Julie Cunningham

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What did you talk about?
We just talked about the dance mostly, because the first piece on the show was CRWDSPCR and it finished and I was like, "Oh, Merce, that's such a complicated piece." And he was just like, "Yeah, I know" and kind of laughed. Like, yeah, I made this really awful complicated piece for everyone to do. So we just talked about that and we had some ice cream, and it was really good. So it was sort of nothing heavy, just hanging out. And then at the end, I was about to leave and he was like, "I miss you up there. I want to see you back dancing."

What happened in terms of your injuries? When did you start back?

The first thing I did actually was the memorial and then I went on tour after that. Then I got injured again. It was Nearly Ninety again, and we were in Spain at the time and I just stepped on relev and my foot collapsed. I tore the ligaments in the middle of my foot. So I had to go to the ER in Spain and get an X-ray, and they gave me crutches and I was on crutches five more days. I couldn't do anything. We were in a hotel on the highway and it was sad. So then we came back and I had an MRI and it was a really horrible sprain. They said, "If you had torn one more ligament, we would be putting pins in you." But because that one ligament held it together, it was like, "We'll just leave it to heal," like to clump together. But then I had be in a boot and on crutches for six weeks; and in the boot for another couple of weeks. That was summer. I started to get back and then I got back to the company for Fall for Dance for XOVER . So I did that; I wasn't quite there yet, but I managed to do that, and then we went to London and we did Nearly Ninety .

The dreaded words. I'm so scared to hear what you're going to say next.
[ Laughs ] So we did Nearly Ninety and it was fine, whatever. And then we traveled to Paris; we did the dress rehearsal of Pond Way and my back just went into spasms. Couldn't move. I was just laying on my back for like a week, and they said, "Do you want to just go home, do PT and get better instead of being in somewhere in France and feeling terrible?" So I ended up just coming back to New York and doing PT. Trying to rehab. And I just felt it was taking me so long to get better and I was, I don't know if I can do this. Because I just felt I'm going get hurt again. I'm just gonna rehab, come back and get hurt. [Pauses] And so in the early spring, Robert and Trevor and I just met. They're like, "Well, we need you to be back by April so you need to be able to do full class" and at that point I couldn't because every time I would try, my back would go into spasms. So I was like, This is a sign that I just need to take as much time as I need. Because I always pushed myself to get back after each injury with maybe not enough time so I felt I really needed to give myself enough time to feel completely better, which, sadly, meant that I wouldn't do the rest of the tour.

Do you think that injuries are linked to emotions?

Oh yeah. Totally.

Was your body trying to tell you something the whole time?

Yeah. It was saying, "Stop." I felt that inside of me. It wasn't right.

Was it because he wasn't there?

Maybe it made me more aware of how I felt. I think if Merce had been there, I wouldn't have taken notice of how I felt. But because he wasn't there, I was able to listen to myself. I always enjoyed dancing; but there was so much anxiety in it because of injuries and not knowing if tomorrow I can do my job, am I going to be off dance? It's just such a bad feeling and then everything just becomes about that. So focused on what my body's able to do—and to be to the rest of the company like, "I don't know if I can do this today. Who's gonna do it?" Because then it puts a lot of stress on the rest of the company because they have to pick up the slack. So I think a lot of this talk about not feeling quite right was about not feeling on top of my body.

Are you dancing now?
I haven't danced at all since I stopped. In the last month, I've been working with Trish Lent because she's teaching Duets to ABT, so I just was like, "Do you want me to help you? Or do you want an assistant?" And she was like, "Okay, you can come by and we'll see how that goes." So I've been working with them and dancing around. It's really fun. I mean, I didn't think I could do anything at all. I was kind of afraid of moving around, but then I was like, Oh--everything just falls back into place. And without the tension you know? I feel I'm just flopping around and it's been really fun actually to work with them because they've been really open to take on something different. So it's been a really good experience. And then Trish was like, "Julie, you need to teach at the studio, you need to do that." So actually last night I taught for the first time.

How did it go?

It was really nice. And I had Duets in my head so I taught some phrases, and it was fun to see how modern dancers approach the movement and then to see how ballet dancers approach it.

Would it ever come up that you could stage something?

Maybe. I mean that's sort of why I wanted to help Trish because I wanted to learn about the process of staging a piece. I wanted to see how you go about that. We'll see.

But you're staying in New York.

Yeah. Well, I'm in school right now. I'm taking courses at CUNY, at Baruch College and at City College and I've been doing this undergrad program called LEAP that a lot of the dancers in New York are doing. So that's really helped me, I think, as well. Because I've been in LEAP for the last couple of years, so I've always been taking a class while I was performing and touring. I feel it's helped me to stay a little bit sane while I was away to have my textbook there. So now I'm just doing more. I'm full-time I guess.

What are you studying?

Well, it's a liberal-arts degree and at CUNY I'm taking science as well, so I'm doing premedical sciences. Maybe that's somewhere I might go. It's very different, but there are also a lot of similarities. In biology there are things that I'm learning about the body that are really interesting from what I've been through—like injuries and illness. It's just fun to learn what's really going on instead of the myth of what's going on. And then I took physics over the summer and it was just so cool—Merce has quoted a lot of the Einstein stuff and just the concepts that Merce used are so much more understandable to me. And then also knowing about movement helps me to visualize things in physics that are difficult to grasp. The whole time and space thing—I just got so excited in physics. Like time and space! I know that! I totally get that! That the dance exists in time and space and so does the music and that they happen at the same time. I really like learning. I love being in school because it feels like such a luxury to just be able to take in information. I'm so happy that program exists for, especially for the ballet dancers who definitely don't go to college at all. A number of the modern dancers have a BFA if they went to a conservatory or university program so I just think education is so great. Just to keep you aware of everything else that's going on in life because I feel like as a dancer you can become so insulated in your own little world, and to be able to connect with something bigger really helps you to be grounded. [ Laughs ] I'm all about education.

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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.