Dylan Crossman

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Did he ever give you something so crazy that you all just started laughing?
Yeah. One day, we were making a Nearly Ninety duet, the one with Rashaun and Andrea [Weber] where they're constantly pulling away from each other. Jamie and I were together and Melissa and John were together. It was made as a double duet. He said, "Well, I don't know if this is possible, but let's try anyway." And then he told us, and we all started laughing. The boy and the girl face each other. She is pulling away, she's off her leg, falling. The man is on one leg, also falling, but holding her up. So we were like, "Wait, so we're both falling over in the same direction, but I'm holding her up?" We all laughed. And he said, "I just want to see if it's possible to find a way to make it possible," and it turned out that it was possible for a second. But, yeah, we got comfortable enough where he would say things and we would just laugh. And then in terms of partnering we also got comfortable enough to say, "Do you mind if I hold her arm instead of her hand?" And he would be like, "Do what you have to do." But there were times also when he made really complicated, challenging sections, brainwise, and it would just take us like three days to memorize everything.

And in a sequence he would tell you exactly what to do?
Sometimes it would be very exact: Let's start with the legs and then the arms and then the torso. Depending on how specific of an idea he had of a section, he might do a long phrase of just legs and then the following day add the arms and the torso. Or if it was more a work-in-progress and he wasn't really sure where he was going with it, every two or three movements he would go back and add the arms and the torsos.

He wasn't working on a computer program, was he?
We don't know because when he worked on the computer program, he never brought it in anyway. My understanding is that he would create a computer sequence at home, take notes from what he saw on the computer and then use his notes to create work on the dancers. So that the dancers were never able to see what was on the computer and therefore not influenced by what it should look like. So it's hard to tell, but I feel like in Nearly Ninety , he was working more on this idea of numbers and fitting in different numbers into a two. So it was all about counting the two. There are a bunch of sections in Nearly Ninety where it's like, Can you fit a three, a four, a five into a two? It's that sort of idea that all the dancers have this beat that they stay on. They're all in the same time signature, but not all in the same rhythm. So even if you do a five, you should still start and end with the person doing the two because ideally you're all still on this beat. So that's the way he worked on a bunch of sections. Of course, he'd make it faster and faster until it was impossible. We would do it to the point where it was comfortable and doable and he'd be like, "Do it again, do it again." [ He beats rapidly on a table. ]. It was absolutely impossible to go that fast but we'd try.

Who in the company were you teaching your parts to?
I mostly taught my parts to Daniel Squire, Rashaun or Daniel Madoff. I have to say it wasn't that awkward. Partly because Jamie and Melissa had been there longer and so for the big group sections, if we all knew something, I would just let them take over. I didn't feel that pressure to teach a whole group section. And in terms of partnering, I was always very clear—because this was the way we worked with Merce—that it was my interpretation or my choice. There were times where I was like, "I hold her here, but John holds her there. And both are okay with Merce." Or I tried to remember what he had said. Like, "This is what I'm doing, but this is the instruction we got." And I was also teaching Daniel Squire a lot. He was so interested in detail and the science of the movement that he really appreciated all of that information, where other dancers might say, "Just show me what it is." But Squire would think about it and sometimes go with my choice and sometimes not. It was really interesting. What was awkward was how Merce loved the way that the understudies did it, because that's just what he had been watching for almost a year and a half. We would teach it to the company, they would do it and he would be like, "No, no, no, no, no. RUGs, show them." So we'd have to do it again and he'd be like, "Company, do it more like this."

That must have been strange.
The animosity was never toward us, even when there was tension. The people in the company made an effort to make that clear that the tension wasn't directed at us, but it was there and it was a tense situation. It never got nasty because most of the people in the company when I was an understudy, had been understudies. Even if it was difficult, they had been on the other side of it.

What was the experience like for you when the dancers [Holley Farmer, Koji Mizuta and Daniel Squire] were fired?

It was a shock. It was three of them at once and there had been talk from some of them that they would be leaving. Or that they weren't. And it was this sort of thing like, Are they gonna leave? Are they gonna not? Are we gonna get a job? Are we not? It was all tied together, but I never thought anybody would get let go and certainly not three people at a time. It was very unclear why it was happening; I didn't automatically think that any of us were going to get hired because they got let go. I was kind of like, Oh well, maybe they're just like downsizing. And maybe our chances of ever being in the company are going to be less now. I went to talk to every single one of them, and I thought they were all great dancers still. And maybe in Merce's eyes they might have had their flaws, but I guess it was kind of a reality check with who Merce also was, which was this artist who, in order for his art to stay relevant and for him to just keep moving forward all the time, he had to be...I can't think of the word. But he just had to make choices that were hard and not care about how people felt.

Ruthless .
Yeah. And part of me thinks that's why he still was who he was at 90 because he did make those decisions, but at the same time, on a human level, seeing that is hard. And it wouldn't be honest of me to say that when that happened that it didn't open this door for me to hope that I might get a job. I mean, that did happen too, but it was sort of this thing of like, I can't even think of it because I feel so bad for the dancers and also because I was an understudy when Silas [Riener] got hired into the company. I was like, I'm not even going to think about getting hired because I don't want to be disappointed if I'm not. I have to just keep working. So in that sense, I didn't let myself go there. It didn't mean anything.

And then you were offered a job?
Yeah. While the company was on tour, we were told that they might replace certain dancers, but they were not sure how many and they were not sure who. So we kind of got a heads-up that there would be job offers coming up, but we didn't know if it would be like one girl, one guy, a guy and a girl, two guys. We had no idea. They came back and we heard, I think for the opening of Nearly Ninety at BAM, Jamie and I knew we were getting hired. So that was kind of interesting to see the opening of this piece that was made on us that we had transferred knowing that we were going to replace the people that were in it. That was kind of weird.

You were in the audience?
Yes. I wasn't bitter about not being in the premiere. I was just so glad that I was going to be in the company. And also—especially replacing Squire—I think that he's a wonderful dancer and it was kind of like, this is my last chance to really see him perform. And also even though a lot of the parts he did were made on me, it's like this chance to see another interpretation of it before I take it over.

Now how much time did you have with Merce as a company member?
Not much. We got hired at the end of June. My first day in the company was on my 25th birthday on June 30th. And he died July 26. Only a month. The pieces that I rehearsed the most while he was alive were CRWDSPCR , eyeSpace 20 and Split Sides . And the one thing that I really remembered was before my first show at Wolf Trap. We Skyped with Merce and the one thing he told us was, "Do not show off. Don't try to be anything, just be yourself in the movements." That really struck me and stayed with me. There's a physicality that's very interesting, but if you comment on it, it might become cheesy or it might look like you're showing off, so to really be myself in the movement is something I've tried to do. To just be me onstage. And for whatever it's worth, however I feel that day, yeah, to just be honest.

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