Emma Desjardins



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What was your relationship with Merce at the time?
We worked with him very closely as RUGs, but we were still such eager students that none of us would just sit and have a conversation with him outside of working on movement. Sometimes he would like to gather us around and have story time, which was always nice. But we were still in awe and really eager to just do anything he said. Once I got into the company we would travel, and he wouldn't come with us. Sometimes he would, but the times he wouldn't, we would spend significant time away from him and the studio and there was really something missing, so we'd all come back, and when we'd come to class, we'd sit down and talk to him afterward about whatever—the weather. Really small talk, but just to have a connection.

Did you tell him stories about the tour?
Sometimes. When I was a RUG, I remember him telling stories about Westbeth. He loved nature, so I think he loved the windows in that space, and sometimes he would tell us stories about how when he first moved into the studio, there were no birds and now—at that time—the birds had come back. He was really happy that the birds had come back. [ Laughs ] It was [about] the city and the pollution and all that, and he was happy at the progress.

He was so into birds.
Yeah, he was really into birds.

And Paul Taylor is really into insects. It's funny. Is it just some ruse they use when they don't want to talk about something else?
[ Laughs ] Maybe. I don't know. I think he was just really into observing anything move. And I'm just making this up, but being a dancer and a movement-maker on such a level that he was, I can imagine the intrigue of flying. I saw Liz Gerring's work recently, and there was one section where the women would run to the back and jump into the men's arms like they were going to fly away, but they would catch them. They just repeated this over and over. It was thrilling to watch, and I thought, Oh my God: One time, they're just gonna leap off and fly. I can just imagine his fantasy with birds—he was always looking to expand the possibilities of the body, and he had done as much as he could, but he couldn't fly. [ Laughs ] Sometimes he would tell us stories about tour. I remember if he wasn't coming, we would all gather around and say goodbye to him, and he'd say, "Oh, you're going to this theater. I remember when we were first there and Bob [Rauschenberg] brought this in from the street and we just used it." Little things like that.

If you could have been in the company at any other time, what era do you fantasize about and why?
[ Laughs ] I feel like, in terms of Merce, we actually got the best—in terms of interaction with him. I feel like he really mellowed out and became a grandfatherly figure. It was rough toward the end, because in his creations he really had to scale back. He could only handle so many people, but the time that I spent with him as a RUG and most of my time in the company, I felt like he was really more—and of course I didn't know him before, but from what I hear he was more open with us and more relaxed and grandfatherly. I feel like he might have been a little mean back in the day. [ Laughs ] Sorry.

No, it's true.
So I feel like we actually got a really nice time to be with him. But in terms of the new creations and the new work and the creative process, pretty much any other time...I actually really like the movement and work from the '90s. I think I would have enjoyed being involved in those creation processes. We got a really limited version of that, especially as he was working more and more with the RUGs. I got that experience when I was a RUG, and I feel like the way that he was using us and the kind of movement he was creating was really exciting. I feel a little bit unsatisfied sometimes with some of the reconstructions we're doing because they go back to all kinds of years, and I feel as though we're not entirely being used as a company for what we've been trained by Merce for, which is this newer movement that really started in the '90s and progressed from there. I really like those pieces from the '90s.

How would you characterize the movement from the '90s?
I don't know. The pieces that I've done are CRWDSPCR and BIPED and a little bit of Scenario .

I can't believe you're not doing Scenario.
I know. Right? But we've put together quite a good section for Events , so I've done a good chunk of it. Some people think of it as really segmented and kind of robotic, and it is complicated. It's not very physically intuitive. You don't learn these movements and think, Oh, yes, that's exactly what my body wants to do. It's a struggle to get the muscle memory to those awkward places that he's going for, but I feel like once you do, it actually begins to have its own fluidity. You find a way for it to work in your body, and that's what's kind of exciting to me. And that's how I felt about making Views with him, too. Especially in the process that he had to use, where he couldn't stand up and show you: It was really body part by body part, so it started out all segmented and awkward, and then you'd start to do it, and you'd repeat it and repeat it, and eventually it became a movement of something that had a little bit of a flow.

With that specific timing, because the timing really changed everything.
Yeah. And you know, actually I was thinking about that as we were doing Antic Meet . Because, well, Antic Meet —it's not my favorite to dance. I really had fun with it when we premiered it at the Joyce, because it went from the process of learning it in the studio and reconstructing it to doing it on the stage, and it really became our own. But it's just so different—it's so bare and so simple and it's just not really why I came to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. But we were performing it last time and I was realizing, watching some of the sections that I'm not in, that it's really about timing and that amazing ability that he has to take a movement and make it happen just at the right time in relation to other movements that one person is doing or something that other people are doing. And the use of stillness in the midst of all that. It's such a simple piece; I realized that that use of timing is really what makes it funny, and I actually see that in Nearly Ninety . It's the timing that is so brilliant. So I found a way to get into Antic Meet a little bit.

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