Jennifer Goggans

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How do you do that?
[Sighs] I'm very stubborn. Some days it's not very easy, but I'm stubborn.

Do you take Cunningham class or do you take other classes?
I take Cunningham class, I take ballet classes occasionally too, for a little break. I used to go to Jocelyn [Lorenz's] class all the time at 890 Broadway, but she retired, so I've been a little lost without her, I have to say. [Laughs]

What is this time like? Knowing that something is about to be over but it's not finished yet? And you're also Robert Swinston's assistant.
Yes. It's relatively new.

When did that happen?
In the spring, I don't know exactly. It wasn't that long ago.

What are your duties?
I teach company class on the road—not solely. I alternate with him, especially if there's a program where he has some hefty dancing to do and maybe I don't have so much dancing. So I teach company class, I look over the schedule for tour and make sure everything looks okay. Little things that Robert might need me to do; if he has to go to a meeting, he might have me start rehearsal, or if he wants me to watch the understudies do a piece that I know really well, and coach them a little bit. I helped him when we reconstructed RainForest because I had done that piece when Merce was alive. We did it for a couple of years, but intense! We were doing it all the time, so it was a piece that I felt like I had very clear information about, and I remembered a lot of things very clearly that he had said. It was actually the first role that I had ever been given: We started reconstructing that piece the day I joined the company. It wasn't the first thing I learned, but it was the first piece that I had learned where I was given my own role. It wasn't something inherited. So I had very, very vivid memories of things that he said to the other dancers and coaching and timing.

What did he say?
Well, more specific, I even remember Merce getting out of his chair and crawling on the floor to show Robert and Ashley, who were dancing Merce's role, how they were supposed to crawl. And the whole room stopped because he wasn't so agile—he got out of his chair and was like, "No, No! It's like this!" And he's down on the floor. There's a lot of stillness in the piece, and after learning it and doing it for a while, I felt like I finally started to understand—I don't really know how to define it, but the sense of timing in a Cunningham work. Like that dramatic sense of timing? It taught me that. And so trying to share some of that with the other dancers: "No, you can just, wait, wait, wait. Don't move right away. Just stay there. Let it settle. And then go."

Without showing anything.
Yeah. It's okay to be quiet. The power of stillness in that piece is something that I felt like I was able to learn very early and hopefully was able to share a little bit with my colleagues.

And you're dancing that piece again, right?
Yeah, yeah.

One of my all-time favorite programs was BIPED and RainForest.
Yeah. So different. The one is so animalistic and has a kind of visceral feeling, and then BIPED is so austere and precise.

The way you're imitating his voice is interesting: I think about how frail he was at the end, but his voice was always so powerful.
Yeah. He could quiet a room if he wanted to. He didn't do it very often, but if he wanted to, he could. [Laughs]

How did Merce's death affect you? How prepared were you?
I had a feeling. You can say that. I've had a few relatives that I was very close to—my grandmother. Back when I was in college, watching her decline. I had a teacher at Purchase, Gayle Young. He'd been with American Ballet Theatre and done a lot of [Antony] Tudor pieces and he died, I think, of emphysema. There was just something I recognized in interacting with [Merce] where he was starting to pull away. He wasn't always there. And it's heart-wrenching, but he never let on about being in pain or his sufferings or anything. He just wanted to work. That's all he ever wanted to do.

Even then?
He wanted to come in, he wanted to work, he wanted to teach, he wanted to get some more steps out. Whoever wanted to learn 'em, as fast as possible, learned new steps. And so I was shocked, but I felt like I knew it wasn't going to be long. We had had a little time off and were coming back to work; we had a couple of members that had just joined the company, and we were working with them and sorting a few things out and I just knew. I remember telling [my fianc] Arthur one day, I think it's gonna happen soon. We did a performance at Wolf Trap, and we called him on Skype before the performance and he talked to us, but it was very ominous. It was as if he was advising us on how to continue and how to stay motivated, and it was almost as if he had really sat and thought about what he wanted to say because he didn't know if that might be it. He was talking about, "It's not just about doing one thing well, it's about trying to do everything as well as you can." And all of these sort of words of wisdom and, "You must find a way to keep going." I remember thinking, Do you mean, keep going without you? The phone call ended and everybody just was still. No one could really talk or even breathe. There was a lot of emotion and some tears. And so we knew something was up. Just before we went to Jacob's Pillow, we all went and kind of said goodbye to him, which was terrible. And there was something: We said goodbye and then we said goodbye again [in a second round], which was sort of even worse. [Laughs] You know? It's like, oh well, it didn't quite happen yet and this is awkward, but here we are again! So yeah. I heard on NPR. That's how I found out.

No.
Yeah. Because I hadn't...I didn't look at my e-mail. We were off. We had finished Jacob's Pillow. I didn't look at anything; I had on NPR. I had to have a little time to myself, needless to say.

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