Fri Dec 16 2011
You had not really been dancing for that long. Did you feel the competition?
By then I had been a dance major for two and a half years, and another two and a half of just classes every now and again. I always felt like I was behind, and I always felt I wasn't up to standards or up to par, but somehow I had people fooled. Or I was a guy so athletically I could just go through it and I suppose that's what I did: the monkey see, monkey do. I felt competition like I always had—it motivated me to work on myself, on my dancing. And there were a few other guys at the studio who were great—we were kind of friends, even though there was a little competition for parts in the workshops. But there wasn't an opening for a RUG for a year so I didn't feel like I needed to be competitive every day. I was just more focused on myself and doing the work.
How did you become a RUG?
There were some shifts in the company. Daniel Madoff and Joe Simeone were RUGs for the year when I was a student at the studio. And then the following summer, Joe was kind of in and out. He left for a bit to go do another project, but then it fell through or something so he came back. Then there was going to be an opening in the company. Cdric [Andrieux] was leaving, so Daniel—not Joe—was going to go in for Cdric, which made Joe leave and Dylan [Crossman] filled in for Joe. So it was Daniel and Dylan as RUGs for a bit in the summer. And then Daniel went in for Cdric, Jonah [Bokaer] also left and Silas [Riener] went in for Jonah, and I substituted for Daniel as a RUG. So there were a bunch of switcheroos and Dylan, Silas and I all moved into the organization—a couple of us as RUGs, one straight into the company, but there happened to be three openings all at once. And then after that point, there weren't openings for another couple years.
How long were you a RUG?
Two years. Two years and one month I think. [ Laughs ] And two days.
Well, I mean you start to wonder.
I think that's right. It was September 17 of 2007. I was a RUG and October 19, 2009, I started as a company member.
I love interviewing a math major.
[Sheepishly] I think other people remember that stuff, too. It's not strange.
What was your RUG experience like?
Merce made Nearly Ninety basically the whole time I was a RUG. I believe we started in November and he finished a year and a half later in April. Merce also watched us do the other RUG material. Robert [Swinston] would first work with us and then Merce would give comments. It was really the two of them that trained us. Robert mostly in more technical ways, like, "You get your leg up there to do this movement" and Merce saying some things like that, but it was more about the choreography—I feel like he continued to work on the choreography depending on who was doing it. If a new RUG came in, he might see something and have them do it slightly differently than the person before. I felt like he really did see who was in front of him and work with them. But yeah, what two great teachers to train you to dance. [ Laughs ] And Merce's last dance was really special to see—to be involved in his process, to be inside his process was amazing.
Tell me about that.
Well, what struck me about him was how patient he was and how patient he was with his own choreography—how he just did it every day and then the next day and the next day. He'd work on it and edit, throw this out and add this new thing. But there was never a sense of rush. He would give an instruction: "Step here, move your arm this way, move your torso this way," and then the next bit of choreography in a very sequential way like that. Or maybe start with the rhythm. "The rhythm is 1-and-2-and." and give you legs for that and arms and torsos. So in this whole process, it was a very patient but steady thing. Over time, it accumulated to a nearly 90-minute dance. And that was just cool to me—it was such a mature process of an artist to see a 90-year-old making a dance. Just that word patient strikes me. I feel like if I were to make a dance, I'd be like, I have to make something really great, all of a sudden, but he gave himself a year and a half to make a dance. He just kept plugging away.
How did you find teaching material to the company members?
It was a little nerve-racking and awkward. If I were in their shoes, I could understand how you wouldn't really like it so much. I didn't want to step on anyone's toes. And there were stories the other RUGs said about how the process was in the past, like working on XOVER or eyeSpace —that sometimes there were problems that came about. So that was in my head. If there was a disagreement among the RUGs about a step, that's problematic for the company. So I felt self-conscious; the company members were just fine. It was more in myself.
For Nearly Ninety, Cunningham was working with dancers, not with computers as far as you could tell, right?
I guess so. He always came in with ideas. I think Robert said he didn't use the computer. I'm not totally sure about that. But he always had ideas. I don't know if he used us as inspiration for the movement he came up with. I kind of doubt that. [ Laughs ]
Oh, I don't know. I didn't notice anything where it was like, "Oh that movement's so good for you, Melissa [Toogood], or for you, Dylan" or for me. I don't think that was his process, but in looking at what it was he created, maybe he did, to an extent, change it to make it work based on the people who were attempting to do it. And that strikes me as a limitation of that way of working. If you're making movement on the RUGs and not company members, they may not be quite as able to do some of the things you're asking for. But that was his situation and that's how he preferred to do it.