Julie Cunningham

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It's strange when you're with a group of people and you're working so closely and you're competing as well.
Yes, it was hard. And then I had to learn 11 or 12 dances in three weeks. I almost lost my mind. I cried a lot. It's a lot of pressure. And then so I learned some stuff with Jeannie Steele and then some stuff with Derry by myself in the studio and then the company would come in and they were like, "Okay, go in with the rest of the group and do it." And this was so terrifying. I had to dance with Cdric for a lot of stuff, and he was so scary to me.

Was he?
Yeah. I mean later I got to know him and he was a great guy, but I remember in the beginning he was not happy to have someone there instead of Derry.

He missed her.
Yeah, I think so. I think it was kind of a little transition moment. He was not very accepting. But I think Jennifer [Goggans] took him aside and was like, " Listen , you'd better be nice." [ Laughs ] She's pretty good at setting people straight. So then it got easier, but it was a scary experience coming in. I think for everyone it's pretty overwhelming.

Because you're learning the parts, but you're not in the middle of the dance.
Yeah. And then you can't mess up because you'll mess someone else up. And then everyone's giving you corrections—"You need to be here," and then someone else is like, "No, you need to be here." And it's like an inch. When you're the new person everything that goes wrong is your fault for a while. But I was so happy to be in the company.

Who was supportive of you within that group?

I think Jen was a good friend at the beginning. And then I got along well with Daniel Squire as well. I got to partner him for quite a while.

What dances were meaningful?
I think that BIPED was particularly meaningful because it was the first piece that I saw the actual Cunningham company do in London. I think it was in 1999 or 2000 at Barbican and I just so vividly remembered some of the movement from when I watched it, so that going into and being able to dance it with the company was very surreal. It was a meaningful thing for me to have gone from watching it as a student to actually being in the company. And it just feels so good to do. It's a challenge, but when you get through it, you feel like you achieved something. I got through something difficult. And that was probably my favorite piece. And then Split Sides is also great because I got to do it from the beginning. When I joined, we did Fabrications , and that was cool too because that was the workshop that I did initially with Trish, and I just really like the movement from that time period because it just feels so much freer. Then while I was in the company, I did a duet with Daniel Squire in eyeSpace . It was at the end of the dance. And we worked on that for a year with Merce, so at the end of the day, for the last half hour we'd just go in and work on him with it.

Tell me about that.

It took a really long time. So the whole thing was counted like one-and-two-and-three-and-one-and-two-and-three—the whole way through. And for every count and beat in between, there was something that was a movement, so usually we'd step on one and then "and-two-and-three-and" would be something else. So it was that the whole way through and it took a really long time to put together. Also Merce scrapped a bunch of it and started again. And part of it we started a third time, so he was working through a lot of stuff and layering it together and then to make it a duet where we actually danced with each other and around each other to make it fit together.... It was so intricate that you couldn't mess up one little "and" because you'd mess each other up. Or hit each other in the face as it happened at one performance.

Where?
[ Laughs ] We were in France. We'd just started the duet and there's one point where I bend forward and Daniel's over and he maybe was just one beat off and came off and hit me in the face—in the lip and my lip started bleeding. It was right in the beginning, and I was so mad. And Daniel was like, "Are you okay?" And I was like, "No!" I was so mad. And you know when someone hits you in the face and you get tears running down your face? I was like, Do I have blood running down my face now? I couldn't really tell so we just continued. And after he was like, "I'm so sorry!" I had ice on my lip all day. It shows how you just cannot be off even a little bit for that. I learned a lot. And XOVER was really cool too because I had a lot to do in it. There was this slow duet that I got to do with Daniel Madoff, and it's my favorite kind of movement to do—slow, continuous, to figure out how to get from one thing to the other and make it really smooth so there's no bumpy, jagged edges. I could do that forever. Just figure those things out. And then also it was at an interesting time personally in my life that I got to do that. It felt like it was something I connected to. Which I can go into or not.

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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.