Mon Dec 19 2011
That's what you've been focusing on during this tour?
Yes. I've done that with Pam [Tanowitz] too. With other choreographers who have allowed me to be myself. So that kind of infused into the Cunningham work.
Did he say things like that often? Or was that the first time you heard it, not to show off?
That was the first time I heard it. We actually all were kind of worried that night because we thought he was saying goodbye to us. In talking to the whole company, he said, "I want you to know that I know this hasn't been an easy time and I'm really glad that you're all in my company and I'm glad that we got through this." It was so weird because for somebody who was so not talkative and not an emotional person, he acknowledged, all at once, the fact that letting go of those dancers had not been easy, but he was happy that we were all there. And then he gave us this piece of advice that was so inspirational. I remember being about to go onstage and being like, Merce might die tonight. He just kind of said goodbye to us. This is weird. We all felt that way. But it was also such a blessing to hear that before my first show. And how relevant it is, and how true it is and how almost like this is exactly what I've been trying to do all these years and you finally put it into words for me.
When was the last time you talked to him?
We went over to his house to say goodbye before we went to Jacob's Pillow, so that would have been around the 19th of July. We knew that he was not doing so well so we got a chance to go, four or five at a time, to spend 15 minutes with him; we went to say goodbye, blew him a kiss. It was such a blessing to be able to do that. When you have somebody you love and you lose them and you have said goodbye to them, it's just so great. And he laughed until the end. He was cracking jokes.
He was in his chair and I was right next to him and we were talking and laughing and I was leaning in and all of the sudden he was moving backwards—it was an automatic chair and we were like, "Oh my God, what's going on?" I was like, "Oh my God, Merce, it's my knee!" My knee was pressing on the button and he was just laughing so hard. I was like mortified and he was just laughing and laughing.
What is it like not having him there anymore?
That's maybe the hardest question. In the beginning, it seemed like he was still there. Even still now, but more so in the beginning, his presence was still there. His energy was with us because it was inside of all of us, because it was there and because at the end of his life he had been present but quiet. So for the first few months, it was almost like if we didn't look at his desk, we could pretend he was there. If he had been there, he might not have said anything anyway. He might have just been like there, present, watching. So that was a weird thing where you could almost forget. And also this was something I never experienced really, but people talked about: I saw that when you got in the company that Merce detached himself from you a little bit. I think it's a self-preservation thing; you're not going to be around as much—now that you're in my company. Now it's something else. The RUG thing is more close and grandfatherly; there's respect and expectation that changes the relationship. Though I never really experienced that myself, I was prepared for it. So on top of having all this stuff to deal with in my head—remembering the choreography, being in the company, figuring out all these dynamics within the company, being onstage, traveling...there was so much going on that in the beginning it was easy to forget that he wasn't there. But then it got more clear and hard during reconstructions.
When you reconstruct something, you always have as many takes on something as the number of dancers that were in it, which is the great thing about Merce's work. But, ultimately, when something like that would happen, it would be like, "Well, I remember this" or "I remember that" and then Merce would make the call: "Let's do this now." And that was the main difference that was difficult—working on things without him because how would you decide? Who would make the call? If Merce was still alive, he might have chosen C instead of A and B. He might have just made something up for you that suited you or changed something a little bit. And I think Robert is very aware of at the same time trying to lead us and help us figure things out, but he doesn't want to be Merce. And so there's sort of this thing where if we can figure it out otherwise, he doesn't want to make the call because he is not Merce. Sometimes it gets to the point where he just has to and he makes the call and that's fine, but so that's kind of the hardest thing is all the conversations and the negotiations and compromises. The discussion is because we care and we want to be as true to Merce's work as we can. But it can get a little tricky.
Yeah, there's the danger of killing it.
And I think that's what happens. And I think that's part of why Merce wanted the company to end because the work would become stale because he wasn't there to change his dances constantly, or it would become one person's take that was not his. I don't know how I feel about it. I think some of it is true. I think some of it is not. I think that's maybe what he was thinking. He didn't want to get stale. Didn't want us to be stuck in this museum of what his company once was.
Do you think it's the right decision to disband?
I don't know. And also because it's happening, I've just made peace with that. I mean, for us it's hard. Jamie, John, Krista and I just got in. We're just figuring out all this stuff and we're getting familiar with the pieces and then it's gonna end. And obviously we've learned so much; it's not like it's a loss. Everything that we've learned is just amazing, and we can just take it in our next steps, but it would have been nice to get a little more time. And if Merce made that call then I respect that. And I understand it. And maybe it's an artist's ego thing? I don't know. I just have to figure out what my take on it is. But to speculate on what could have happened, I try not to do that.
Do you detach yourself?
Yeah. I'm not thinking about the future because I really want to experience this 100 percent, because this is one of the major professional experiences of my life, and it's a very important step historically for dance. If I want to get a job, I'll get a job. I don't want 10 years down the line to be thinking, I wish I had enjoyed this time instead of being stressed out about the next step. Merce provided us with a severance package, which makes us financially a little freer to not worry about it now. I think that's why he did it. And I think it wouldn't necessarily be fair when he provided me with this cushion, financially, to not be here 100 percent. But it's hard. I made the decision a long time ago to not be stressed out about it, but these days it's a challenge. It's getting harder and harder to not have a plan. But at the same time, I want to be here. Completely. And then we'll see. And I don't know. I'm not sure what I want to do. But I want to keep dancing for sure. I'd like to try and stay in New York.
Who do you dance for now that Cunningham isn't around?
I still dance for him actually and I dance for the group that we are. After Merce passed, the group became a lot more selfless and it was just this thing where we came together and it was our mission to show the world Merce's work. It was about us doing this for Merce. We'd all been chosen by Merce, and it was this honor, so there's no time for egos. Now it's about Merce. We're doing this for Merce. It's about us showing the world how amazing he was. I owe it to Merce, and I owe it to every single person dancing with me to be the best I can be.