Brandon Collwes

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What did you end up teaching to company members in terms of new work?
Views for Stage. It was fine for my group. I think other people had difficulties with it. I remember being really nervous; there was a section that [the other male dancer] didn't know and Merce was like, "Remember that phrase from class yesterday? You're going to do that there." And I remember thinking, Do I remember that phrase from yesterday? I was supposed to teach that part and I remember going up to him and being like, "Merce can you just check this? Can you look at your notes and make sure I got this right before I teach it?"  And I did it once and the next thing was supposed to be a reversal of the phrase and so I did that part, too, and I knew I was totally missing it, but he said, "Yes, you got it." I just had to go back and figure it out. It had to be perfect. I didn't want to misconvey his movement.

What was it like when he was creating something new on you?

It was a slow process, with many repetitions of minute things. It would get bigger, and you would do the same thing over and over and over. And he wouldn't say a lot. After he gave the movement to you, I think he just wanted to make sure that you really had it and that he could see it, but there wasn't a note after every time you did it. I always loved his sort of method of working when he was making you repeat all the time. He would tell us to sit down. "Just sit down, take a break." He would be looking at his notes, working, and you might be down at the floor for five minutes or one minute and jump back up and do it all over again. And at that time, he was falling asleep a lot, too, so you could be doing something forever...I think we all sort of knew that he sometimes was listening, because he would just wake up at the perfect moment that he had been trying to figure out earlier, or he would give a correction about something you thought he didn't see. He must have been hearing the rhythm. So you always had to be on.

What did you do when he was sleeping?
Oh, you just kept going. You finished. We would stop sometimes and get his attention. But there were points with his health, too, where you wanted him to sleep. It was fine, you know. He was busying himself with a lot of things that were probably just to keep him going and to keep him training dancers, which I think he liked to do. But it wasn't stuff that was going to directly affect the company.

How did you get into the company?
I was a RUG for like two and a half years. The momentum slowed down. I left a couple of times over both of the summers to go teach again and make money to live. And he was cool with that. And Robert really understood that was important.

Did you teach in Pittsburgh?
Yeah, because I had this great relationship with the people at this place. I'd go home for maybe three weeks and make enough money to help me get by for at least six months. It was a really good situation to be in. I worked with a couple of other people. I made a lot of work at that time, too. I kept myself busy by doing different choreographic projects. It was okay.  I was still really happy to be at the studio and to be doing that movement and working with him. It felt like the time was necessary for me. Because once you're in the company, your experience with him totally changed. And you didn't interact with him so much anymore. So I would have felt like I missed a step if I didn't have a sort of chunk of time. But at the same time, I was like, Is someone please going to leave? This is getting ridiculous.

Did Robert say anything to you?
At one point I think Cdric [Andrieux] was thinking about leaving and that was really early-on in my time. He fell in love and changed his mind, and I remember thinking, Are you kidding? But that also would have been a little too soon. When I heard that was maybe potentially going to happen, I was a little freaked out. I replaced Daniel Roberts, who gave me warning that he was leaving. I was really excited.

So you knew?
I kind of knew, but only by a week. There was another man dancing with me as a RUG, and I kind of felt like, I got it. I felt like I had Merce's attention more, but at the same time, he was always attracted to anything new. So this guy had just come in and he was getting attention, but I just always assumed that Merce was going to choose me, because I'd been so diligent. I wasn't nervous that I wasn't going to get it.

Were you close to Merce?
I wouldn't say close.

Is anyone?
I think some people had different relationships with him, and I wouldn't say that mine was less than someone else's, necessarily, but I didn't have—as my time went on as a RUG, I didn't have the casual conversations as much as maybe someone else would or could. I definitely had moments with him that I really treasure. I felt like he understood my work ethic. He would say things to you at the right time when you needed it, which was nice. I felt like he was aware of me, for sure.

What's an example?
I was in the company and we had just been to Australia and there was like a reception and he just sort of tugged on my jacket or something and I didn't even really realize he was behind me. I was probably on line for champagne and he said, "You're doing it all right. I wanted to let you know, it's gotten much better and you're doing it right." And I was like, whoa. It's crazy that he just said that to me. And I did start feeling a little bit more confident onstage and that I was having some sort of peak with my dancing, which was nice. I was like, Oh he's noticed that. And I think what he meant by the right thing is that I approached some of the things very directly. The way of doing it was going back to what he always loved, which was being clear. I was really trying to be clear and trying to be as physical with the work as I could.

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