Fri Dec 16 2011
As a RUG, what was your relationship like with him? Did you interact with him?
He liked to tell stories. Maybe once a week or so there would be a time when we'd take a break and come back in and ask him what he wanted to do and he would just start talking to us about something. We would just sit down. It was amazing.
Were they dance stories?
Mostly dance stories or if he'd gone on tour, he might say something that happened like, "I was having lunch at an outdoor caf and this bird came up from the bushes" and he would describe having been so taken by it. He seemed to have that kind of mind where details that most people would dismiss or overlook stuck out to him and he really was interested in that little thing—like how that bird hopped over to him. He gave his attention to that, it took his mind. Whereas most people, if they came back from a tour, wouldn't have said, "There was a bird at lunch..." It would have been, "There was a bird there—move bird, I have to eat." But Merce found it special and interesting. So he would tell us stories like that sometimes.
I know he loved old movies. Did you ever talk to him about stuff like that?
He did like them. I know he did. But I didn't personally get to talk to him about Fred Astaire. I should have done that. I don't know why it didn't occur to me. He probably would have loved it. I didn't always feel comfortable talking to him—just going up and having a conversation—which is really sad and unfortunate. That was, again, just my own mentality—thinking that somehow he wouldn't like it or I wouldn't know what to say and it'd be awkward. Or other people would not like it for some weird reason; they'd be jealous or competitive. So I didn't. I remember when Nancy Dalva was doing her Mondays with Merce interviews, she was thinking about material and she came into the small studio one day before class when everyone was warming up and she asked, "If you could ask Merce anything, what would it be?" A couple people had some answers, but generally, not many people had much and I thought, That's so weird. We have this legend, this genius Merce Cunningham, who's so important to all of us and if we had to ask him a question, it was somewhat difficult to think of something. I did think about it. Merce was just sitting there. Why didn't I walk up and ask him things? No one seemed to. Like every now and then someone would, but no one went up to Merce. He wasn't the most personable guy. If you started trying to get too close to him, he wouldn't like that. That might have its consequences. And maybe that was the reason he set that up, that protection about himself. That was the way he was.
What reconstructions were you a part of as a RUG?
There were a few. Right before I became a RUG, we did Second Hand and Beach Birds.
I wish you were doing Beach Birds again.
I know. I love it. Melissa and I are going to do the duet at the Armory.
Oh good. Did you choose that?
We both did. Banu reconstructed that right before I was a RUG. Sandra Neels did Second Hand . While I was a RUG, we did Tread , Rune . Square Game was kind of a workshop. And then I think more just Events as opposed to full pieces.
Were you concerned during that period of, Am I going to get into the company? What am I going to do if I don't?
Definitely. It was really tough for me actually. The financial crisis was happening and Merce's health was declining and three company members were let go [Holley Farmer, Daniel Squire and Koji Mizuta]. A period of time went by before they announced what they were going to do so we, as RUGs, were really nervous—speculating, planning, thinking. And then they announced that Dylan and Jamie [Scott] were going to replace company members and so that was really tough for me because another male company member had left, but they didn't replace him. It had been almost two years by then, and I felt like I could have gone into the company. I didn't feel like I was such a great dancer or something like, Oh I can't believe that they wouldn't have taken me, I'm so great.
But you felt ready.
And I certainly wanted to. There was a lot of back-and-forth information at the time about what was going to happen. So I didn't get into the company immediately and then Merce passed away. Another detail about that is that Julie [Cunningham] was injured at exactly the time when Dylan and Jamie got into the company, so Krista [Nelson], the other remaining RUG, substituted for Julie. For the next show of the company, all three of them performed with the company and I was the only RUG that did not.
So the three of them were in the company and two more RUGs were on their way in. Merce passed away and all of the people I worked with were in the company and I was the one left out. I felt pretty isolated; it was just very difficult. I wasn't in the Rockefeller Park show. I just felt this disconnect. And I started thinking, Is Cunningham going to happen? How long can I wait? If they're not going to replace the other guy that left, when will another guy leave? Eventually, in October, I got in.
Had you talked to Robert Swinston?
I did. He gave me the best information he could—but nothing was really decided. They were going to do reconstructions where they would need another guy. He basically said, "You're probably going to have a spot," which helped. But it was a hard road to get there. Especially with Merce's passing.