Krista Nelson

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But kids would come to the studio and watch demonstrations?
Yeah. And actually that was a really great performance experience because we would always have a talk back with the children after, and they were always so inspired and happy to have participated or watched. It was kind of a surprise to me when I joined the company and I literally never talked to audience members. Not never, but it was rare. So that was an interesting shift—from understudy to company member—because I loved being able to interact with the audience.

I think Cunningham work is the perfect thing to show kids too. Or Balanchine—the leotard ballets.
They're really into it. I really agree because you can tell they recognize this doesn't fit a lot of the rules, but they still like it.

And they see the humor in it too, right?

Yeah. It's difficult though, because when you're in a fancy theater and you paid $50 for your ticket, you don't want to be disrespectful and laugh at the wrong thing so I can understand. But you're right—it opens your mind up if you can see things younger. I really enjoyed doing that outreach a lot. I miss that connection—and teaching children dance.

Did you also teach?
We would go into the public schools and teach a very simplified version of Cunningham and then at the end we would have made a dance with the children using chance procedures. They would come to the studio and we would perform for them, and we would have a talk back and then they would perform their dance after they took a little warm-up class. It was a great program.

How long were you a RUG?
About a year and a half. Actually, I was an understudy with all of the people who are going to be performing tonight [for the final RUG performance at the Cunningham Studio]. It's hard for me.

You were the last person hired. Is that why it's difficult?

I really love them all and I think they should have had a chance. I see there's not time for a chance, but they're really great dancers and they work hard and today's their last day with Cunningham. At all. I feel pretty bad about it. I'm having an emotional day, period, but I feel terrible that they won't be able to be in the company. They have done such a good job in this difficult situation of working hard up until the last possible moment and having integrity. I know that it's been a struggle for them to deal with the emotions and it's disappointing, which makes it then even harder when they work so hard for nothing. They don't really get paid and they don't have anything to look forward to at this point necessarily. Hopefully something will change and that's not true, but at this point, it's not clear. So I feel pretty bad.

How did you get into the company?
This is funny. My first day, there was a secret meeting. I went into the secret meeting in the morning. And Trevor [Carlson] didn't even know who I was, but I was sitting there because Robert said I should go.

A secret meeting for the RUGs?
Everybody. It was staff and the understudies. I think the company might have known this already. It was an announcement of the Legacy Plan. And Merce was still making work; it wasn't something they were thinking of enacting at the moment. They were planning. And so they said, "Part of this Legacy Plan means that new understudies will be hired and we'll take you on tour with us as company [members], because we're going to need you to help with this massive amount of touring, to make sure people don't get injured or you can go in when people are injured." This kind of thing. So it was amazing because from the very first day I knew that unless I really blew it, I would probably get a job. And that was definitely not guaranteed as an understudy. Then when Merce died Jamie [Scott] and Dylan [Crossman] were hired—and then John [Hinrichs] was hired. So I was the only one left in our group who wasn't; the Legacy Tour was coming up and Robert said, "You're going to be hired, so make arrangements" because I was teaching and doing other things. But then it was not clear if I was going to be hired after I already quit my jobs. They said they were going to hire me as an understudy on tour, but I was like, "I can't pay my rent with the salary of an understudy and if I'm on tour I can't make other money so that doesn't work for me either." I think there was a discussion among the administration and Robert and the company. I didn't know what was going on in that time that they were telling me different things, but finally in the end they said, "We promised you. You're going to be hired in February." That was one month later than what they had told me originally, but, you know, I wasn't going to argue with that. And actually Julie came to me and told me that she wanted me to know that when Robert said, "I want to hire Krista because I promised her and she's the last person to work with Merce" that she and the company really felt that it wouldn't be fair for me to not join. Which really meant a lot. Julie was really always so kind. It was hard when she left because she was one of the people who was kind to me and stood by me from the beginning. She was gone. I was so sad. I was taking over parts, so it was much better for me dancingwise because I had parts in fewer than half the dances. I still don't have parts in a lot of the dances, but it's a lot better now. So it was this weird thing of I'm benefitting, but I feel really terrible. She was so inspiring to me. I always thought she was so beautiful and talented and also going into her roles was hard because I was thinking, I'll never do this like Julie. I'm sure that everyone has that problem. People get used to seeing certain dancers in the company and for anyone stepping in it's a challenge any dancer has face.

Do you keep in touch with Julie?
I do. She's going back to school, and I'm thinking of doing that so she's definitely helped me. There was a time when I was really not doing very well emotionally and she was there for me, even in the worst of possible situations: I was doing her part in the dance when she was injured and couldn't do it. I was so upset and she was there to listen to me and help me. She connected me with my therapist, which has helped me so much. I've been in therapy for about a year and a half now and it's been such a benefit to me. She gave me so many different things and it was weird. Just like tonight is weird to go and see my friends do their last dance.

Where was your first performance?

It was in Ohio at the Wexner Center. My family drove there, and I did Split Sides. I had actually done Split Sides as an understudy; I filled in for Julie the summer before, but I did a completely different part. At this point I've learned almost every section except for Silas's solo and the trio. [Laughs]

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