Fri Dec 16 2011
What was Cunningham most interested in in terms of his process?
When Merce was in the room, he was glued to the dancers. It didn't matter who it was or what they were doing. He was glued. Yeah, he gave interviews about his process and everything, but I think he was more interested in the purity of watching the work. I don't think he necessarily wanted everyone to know all of his process.
He would really oversimplify it for one thing.
No, we don't know his process. That's the thing: How can we describe his process? It was very clear to me that he was not interested in sharing his thoughts. He was interested in you having your own thoughts: "Have your own damn thoughts while you're watching my dance—don't worry about mine." He didn't want to affect the dancers' thoughts either. He just wanted the dancers to take the purity of the movement and do it the way they do it, and then whatever came out, came out. But if they had some preconceived notion, it would affect it and tremendously limit the possibilities that could occur. So one time we were doing this double trio in eyeSpace , and the women are on stage right and the men come in on stage left, and we had figured out that Merce wanted that to happen. Someone started to tell the women that the men would be on stage left, and he yelled at them and said, "Stop! Don't tell them that. Why are you telling them that?" And I never understood why. I think my interpretation now is that he wasn't sure; he wanted to see if there was something more interesting that he hadn't thought of that would come about. And the other story is, in terms of getting dancers to do things full out every time so that he could really see it. We were running this trio, again, from eyeSpace , and it was for two women and one man, but there were two of us, so he wanted to run it twice. And I said to the women, "Just so you know, we're going to run it twice." And he said, "Don't tell them that! We're just going to run it once and then we're going to run it again." So there was a certain opaqueness to Merce that is still there. All I'm saying is that some of us think we know a little bit more than we actually do know about his process.
How did you get into the main company?
Well, when I was a RUG I wasn't sure for the longest time if Merce knew who I was. He had never spoken, but he was watching. There were two of us who were up for the job, and the other guy had been there for a long time, and I think he was getting a little restless. It just came to a boiling point, and I had been tipped off that Cdric was leaving, but none of the other RUGs knew. Also, I was told that probably I would be given the job. One day the other guy just didn't show up, Robert got really mad. He went to the back and was talking to Merce, and I could see that they were having a really heated discussion. Robert stormed out of the room, and as he's storming out, he goes, "Cdric's leaving the company, Daniel's replacing him!" and slammed the door. I think he was mad, but excited at the same time.
That's super dramatic.
Yeah, it was kind of funny. I'll never forget Andrea Weber's face.
Could you talk about making that transition from RUG to company member?
Cdric is beloved by everyone he's danced with. I was starting at a little bit of a disadvantage, you know? He taught me most of his parts. He was really honest; if there was something he wasn't sure about, he would say, "I think you should look at Glen [Rumsey]," who Cdric replaced. He was really great and very, very helpful. But it was funny, he was very dry. Even if I tried to make a joke, he would just look at me and keep teaching. I think he hated teaching the material because it's so complicated. But then getting into the company, there were times when I was a RUG when Merce—I think I had a pretty good grasp on the fact that Merce really loved the RUGs because they were there and because, basically, we were constantly auditioning. We very enthusiastic. We were not tired. We were very young. So we were always doing everything full out. We didn't complain. We didn't ask for breaks. He loved that about us. There was one day when we were teaching something and for some reason I was the only one there. He had me teaching these phrases and he said, "Do it like Daniel!" And I remember thinking, I'm not even doing exactly what you asked me to do. I knew that I wasn't quite accomplishing what he had asked, but he kept asking them to do it like me. I think it was just because he had seen me do it, and it goes to show that we continuously try to go back to his words. But things like that make you [realize] he enjoyed how people interpreted them.
But it was very uncomfortable as a RUG experiencing that. I knew that the company members knew, too. I had told them verbally what he said, then they saw what I was doing, and I think they knew that there was a discrepancy. I was trying my hardest. I mean, clearly nobody could do it.
Were the company members resentful of the RUGs because they spent so much time with Merce?
I can speak as a company member, too, because I had the same situation. I tried not to resent the actual people, but the situation did make me resentful. I had an understanding of what was really going on, so I didn't take it as me being any better than anybody else, and I tried to behave that way as a RUG. I knew all that, but it was tough to hear Merce say things to the RUGs like, "Oh, well, they can't do it, but you know, you guys can do it." I don't really know exactly where it was coming from; he spent a lot of time with them. He loved them like grandkids or something.
Would you talk about some roles that are meaningful to you?
Well, I don't know that I love to dance it—it scares the shit out of me—but I do love the role in Suite for Five . It's the hardest thing I've ever had to dance. It's the thing that keeps me going to class every single day, knowing that I have to keep dancing it. It's so hard.
What's so hard about it?
It's very naked. The music is very sparse; it's gorgeous, but it's very sparse. And it's just full of seemingly insurmountable roadblocks, things that you've just got to try to do, and you either do them or you don't. The thing is, if you don't do them, it's quite obvious. It's those sorts of things: Balances. You either balance or you don't. And there's even one section where you do this pivoting—you're on one leg and you're turning around and as you're pivoting, you're doing a promenade and your leg is to the front. By the time you reach the front of the house, your leg is to the back, and then you do a relev. And you go to the floor, you get up, and you do it again. And if you hit the first relev and you don't hit the second one, everyone knows! [ Laughs ] So it's just full of things like that. And you can't always do it. Part of the struggle is forgiving yourself onstage, because if you don't forgive yourself, then you're going to have trouble doing the next impossible thing.