it. I do. There does feel like there's something right about this too, and in a way good. It's going to live on.
You think so?
I mean it's definitely going to live on immediately in that other companies are going to be doing the work. I think that they are going to be special performances in groups of people who are going to be trained by Robert. I don't think it will ever be like this again. And it's complicated that way, because other companies have done it. But I miss Merce. I miss the master in the corner making his new work. And he was so about new work.
I think though the problem is the training.
Yeah, and that's a bigger conversation. I do think that the technique needs to be taught and that's where, frankly, they need to figure that out first. And that's why I say maybe this coming to a close and restarting there can be a more established thing—okay, Westbeth is going away, but maybe there's a way to reestablish the technique and we can truly be—all of us out there who worked with him—spreading the work and the technique more. Patricia Lent is really working on that. She's so open to empowering us all to be able to do that. It's really lovely.
After eight years in the company, what do you think of Trevor Carlson?
Wow! I did not see that coming. I've had a really good experience with him. I mean I've definitely seen his evolution in the moving up and I've had some hard negotiations with him because I was the AGMA rep for three and a half years. So there are moments of me being really jaded in the company and there were some hard struggles, but because of that, we are very good at communicating with each other. He, oftentimes, will use me as a helpful means to understand where we're coming from. I'm useful in that way because I have learned how to communicate with him. That, I would say, is one of the harder parts. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, and I do really appreciate some of the ideas he's had. Dia:Beacon was one of my favorite things ever. And that's him. It's his ability to curate. Or come up with an idea and pass it to Merce to play with. I'm just going to always be thankful for that experience. And he said this: It was an opportunity to get the company to work with Merce again because he was working with the understudies so much on the new work. Dia:Beacon was an outlet for him to work with us again, and that was totally true that we got to work on these funny stages and Merce loved spaces like that. The museum is incredible. Dia:Beacon is up there—when you ask me about my favorite pieces, Dia:Beacon is up there.
I agree. And that idea of multiple stages is also the setting at the Armory.
Robert let us each pick one thing.
What did you choose?
Well Rashaun and I both picked the same solo, but we're double-cast in the Fractions solo, so we're gonna both do it at different times on different stages. I also get to do Way Station, as well. And a bit from Ocean. Some people asked to do something new.
What is the state of the company like?
Good. We're really supportive of each other. We're actually doing the thing: It was always a tradition to do a roast for a company member that was leaving. It started with Jean Freebury. I believe she did a solo thing for a person that was leaving, and then it evolved to the company participating and we'd spoof their material or whatever. So about a month ago, Rashaun looked at me and was like, "Are we gonna do end shows for everybody?" And I was like, "You're looking at me because you want me to coordinate it, don't you?" And he was like, "Yeah." So we have a little committee where a few of us are kind of in charge, and we decided to do two people at once, a senior and a junior, and I picked dates and I pulled each couple out of a hat in order to do it by chance. We've already done two of them on this last tour, but we're kind of toasting/roasting people by doing a little show for them. There are always hard moments in a company where maybe someone doesn't feel like they're being used, or people are going through personal things, or some people are not getting along, but definitely at the sixth month to go mark we are really for each other. I think we all want each other to go out into the world and have all the experiences, whether it be dancing or going back to school and becoming a doctor. We want for each other to have success and you know, there's a lot of joy and fun and laughter in the company.
So who do you dance for now?
Mostly Merce. But there are times when I dance for me, too—where there's no point to having insecurities now. So you wobble? Whatever. It was funny because when we found out we were doing this bit of Ocean, I was actually a little bit stressed about it. I was like, Well, I kind of let that go because I didn't get to do the Quarry. And the entrance that I'm doing is the first entrance, and it's all turning. Do I want to get my chops up to do this? Do I want to manage it? I'm really good friends with [former Cunningham dancer] Lisa Boudreau, and we were talking about it, and she was giving me some feedback about how I could manage it again. She said, "Yes, you want to do it." She's like, you're going to give your heart to it and you're just going do it because it's going to be so much better to do something hard and to have something to focus on. She's totally right. And I was like, She's not only right about this, but that's what my approach should be right now. I just want to put it all out there now.