Brandon Collwes

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I really do feel from talking to you that's how you roll.
I will figure it out.

What is it like working with Robert Swinston?
He has changed a lot. He's the helm of the ship. He has everything to work on. He's focused on this group as it is now, but also what's going to happen next. I think he's had a little bit of trouble figuring that out and accepting things. There are some pieces that he is in and I think that's difficult when he's in a piece—that he can't watch it. I'd prefer to have a rehearsal director for something like that, which now we sort of have with Jen [Goggans]. But often times, she's in the piece, too, so that's tricky. But I've really respected that way he's been able to continue making these Events, and I think he's done as best as he could under the circumstances. It's a lot.

What you think of Trevor Carlson?
I don't really have that much to say about Trevor because I don't work with him directly. I'm an AGMA rep and have been since before Merce died, and that's been a little strange at times because there was a lot of drama right before Merce passed. To be a part of that, definitely, I have my own thoughts and that's influenced the way I think of him. I don't think it would be good to share because it's confidential. He's been able to keep this company afloat and keep different projects going and develop a couple. I think it's good. What he's done is really healthy for us.

What is it like dancing now when Cunningham is not around? How do you motivate yourself?

Yeah, now it's like, just do everything to like the nth degree. Just like balls-out dance. It's been really good. I feel like that from all of my peers. We're all just really doing it now—and for yourself, for sure. You have to love this to do it. We're performing at houses that are very warm. You know? And it feels good to represent Merce's work in this way.

Does that "warmth" feel genuine?
Yeah, for most people it does. Especially if you go to some small town and they're understanding some sort of historical significance as well, and I guess that allows them to be more open to these things. I've heard from a lot of people who have continually had problems with the music or the costumes, that now the way that people are dancing it's sort of opened them up to enjoying it a little bit more. I think that there is a little more onstage right now. Collectively—from the group. I think that energy is really phenomenal.

Do you know what solo you're performing at the Armory?
I'm doing the Rune solo. I worked on it with him and then Robert gave it to me to do in Events two years ago. And I haven't performed it that much, so I thought it would be good to do. And I do have like certain memories of things that he said about it; it had a significance for me because it was the beginning. So it feels appropriate to do it at the end, too. I kind of wanted to do something that I know that he enjoyed watching. It felt kind of cute. And it's short and sweet. It's not like one of those drawn-out things. It's like go out, kill yourself on stage, and then you're done.

What did he say to you about that?
A lot. There's this part where you slide to the ground. The whole thing's made in a box and you have to get from corner to corner. And you don't necessarily always have enough steps to get to the corners. So that was the trick of it and he would always push you to get there somehow. It's sort of old-school modern. I'm sure there are references to Graham. There's lots of going to the floor and coming back up. And also like standing on one leg and jumping a lot. It feels good.

What about the process of saying goodbye to Merce Cunningham, what was that like for you?
Weird. Really surreal. I haven't experienced a lot of death. My uncle died from cancer and it got really bad towards the end, so we were kind of shielded from that; the only other person that's died in my life is my grandfather from Alzheimer's. I've never really had that last-goodbye thing. And it was strange. The last time was before Jacob's Pillow and he was just like in this euphoric mood—he had picture of his home in Centralia that some woman had sent him. He was saying how much it looked the same and he was delighted showing us these photos, and asked us how we were. I felt very uncomfortable, to be honest. Although I was a part of this man's life, I was kind of wondering, Where's his immediate family? Where's his niece that I met? It was just Trevor and Robert and the company. I also said something really stupid. He was asking, "What does dance mean to you?" And something happened in my head where I heard something totally different—because he had just been talking about a rehearsal and someone was talking about how a musician was playing the piano, and I answered back still having thought that we were talking about the previous conversation. I said something really dumb and then he just laughed at me. He was like, "No, what does dance mean to you?" Oh, I'm such an idiot. Instead I had said something like, "We had a pianist and it was great." But it was funny, because he laughed. It was strange, for sure. That apartment is so beautiful. I just remember eerie light and feeling like, He's so small, you know? It was totally sad.

How did you hear about his death?
Oh, so we got back from Jacob's Pillow and I got a call from Trevor the next morning. I remember sleeping late and I got the call. And I was in my apartment in New Rochelle and I was like, Wow. This is really big. We met at the studio, and it felt good to just like be around my peers. We had just been dancing so much, which was crazy, too. I think everyone was so emotionally worn out, you know? There was a lot of speculation and we had just said goodbye to him. What's going to happen to him? I think a lot of us felt like he could have bounced back. Because it was sort of sudden. He had just finished making this monumental piece, and it kind of looked like he was taking a break and wasn't coming to the studio as frequently. But every time you saw him, he was still very coherent and still there and that was my experience saying goodbye to him, too. There was still light in his eyes.

Toward the end of the summer, there were the performances at Rockefeller Park? Did that make an impact on you?
Totally. I think that event was like group therapy. There were so many friendly faces. It was a very nice goodbye.

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