When did you start dancing and why?
I started at the age on ten, and it was because my mother took classes with an Israeli folk-dance troupe and didn't have anywhere to put me.
Where were you?
Baltimore. One day, my mom brought me and said, "Why don't you come up and dance with us?" And I wasn't really aware that I was doing anything different from anybody else, but apparently I picked it up quickly, and she said, "Okay—this is what you're going to do." So she put me in this studio. I said I would take tap and jazz. That was it. I refused to take ballet. Why would I take ballet? What did that mean?
Why did you refuse?
I don't know. I had to warm up to it. I don't know if I'd ever seen any ballet up to that point. I grew up listening to musicals with my family, but never ballet.
You could relate to tap and jazz because of musicals?
Yeah. My teacher said, "You don't have to take any ballet if you don't want to, but it will help your jazz." [Laughs] So I agreed, but I said, "I'm never wearing tights, never," and then I wore tights. There's a reason! You need to see your legs. It was exciting. I think about it all the time because I've done a lot since, and I like to pick up new things. One of the blessings of being a young artist is having a limited scope of insight as to how good or bad you are because then you just keep working, and little by little you get better. And a year later, you're like, I was so bad last year. It just continues that way. Thank God we have no accurate insight as to what we really look or sound like.
When did you start ballet?
I was ten. It was pretty much right away. I mean, it wasn't Vaganova or anything. It was with this man, and he was very good. There were five of us, and we grew up dancing together. One is with Hubbard Street now, and one was with Miami City [Ballet] and he went to Trockadero. I was there until I went to high school. Then I auditioned for Baltimore School for the Arts. I didn't get in. Norma Pera, the big teacher there, just didn't think I was very good, so I went to Carver Center for Arts [and Technology].
Did you study academics there, too?
Yeah. I was the valedictorian actually. [Laughs] It was weird because there were some people who were much, much, much smarter than I was, but the way it worked there was that you had to be good in both your academics and the arts. I graduated and went to NYU for a semester, but I didn't like it very much.
Small studios, and I think that the training they have there...it's a great program for some people. I wanted something a little more old school. I wanted them to beat me up a little more than they were doing. I think it's for personalities in a way. Some of the most talented dancers I ever met I was in school with there. But I was looking for the rigor, the old-school technique. I met [former Cunningham company member] Gus Solomons [Jr.] there, and I hit it off with him really well. We're still friends, which is funny because at Purchase—this is going a little ahead—but for my senior project, when I was already an understudy at Cunningham, I chose Gus as my choreographer. He made this really difficult solo for me. I remember one of the teachers, Richard Cook, who has since passed away, said, "I have never seen fucking dancing like that in a senior project ever." It was so hard, but it was in line with what I was doing at work. And actually [Cunningham dancer] Silas Riener did the same solo; we both thought it was so hard, but I don't think we would think it was as hard now.
That's funny. So you ended up transferring from NYU to Purchase?
Yes. I'll never forget: Linda Tarnay asked me why I was transferring, and I said I thought the men's class could be a little more difficult. Bigger [studio] space. She asked me, so I answered, and she said, "Well, aren't you a little young to have so many preconceived notions about what a class should be like?" I said, "Thank you very much." And I left. I really wanted to go to Juilliard, and I auditioned and I got cut first. It was [under Benjamin] Harkarvy, and a lot of the people that I would end up working with and knowing very well were sitting in front of me. It was like the future of my life: Richard Cook, Kazuko [Hirabayashi], Stephen Pier. Christine Dakin was probably there, Terese Capucilli. It kept happening to me actually. Dance is a small world.
Was Juilliard a huge disappointment?
Oh my God, yeah. I was so upset, but my bank account is very happy. I don't know that it necessarily would have been a good place for me. I'm not a huge fan. They seem like very, very talented people all put together in one place. This is not across the board, but it seems there's a certain level of entitlement that comes with it, and it just drives me crazy. I'm glad that I don't have that.
What led you to Purchase?
I was really upset at NYU, and I actually went to talk to Ana Marie Forsythe and Denise Jefferson at Ailey, and they said that they would have actually let me go there, too. I re-auditioned at Purchase and they asked me quickly why I chose not to go to Purchase [originally], and I said I wanted to be in the city. So I'm walking out of the building and they call me and say, "Okay, you can sign up. Come and fill out all of the paperwork." That's basically why I went there, because I was like, Oh, okay. I could have just as easily gone to Ailey.
Maybe it's good you were out of the city, because you could immerse yourself.
Oh yeah. All you do is dance there. You just dance and you don't have any worries, and everyone you know is within walking distance. I came in [to New York City] a lot. At least when I was there, there were a lot of people still connected with New York who were bringing ideas that they'd seen here and using them in their choreography at Purchase.
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."
So you just dropped everything and went?
Yeah, whatever, screw it. I didn't even change my clothes. Just ran in. The day I realized that I thought maybe he was going to hire me as a RUG, he tapped my back—we were taking Merce's class. He brought me into the office and started looking at the calendar like he was trying to figure something out and he said, "Well, I need a RUG. "And I was like, Do you want me to find you one or do you want me to be one? Can you just say what you want? [ Laughs ] And he said, "Do you want to do it?" That was how I started.
How long were you a RUG?
From November of 2005 through, technically, August of 2007, but it was way before that that I started training because Cdric [Andrieux] announced that he was leaving earlier that year. I started working, just like everyone else, on roles.
How much contact did you have with Cunningham?
Melissa [Toogood] and I entered the RUGs at the same time. For a long time Merce, I guess, wasn't doing that well—because he was sleeping a lot...I don't really know. And then one day he just woke up and started choreographing. The whole time I was a RUG, he was choreographing on us. It seemed like he was watching and waiting for probably me to be ready for it. Because Melissa was ready right away. She knew what she was doing. She's amazing. I wasn't quite at that level yet. He started with the very beginning of eyeSpace . Cdric did all the parts that I originated with Merce, and I just slipped back into them when he left.
How impossible was it to go from Graham to Cunningham? What are the similarities?
Well, the torso is very similar. Merce broke it down more into smaller pieces. I still use the idea of the contraction, but he broke up the contraction. He thought of the back in different segments so I just had to reorganize the way I thought about it. Not even reorganize, I just had to add onto it because I suppose that's where he came from. And the whole time I knew him, he often spoke to me like a Graham dancer. He would say, "Contract, release." Sometimes he said to dancers in the company who didn't have Graham training something like, "Really straighten your back as you stand up," and to me he just said, "Release as you stand up." He knew I knew what it was.
What did he substitute for contract?
"Lower back curve" or "deepen your curve." Robert's the same way because Robert had a lot of Graham training, so you can tell if you look at us onstage. I never got rid of it. I like it. But my legs needed to catch up.
That's the difference.
Yeah. It's really the major difference, I think. I also got lucky because [executive director] Trevor [Carlson] needed someone to take Merce home for a few months, so I took him home. We had a car; I would do the lifting work with Merce and take him home, and every day he would say, "Do you want a glass of wine?" So I always had a glass of wine with Merce and fed his cat sometimes, or heated up his meal or whatever he needed.
What did you talk about?
Oh, the weather very often. He just asked me a lot of questions. I was shy. I didn't want to say the wrong thing.
What did he ask you about?
He would ask me about school. He said, "I hear you're finishing with your schoolwork. So what now?" And I said, "Well, maybe one day I'll go back to school." And he said, "What? I say once you leave school, you should never go back." I don't know if he was kidding or not. I like this one quote of John Cage which is, "As far as consistency of thought goes, I prefer inconsistency," and I said that to Merce, and he said, "Yeah. Well obviously, because otherwise you're on a one-way train." I hadn't even thought about it that way.
So you did that for a few months.
Yeah. Sometimes it was funny, because sometimes he wasn't in the best mood. One day I was taking him to an art opening. I think he was sitting with two of his closest friends, and they were chatting. Then other people came up and started bothering him, and he gave me the look. I took him outside and he seemed bothered. He used to say, "The weather, it's like spring," or, "It's like fall!" and I said, "Merce, it's so beautiful out here—it's so warm, it's like spring." And he said, "Not as warm as it was up there with all that hot air going on." He was so funny.
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.
I'm sure that happens constantly when you're performing.
Oh, constantly. Let's say at the very beginning of Nearly Ninety , if you fall out of something, you have a whole hour and a half to go. But it's all part of the process. In Suite for Five , I just do it; I just have to do it. The thing is, I've done it without making any overt fumbles, and to be honest, if I don't make it look hard then they don't think it's hard. They don't get how difficult it is. So there's something about that whole mentality that I think is really messed up, but it's hard to escape. Also in Suite , the duet is just so sensual. I love it so much. I did it originally with Holley [Farmer], and now I do it with Andrea. It's completely different, and both are wonderful partners. And you know, I'm replacing Cdric, so again it's like someone who Andrea loved and loves very much, but she and I have a really great rapport partnering. I really love dancing with her. I love Antic Meet of course.
You're so good in that.
It was a blast; I had so much fun. Fabrications was fun. I get to do Merce in that, too. I love XOVER . He made that duet—I was there through the whole process, but I thought it was made mainly on me and Jamie Scott. The way he sculpted was very interesting—I just had no idea what he was going to do next. I don't think he made it for me, but I think it was the first time that I realized that he was accentuating my isms, or my tendencies, maybe on purpose. I can't be sure. Or if he was allowing me to do that, perhaps? That was really nice. I felt very comfortable doing it. But that's another one that has two very distinct casts. And now Julie's [Cunningham] not around anymore, so I do it with Melissa. But it was very special dancing with Julie because she's one of my best friends. Maybe because of that duet, I don't know; it helped.
Would you talk about performing Merce's parts?
Before he died, there weren't so many. I can't say I'm taking liberties, but I'm just allowing things to happen more so now than I did when he was alive. Because I remember when he was alive, he was constantly changing the dances. Like he would outright change things. I've never outright changed a dance, but I do wonder if I would have had the confidence to let something in and to see if he would have liked it or not. When I was dancing Suite , we worked very closely on that for many hours, so I knew exactly what he was asking me for. It didn't necessarily feel like I had any ownership over that role; I felt completely safe in what I was doing because he told me everything he wanted me to do. And now when I dance his roles—and this may sound weird—but before RainForest or Antic Meet , I separate myself from the other dancers. Sometimes I try to have fun backstage before, so I can get over my nerves, but for those two dances I stay away and try to maybe inhabit that in the dance. Not that they'll necessarily respond to that, but I feel like if I seem like I have an ownership when I'm onstage, it might be more true to the original feeling of the piece. Because he is so separate.
Has anyone challenged you in terms of changing things?
No. There is one thing in Suite . Cdric had taught me one way because he was taught that way by Merce, and then Merce was looking at it—my arm was in second and my palm was out—and he said, "Flip your palm this way." I saw a video years later of him dancing it pretty much when he made it, and his palm was up. So in Suite I did take some ideas from that video because I saw that he was remembering. There was a famous picture of him on the floor in Suite , and I didn't know what it was from until I saw the video and where it fit into the piece. I think he remembered that he went to the floor, but maybe he didn't necessarily remember that shape that he made. I don't know if he cut it on purpose or...I tried adding it back in. That's kind of the most daring thing I did, and Robert gave me his blessing, so I went with it. But no one's ever directly challenged me.
Does Robert watch you in rehearsal, and do you watch each other?
Yes and yes. Especially since he's in some of the dances, we have to watch each other. I'm not very into giving much advice or any opinions, but I'll take them from people. It's weird—I don't want the dances to stop growing, but I don't want to change them.
It's August now. What is this experience like right now?
It's really hard. When the year first started, we still had a ton of pieces to bring back, and the memory of Merce and how he worked was more fresh in my mind. I still continue to work generally in the way that he demanded, but it's really hard when he's not sitting there. You just do it because he's there and he's watching. And you want him to like you and you want him to respect your work ethic. Because having gone home with him, he acknowledged when people weren't doing what he wanted. So maybe he didn't do it in front of you, but I know that he said things when he wasn't with you, so that might affect how he treated you in casting or how he treated you in rehearsals. So you just did exactly what he asked. One day he was talking, and nobody was listening. I was still a RUG, so the first thing I did when I finished running a piece was look at him, because he didn't always say anything. And everyone's talking—blah, blah, blah, blah. He kicked the chair, and I remember thinking like, God, are they crazy? But now I sort of understand why they didn't directly go to him, because he didn't always want to say something. The thing is that the work isn't getting any easier. If we take it easy on ourselves, it's just going to get harder. I've had three weeks off, and a day hasn't gone by when I haven't done at least class and swimming or class and working out and swimming and biking or something. Mainly because of Suite for Five and Sounddance .
So that's the physical side of it. What about the mental side of it?
Merce isn't as fresh in my mind, but I still say to myself, Oh, I don't know if I should do this or this, I'll just ask Merce when I see him. I still say that. The words have come out of my mouth. I've said to Robert before, "Why don't you just ask Merce?" He looks at me like, what ? I don't know what that's about, to be honest. It just didn't dawn on me before he died that the minute he died we'd have no more answers.
Even though, in the end, he wasn't around as much?
But the thing is he was. It was really like a matter of weeks, maybe two. The very last thing he did, he came in and he connected Nearly Ninety —the first section with the second section. He made a duet on Melissa and Brandon and on me and Marcie. Then he gave Marcie a pattern, and then he gave me a pattern, and he left, and that was it. That was the last we ever saw of him in the studio. It wasn't long after that that we left and he died. I don't really know if I can say why it's hard. There are some people in the company who were only RUGs, so they don't know what it feels like to be on the other side of Merce's thing where he's seemingly replacing you. And they also didn't work with Daniel [Squire] and Holley and Koji [Mizuta], which I think—for me, it felt like I had, not parents, but people to look up. First of all, Koji was full of so much information. I could always ask Koji.
Yes. He was supportive and he was very generous with information and time. He just knew everything. He knew every step. And Holley—I love her. Daniel took leadership seriously, and he was good at it, and it wasn't like I was scared of him, but I wanted to please him, and I wanted his help, and there was feeling of, these people have been here longer, and when they speak you listen. And it's great now; everyone's sort of equal in the group, but I kind of miss that—where if there's some kind of discrepancy, you just go with the people who've been there the longest. And we do have those authority figures, they just don't behave that way. Which is great and—
It's good and bad.
Yeah. I kind of wish they did. But it's more pleasant that they don't, you know?
Who's been there longer than you in the current group?
From me up, it's Brandon, Emma, Marcie, Andrea, Rashaun [Mitchell] and Jen [Goggans]. But [Jen] doesn't have any mean in her; sometimes I just wish she would be, like, a little mean, you know? Say it.
How is it hard mentally? Did you answer that?
It was hard when Merce was alive, too, because he demanded so much. I hate to admit it, but I'm very competitive, and I always want to do all the roles, and I want to dance a lot, so that was hard and very stressful. And it's hard now because he's not around. But there was a certain level of relief that I felt when he wasn't—this sounds terrible. But that competitive thing kind of went away. I believe in Merce obviously. And that's been part of my struggle—trying to find maybe a new company I want to go to, or who do I really believe in? And does it matter if I really believe in them? But now that Merce is dead, sometimes people do question the work, and sometimes people are mean about it, and it's harder for me to deal with that now that he's gone. I want to keep dancing. I do want to spend some time eventually in France. But the main thing I want to do is take a break. I want my mentality to return to normal human-being mentality; I grew up in this small world, and I haven't left it, and I think it will take some time to readjust. Back to normalcy. Reality.
You share certain roles with the critically acclaimed Rashaun Mitchell. How do you deal with that?
He's such a sweet human being. And he and I have sort of taken the same niche in Cunningham—we both fit the same roles—and he can't be more gracious. He's so generous with me, and he kind of cancels out my competitive edge. Can you imagine what I was thinking when I had to do fucking RainForest ? But it was really Antic Meet ; I was petrified.
Were you panicked?
I was panicked. Not sleeping. But I wasn't reviewed at all, which I was almost thankful about. But Rashaun has really been helpful. Like, I told Rashaun all that and he's like, "Daniel, just dance, you know?" And it's been a blast, and the more fun I have with it, the more fun the audience has, it seems.
What do you think of, I guess, the school and the company disappearing?
Oh my God, it's awful. The school, well—it sucks for New York, to be honest. The space alone is something that the dance world should be fighting for—I can't believe it's going to go away—but the technique? How many people trained there? A lot of people. What's a modern-dance class? What the hell does that mean? I used to take those, and I can't do it anymore. What are you teaching? I don't know. I take ballet a lot actually. I take with Christine Wright sometimes. I take Igal Perry and Zvi Gotheiner, even though everyone who takes his class is insane. It's huge. It's kind of hilarious. There's so many people, and they're insane. I don't actually like it there, to be honest. I love Kenny Larson. He's very hands off, which I just love. But that building is gone. It's my home, you know?
How do you regard Trevor Carlson?
He's tough. I like him as a human being. He very much in control of the company and of the legacy. He's a tough individual. Who has been a part of Merce's process? Trevor's seen the behind-the-scenes stuff. He was integral in all of the collaborations in the last years, for better or for worse. And then there's me—I'm just a lowly dancer who's actually been in the room when he was doing what he actually does, and I try not to put the value on either of our experiences, but I don't know if that goes both ways. I don't necessarily know. And like I say, I don't claim to know what Merce's process was, but I've been hearing a lot about people describing his process.
Talking to whom?
To panels, talking about the timing issue with the stopwatch, but never really explaining it. You know, I'm sick of hearing about how Merce made a piece and it was supposed to be this length, and if it was a second longer, he was upset, and if it was exact, he was very happy. I'm sick of hearing about that because no one explains why.
So if I'm making a piece and I ask you to walk all the way across the room, and I say to do it in 30 minutes, it's gonna look a lot different than if I say to do it in two seconds. That was more the issue. If you do a two-minute solo, and it's supposed to be two minutes, and you finish in two and a half minutes or even a one-minute solo and you finish in one and a half minutes, you've added a third of the time, so what did you slow down? Which movements did you do incorrectly?
That's what it's about. It's not about the arbitrary time thing. It's not matching up with the music or anything like that. I don't like to hear his ideas trivialized like that. And talking about the computer—like I read a quote once by Radiohead that was printed on the website, and I actually said, "You have to take that off the website." It said something like, "Merce showed us how his computer generated movement," or something like that. And that's just not the case. People say that he randomly generated movement from the computer, and they're all fascinated by the computer, but nobody knows why. I think the computer was like writing music with software. It seems that's more of what it was about. In the end, it's not really that interesting because we never saw the computer images. One time we did, because he was doing a lecture about it. It just seemed like such a farce to me. I can't really say for sure because, first of all, at that point I think he'd stopped using the computer. And second of all, it was just a means to an end, and if he could have had a dancer, I think he would have just had a dancer do it.
And that's why the RUGs became so important—the RUGs became his computer.
I think you're absolutely right. He would read a string of choreography by the end [to the RUGs] I don't know how he came up with the choreography, but we never saw any descriptions.
Do you remember how he would work with spacing?
There was one time when he had three people set up in different places doing this very slow, stagnant movement. He had people crossing through, and it wasn't working out. He just said, "You come in from here, you come in from here," and then you worked it, and it wasn't working out. This was his move. He went like this: Fingers fluttering by his temple. And he said, "Okay, I'll tell you when to go." He thought about it for a second. This person, "Go." "Go." "Go. And it worked out. I don't know how he did it. It was just like a moment of genius. He just knew when to start them. And the phrases were not continuous. He knew how to maneuver it. It was really impressive. I think also sometimes he'd just put you in the space to see what would happen. But also, there were times when I think he had it divided very specifically.
I just wish I knew what he was looking for, or when something worked, why did it work?
Maybe it was just something that excited him. The thing is, he was always looking. There were times when we were doing things on the side and they ended up kind of in the choreography, and you couldn't prove it one way or the other. There was one time I remember—and I'm pretty sure about this—when he was saying something to me, and I kept doing this, "uh-huh, uh-huh" and jerking my head up. I don't know why, I had like a tic or something. He started the movement and everything started like that.
Oh my God! Did that make it into a dance?
Yeah. It was eyeSpace40 . I have no way of proving that that was the case, but I think it was.
It's interesting to talk to dancers right now—smack in the middle of this weird experience.
It's funny though. I'm refusing to talk to you about right now. Have you noticed? My mind, when I try to think about it, pulls a blank. I'm really trying to figure out why that is. Sometimes I have a really tough time in rehearsals, and then we perform, and it just makes everything so much better.
So you feel free in performance?
I feel free and when my body is functioning the way I want it to; actually it's about my mind. Because sometimes I get onstage and my mind is fuzzy. Generally when I don't dance in the morning, everything is very, very fuzzy for me all day long. But if I can get onstage and my mind can be clear and I can just let go and enjoy the performance...
Are the performances feeling different?
I'm a lot freer in all things. I think it's good. I mean, I'm looking around me, too. Silas and I have very different styles of dancing, but there's something about the way he just attacks the shit out of things that I try to maybe incorporate sometimes. Not all the time. And then there's Rashaun's cool, even keel that I like, and Jamie just devours space. There's something about everybody. I try to jump like Dylan. The suppleness in John's upper back, Emma's serenity, Marcie's stability. Andrea's generosity of spirit. I'm with a good group of people. I have no idea what I'm talking about.
I think I do.
Okay. [ Laughs ] That's good.