Brandon Collwes

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Exactly. Who was in your RUG group?
Rashaun [Mitchell], Andrea [Weber], Marcie [Munnerlyn], Julie Cunningham and Kate Jewitt. I became the second man in Antic Meet, and I then think at that point, Andrea, Rashaun and Marcie already knew that they were getting in [the company]. I was the only man for a while, which was cool. It meant I had a lot of interactions with Merce. We performed Antic Meet a lot, which I'm grateful I don't have to do as a company member, actually.

Why?
Well, just because it was like theatrical and act-y.

It wasn't the Cunningham you wanted.
It wasn't the Cunningham I wanted. But it was a good time, like when I was younger, learning the technique and figuring out—I enjoyed performing it, but I sort of felt like I was watching some of the newer pieces and things that were more contemporary to that work and thinking, That's more of what I'm meant to do.

Still, it's an iconic piece in terms of dance history. What did you get out of it? What did he say to you?

That's what I got out of it. Whenever we brought anything back with Merce, you had to convince him to be interested. He wasn't immediately interested ever, so I think I came in it at the stage where he actually was interested and started to give feedback about a lot of things, and just to see the way—even though he was so bound by all this pain— he would still be able to demonstrate something in a way that would be very clear. I was amazed by that. And knowing that his timing, no matter what, was going to be spot-on still. I think that a piece like that—working with the rhythmic structures that are in it was also really helpful because I did still have this more "up" way of moving. Those fundamental mainstays of the technique are definitely in that piece. And also the kids. We performed that so many times for all these different children and they really loved it. They just thought it was so funny—the whole thing. And naughty sometimes. They got it.

When did you first meet Merce?
I guess the first time was at the class that I took. Robert introduced me to him and he asked me if I was going to come back and I was like, "Yeah, I'll come back," not knowing what that meant and I was taken to the first floor to sign my papers to be hired as a RUG. So I guess that was the approval that Robert needed to hire me. I think in that class he was giving me a note about second position, and I was standing very close to him. I just put my leg up as high as I could in second position and he was like, "No. Leg on the floor." And I was like, Oh yeah, that second position. [Laughs]

What did you work on apart from Antic Meet?

Just MinEvents. A lot of the same stuff that I still will do in an Event actually. But then we started working on Summerspace and Rune. Summerspace was really tricky for me because at that time they had hired another guy, so we rotated the parts. Everything's so circular in that piece; it used to really confuse me, actually. As much as I knew my part, I had this weird relationship to the space in that piece for some reason because some of the material was so similar and I remember struggling with that. The phrases in that dance are so tricky and really hard technically and I remember just loving that and thinking it was so meaty and substantial. The work I was doing was so important to me at that time.

What were your days like?
Class and running whatever material you were working on. Taking a very short break and being in the small studio, learning whatever new things Robert threw at you, or practicing things you already knew. And then every time the company had a break, you would just go in and dance on their breaks. And Merce watched a lot and would give feedback, which was great. Some people had the experience as a RUG when he was a little bit older, of not having that constant eye and he definitely had that with my group, which was really cool.

What feedback did you get?
I remember him saying to me very early in, "You're doing really well. You've got the technical parts of it." I feel like he was always supportive of that, that I could do things that he asked. And I think that pleased him, but I think he was always, with me, really wanting whatever thing I was working on to be clear. To be clear was the most important thing. So clear as far as the rhythm—the intention behind the steps. Moving as large as you could possibly move, or really using your back.

Not the illusion.
Yes, not the illusion. At the time, it was the 50th anniversary of the company and the company was travelling so much, but he didn't go with them. He would give us private classes on Thursdays. It would just be Merce beating out the rhythm, and normally, you would travel in rows up and down the studio in one of his classes. But this was more like, do it a million times, walk back, do it a million more times, walk back. It was intense. And he would say a lot of the same things. He was interested in you keeping your shoulders down. Technical things like that continually bothered him. It was very important that you would always have your carriage down and not have that sort of tension. And the rhythm and just the separation of movements. In those classes, if he gave a combination where you were going to do a pli and then straighten your leg, if it was on the "and" count, he wanted it exactly on that count. Everything had the same amount of weight—everything was important.

He didn't want you to start phrasing things yourself.
Totally.

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