Emma Desjardins

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Did all RUGs take company class?
Yes. And at the time being invited to take company class was a big deal. Before Merce died, I felt like more and more people were being invited to take company class. So class was filling up a little. [ Laughs ]

That's a little annoying, right?
Yeah. I remember when I started taking company class, there were a very few of us who were not RUGs and not in the company. And as a RUG, you took company class every day. I mean you worked basically the same daily time frame as the company: class and rehearsal, and then we ended at the same time. We had our own things to do; we were mostly [in front of] a video, watching, trying to learn whatever we'd been assigned to work on.

What did you work on?
Well, when I was a RUG, we got to do some of Rune and Summerspace , which was really great. We also did Inlets 2 and a lot of other snippets, like what we have as Event material now. We did Cross Currents ; that was a big one. That's always in Events . We did a little bit of Landrover . Those were sort of the bigger things. Rune and Summerspace were really great to be able to do, and we got to perform them at the faculty concert By doing the work and by being challenged, you have no choice but to change and improve. Those two pieces really did that. The way that we worked was really rigorous; they were the first full-length pieces of Merce's that I learned. Of course, the first thing that everybody learns when they're a RUG is the "fast dance," which is just a little snippet that is often in Event material that the company does. It's from Scramble . The first thing that everybody learns is that, and once you get fit into the group of five or six RUGs, you do it for Merce, and he beats out the rhythms faster and faster and faster each time on his table. [ Laughs ] The other thing I did when I was a RUG is that Merce was making Views for Camera and Views on Stage , so we worked with him on that material. That's always the most exciting part. New material.

How would he start that kind of session?
For Views , I think he really had notes. For some of the later pieces—like when I was in the company doing eyeSpace and Nearly Ninety —I feel like he was no longer working with notes. It was just sort of more on the spot, but for Views he really had notes. And I mean, he would just start with, "Okay, stand in parallel or in second and bend your left knee, and now take your right leg off to the side, and now turn your head to the left, and now lean on your partner standing there." Or whatever. Step by step, one body part at a time. And then you would slowly piece something together and get the next bit. It was a slow process—it sort of changed as time went on. When I was a RUG, it was the beginning of his transition to using the RUGs more and more. After Views he started making complete sections with the RUGs, whereas with Views , he was still making phrases that we would transfer, and then he would work with the company and turn it into a section. As time went on, I don't know if he was just more interested in smaller groups or less able to manage larger groups, but after I got in the company, when he was doing eyeSpace and Nearly Ninety , he started making more complete sections on the RUGs and really choreographed in space, not just phrases. So it was actually kind of interesting learning these phrases for Views and not knowing what they would be or what it would turn into. Then you'd get into the room and the whole company's there and he's like, "Okay you teach Jonah." [ Laughs ] Okay. But the one section that he did with us was the quartet from ViewsViews was commissioned for camera and for stage, and so the quartet he had us doing was in a very narrow space on the side of the studio. He would sit in his chair and watch us like this [ She frames her eyes with her hands ] to get a camera-like perspective, which I thought was fascinating. For the stage, it got all spread out: It ended up being the same material, but very different.

How long were you a RUG?
Two years.

Did it feel like a long time?
The second year, yes, it felt like a long time. [ Laughs ] In retrospect, it really wasn't, but by the time that you get into the second year, it's just sort of like, Okay I'm ready to move forward. I'm ready to have new challenges—maybe it's here, maybe it's somewhere else. But you start to feel a little bit like you need to move forward.

You want to be on stage.
Exactly. You want to perform. You spend all that time in the studio and get very few performing opportunities. But it wasn't too long; I wasn't really ready to move on when it happened, and it was sort of the right timing.

How did you find out?
Jeannie [Steele] brought me to Merce, and they told me together. Jeannie's the one I replaced. I was surprised, but I had been hearing rumors for a long time prior, and I was trying to not pay any attention because I didn't want to be anxious or worried or think anything could happen that wasn't going to happen. But it was very funny, because I was getting rumors from all kinds of circles: People who weren't even in the dance world who had friends who knew Jeannie—

Jesus Christ!
[ Laughs ] They were just coming from everywhere, but I didn't really know what was happening and what she was going to end up doing, so it was a surprise.

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