Julie Cunningham

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Can we back up a little bit? When you were in London at 16, did you live in dorms or what?
I lived in a hostel. A YWCA. There were other girls from the school who lived there, but it was pretty depressing.

And then when you went to Rambert was it a similar situation? What was life there like for you?
Well, Rambert was part of a university, so the first year, I lived in dorms on the campus. It was just a different environment. School was, like, ten steps away. It just felt more integrated.

When did you know you wanted to dance professionally?
I think I was probably 12 or 13. I just really liked it, and there was a lot of horrible stuff going on in my family life and I just felt dance was the thing that I really connected to—and, you know, it was my thing. So I was taken by that and, This is what I'm gonna do! This is me.

Were you parents supportive?
Not really. My dad wasn't really around much and my mom—I think she liked the idea that I was dancing, but she would tell me to get a real job. That kind of thing. She wasn't too enthused because she was like, "How are you going to be a dancer?" So it was all me, and that just made me even more determined.

What did you study at Ailey? What did Denise Jefferson teach?
She was teaching Graham. We did a little Graham at Rambert. I don't really like the Graham technique for myself. It's very strong and muscular; it's just the whole angsty thing—it didn't feel genuine when I did it. Or I never reached that point that it came from within me. It was just always like, Now I have to look up to the sky. But I spent the whole summer here after I graduated from Rambert, and I was taking classes at Ailey in the day and then Cunningham. That's when I first went to the studio. It was great; I was really excited. And then I took a workshop with Trish Lent and she taught Fabrications , so that was my first experience with the rep. And at the end of the week, Robert came up to me after and said, "You look really good in this work" and "Keep in touch with us." It was really cool.

That must have been such a different vibe than at Ailey.
Yeah. I started full force at Ailey and then started to drift off. I was like, I'm not really fitting in here. And I really hated Horton—my body just doesn't do those things. You had to be really muscley and strong to do it. And a lot of parallel—not that Merce doesn't have parallel stuff, but it's just different somehow. I wasn't really into it.

And there weren't a lot of choices about what else to take?
No. It was Horton, Graham, ballet. And the Graham—the teacher was Peter London. He's such an asshole. It was not very fun. I didn't really get into that. So I just started to slack off at Ailey. After that, I went back to England. So I was like, Okay, I guess I'd better audition for everything. Always with the Cunningham thing in the corner of my mind. So I did a ton of auditions in Europe. It was awful. I think auditions are just so demoralizing. It's just an awful experience, like a cattle market kind of thing. I just wasn't really in it. There was no company that I really wanted except for the Merce voice in my head. So I kept going to all these auditions and being like, I'm not really into it; this person's work isn't exciting to me. I'm not really interested, but I need a job. I was auditioning for ballet companies and really independent contemporary-contemporary projects. So a whole range of stuff, but I didn't really feel like I fit in anywhere. So it was a pretty dismal year. The Cunningham company—because they tour a lot in Europe—I just wrote to Robert and was like, "Can I come and take class with you guys in Paris?" And he was like, "Yeah." So I went and took Merce's class and it was really cool. I did it again in Dublin. By that time, they were like, "Oh, you're that girl who turns up everywhere." So that was pretty much a year. And then I came to New York again the next summer and took classes. Actually just before I came to New York that summer, the new artistic director of Rambert offered me a job. Mark Baldwin. He called me and was like, "I really want you to work with me. I'm taking over Rambert." So I was pretty excited about that. And then he took over, realized that he couldn't make those kind of decisions and then was like, "Actually I can't really..."

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Robben "Gwynn" Wainer
Robben "Gwynn" Wainer

I remember watching the hard bodies back in the days of performance, and how Van Damme made his way through kick boxing. There were less attraction to acrobats who danced as a livelihood, since we were still thought of as circus acts. I think to be breathe taking you must provide the stamina. Julie Cunningham has always proven she goes the distance on evenings of opening nights , to close with a finale that is inspired by her debuts.