Jamie Scott

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How did you become an understudy?
I still remember the day that it happened. We were working on Duets . The duet that I performed with Daniel, we're still doing. We had run it, and Merce was there, and Robert was there, and they were trying to hire another woman; they were deciding between me and this other girl. I could just tell. And I could tell that Merce wanted her and Robert wanted me, and they decided to hire both of us, so it worked out really well. We were with Daniel and Joe [Simeone]. Melissa was touring with the company a little bit, filling in for Julie Cunningham. I remember going in feeling like, Oh, Merce doesn't really want me, I can kind of sense that. But then something changed. Not too long into it we were working on a Changing Steps duet. I think he saw that I was fast and that I could pick things up quickly, especially when we were making work. I could see him start to encourage and notice me more. It took me a long time to really feel comfortable enough to dance fully. I was very shy and insecure for a lot of that time.

How did you get over it?

You know, I feel like I am still getting over it. [ Laughs ] I don't know. When we were working so much with him, it was easy to just let it go because we were so busy and making so many things, and it was so much fun to just let go of it. And I think he really loved working with us because of that—because there were four of us. And Melissa and Dylan and John and I had such a strong connection and really liked working hard with Merce. I think I was able to let go of a lot of my inhibitions.

I imagine it's so technically challenging that you can let the insecurities fade away.
Yeah. And it was easier when we were making work than when we were doing older dances. When you're making work, you are the model. What you do, until he says no or corrects you, is yes. So you're always affirmed. When you're doing older stuff, you have videos and you watch dancers who were so amazing, and you just feel like you'll never live up to it. Your body's different. The way you move is different. You're trying to fit into their image, and you can't do that. It takes a long time to learn how to do the work as yourself.

What older pieces were you learning?

As understudies, we kind of ended up giving ourselves free rein. Robert was away so much; we would e-mail him and say, "Can we do this? Can we learn that?" I think it was a little bit problematic, but it was really great for us at the time. So we were working on Trails —a lot of duets and trios and quartets from Trails . And Fluid Canvas , and we ended up working on Square Game .

So you would mainly look at videos?
Yeah. There were notes for some things, and Robert would tell us which notes to look at. When we found ourselves bored. It gave us something to do, and we knew that Merce liked seeing something new. We would start our days running what we had done; the second half was for making new work. So we always had to run something first. And he was tired of running the same things we'd been running every day for a year, so we started looking for other things. "There's this trio, can we learn that?" We just wanted to stay busy and keep Merce excited, too. And it worked. He put a lot of that stuff in Events .

Did he care about reviving stuff?
I think he was bored by the process, but once a revival was complete and he could play with it, it was great. He didn't like watching people learn. He didn't like waiting for people to learn.

So were you learning off to the side?
Yeah. Or he would have his time to himself a little bit and we would learn things then. I mean, sometimes he would watch us learn. But it was not his favorite thing. He was always moving forward.

In terms of spending time with Cunningham, there was a real difference between the RUGs and the company members. How did you deal with that when you were a RUG?
I felt pretty aware of it because when we were here rehearsing, it used to be that they'd go on a five-minute break and the understudies would come in and run something for five minutes and then leave. But it started taking longer and longer, and I would kind of, in the middle of what we were doing, be like, Should we stop? They're coming back in. We're on their turf and they're not happy with us. I was definitely aware. And when we were teaching things to company members, they would ask us really specific questions in trying to figure out every step: "Don't you know exactly what this is?" Not necessarily being mean; it's just that it was frustrating to get the information secondhand from someone who was probably much less trained than you were and much less experienced. We wouldn't know what to say. "Well, this is how I was learning it," or "I think this is what Merce said." We learned how to really listen to Merce's words and remember them, so that you could say, "Well, he said this. It wasn't a specific step thing, but he did say, 'Do it like this.'" We were learning how to communicate.

I never thought about how that part must have been—not only learning material, but figuring out how to pass it on.
Yeah. Sometimes I wanted to say more and felt uncomfortable doing so. Two weeks later you might want to say, "He said this—so just keep that in mind." But I didn't want to overstep.

How did you get into the company?
Holley [Farmer], Daniel [Squire] and Koji [Mizuta] were fired and Dylan and I got hired.

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1 comments
Janet Soares
Janet Soares

Lovely, honest interview. I really enjoyed reading it!