Fri Dec 16 2011
Didn't you join the Graham company while you were a student?
I got a contract that was not honored because they fired everybody.
How did you get involved with the Graham company?
I had a teacher named Stephanie Tooman, and she inspired me right away, pretty much more than any teacher I'd had up to that point. I still hadn't met Merce or Robert [Swinston]. Her class was just amazing and her facility was incredible. I was like, What the heck is this? It's this whole other system of movement, and I remember she said to me, "I'm putting you in the beginner class," but it was the second semester and everyone knew all the exercises already. In the first class, she didn't say anything to me. And in the second class, she started talking to me. She tells this story a lot—she was watching me do a pleading [a contraction on the back], and every time people do a pleading, they stick their chest out or something, but I hollowed out right away, and she was like, Oh. And then she chose to work really hard with me. That was my second semester freshman year; I auditioned my second semester sophomore year. I'd attended the Graham school as well. And that's when I got the contract from Chris and Terry. So I wasn't going to go back to school my third year, and then when I got fired, I had to go back. It was horrible. Can you imagine? But everyone was really kind about it. That was in 2005. Because right after that happened, I still had this idea that I wanted to wait around and join Graham. Kazuko said, "Daniel, I have a feeling that you're entering a house that's already burnt up." I'll never forget that. But Stephanie, my Graham teacher, said, "Go to Cunningham." The company manager who was at Graham at the time, David Pini, told me to go Cunningham too. He used to be the company manager at Cunningham. This is just the way my life has been. Things just come up, and even if I don't really know if it's the right way to go, I just say, "Why not? I'll try."
You didn't have Cunningham technique at Purchase, right?
No, but I was in Septet . When I was a sophomore we did Septet , and I hated it. I absolutely hated it. I just wasn't ready. Carolyn Brown and Carol Teitelbaum came in. I love both of those women. I had the worst part. I think it was Paul Taylor's part. It was the one that did the least amount, and it was a horrible experience, but it was because of me, not because of anybody else.
It's weird that no one told you to go to Paul Taylor.
They did. I knew more about him than I knew about Merce. I took a few classes at Taylor, not really looking for a job or anything. It wasn't as organized as Cunningham. I felt like I wasn't fully cooked, so I wanted to go somewhere where they were going to continue shaping and sculpting me. And Taylor, it's great—you can go and take class, but it's always with a different teacher, and there's not a set canonized [series of exercises]. There's one exercise, which is really cool, but there's no clear way of method of growth. Which is interesting because I guess that's going to go away for Cunningham, too. I suppose. Having said what I said before about wanting structure and wanting to be whipped, you can see how Cunningham was...
Yeah. But I saw the RUGs [Repertory Understudy Group]—and Brandon [Collwes] and Emma [Desjardins]—do Summerspace, and I remember thinking, There is no way in hell I would ever want to do that, because it was so hard. I was just blown away. Brandon was at Purchase when I was there, just for a semester, and I remember saying to him in the elevator afterward, "I don't know how you just did that. It was incredible." But, I guess I lucked out, I never had to do it. [ Laughs ]
I understand the technical difficulty. Was it that or was it that fact that was so unadorned?
It's all of that. Well, it's just so naked and it's so technically difficult. And I think they had really a particularly good show. Brandon looked flawless to me. He's the one in the company who will go for the cleanest, most clear technical approach. And God bless him, he can do it.
Did you have a scholarship at the Cunningham school?
I missed the audition for the scholarship, so I worked behind the desk and cleaned the floor and the mirrors and stuff for a little while. And I did a workshop with Robert of the piece Eleven .
I've never seen that.
I think there's a reason. I asked him about it. Movement-wise, I thought it was pretty cool, but something maybe about the costumes and the music—it didn't go well together. After that he called Kazuko, who was at Purchase; mind you, Kazuko and Stephanie both knew Christine and Terese, and they knew I was going to the audition, and they didn't call them or anything. So at first I was like, Why not? But then I feel better that they didn't, because I did it myself. So Kazuko never called Robert, but Robert called Kazuko and said, "I have one of your boys," and she said, "Yeah, Daniel." And he said, "He's a nice boy," and she said, "Are you sure?" That was the end of the conversation.
What a crazy thing to say. How long were you studying before you became an understudy?
I was there in the summer when the company was off, and when the company came back, Daniel Roberts and Jeannie Steele both announced that they were leaving. I was like, I'd better keep showing up. Actually, I'd made a deal with Purchase. This is terrible. I signed up for Kevin Wynn's class, because you could take a specific class on Wednesday, and I said, "Kevin, I'm going to go to Cunningham because there's like a chance I could maybe get a job there," and he was like, "All right, just go."
Really? What a cool guy.
Very cool guy. I was doing that for a few weeks and they hired Brandon and Emma. This is another really funny thing: I was taking only the elementary and intermediate classes, and one day I had to go back to school, but I was watching the advanced class that had started. Robert was in the door, and he looked at me and he looked at the class and went, "You want to take class?" So that was my invitation into the company class. I just was standing in the doorway watching, and he was like, "Well, come on in."