Krista Nelson

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I'd like a sense of what it was like for you stepping into the company and suddenly being on this Legacy Tour.
My experience was very different, having done those performances as an understudy. I did Split Sides and I did CRWDSPCR at Jacob's Pillow. Going back to being an understudy after that was extremely difficult, and I had no idea what I was missing. Others might have had a better idea of what it was like and how exciting it might be, but I didn't realize. That experience was so fantastic that going back to being an understudy was just difficult and then I think I was really stressed from the back and forth of thinking I was going to be hired then I wasn't. By the time they said I was going to be hired, I was like, "I don't believe you." [Laughs] But then it was exciting to go to Ohio and the next tour was Rome. It was my birthday. I was really scared to perform. I have so much anxiety, but that happens to everyone and I think my therapist has really helped me to deal with anxiety. It's a lot of people looking at you in a unitard. And the pressure of being in the Cunningham company and wanting to do what Merce designed or what he was looking for is a lot of self-pressure.

You're the last person to work with him and all of that.

You know I didn't even add that, but there you go! [Laughs]

Did you have friends in the company? 
I felt close to the people I had worked with as understudies when I joined, but it is interesting because I found being in this company takes so much energy to make sure that you're healthy and you're eating the right things and you're doing what you need to do just to be ready for a show. There were a lot of friendships that had already been formed so I don't know. I didn't really make friends with everyone right away.

It's like walking into high school?
Probably. Yeah. Kind of. And I think I had such a weird experience of entry into the company that I probably wasn't as friendly or optimistic as I normally would be, and I think that's too bad. I wish I would have been just super sunshine, but I had so much going on and I didn't know how to deal with it. Going to therapy has really helped me see: Well I'm having these feeling and that's fine. Or I don't have to be overwhelmed by certain feelings. Also, just to put things in perspective because I'm very sensitive; everyone in this company is very sensitive and that's what makes you dynamic, also, and able to maybe pick up on things that maybe Merce was looking for and bring things to the work. I see that if I'm being oversensitive, it's not going to help me to break into the group in the best way.

Could you elaborate on that idea of sensitivity and the dancer?
We're constantly evaluating ourselves and looking at, Could I do that pli better? Or, Wow, my knee is really hurting, so what's happening? Maybe I should make my hair more interesting for the next show. That's a superficial thing, but it relates to personal dynamics—looking for what Merce wants. Is there a shadow going across his face? Because he didn't seem to like the way that person did the phrase, so maybe he meant something else. There's a lot going on all the time for each of us, and I see now it's very enveloping—all the things you need in order to give your best performance and to be constantly growing and gathering and learning. I just didn't realize the sensitivity and how much I could affect other people also at first.

How did you learn that? How did that become apparent?
Looking at how I was being affected by other people and then realizing, Well I'm not in a vacuum. I'm definitely contributing to this relationship. So what am I doing in it and how can I better facilitate a positive interactive? Or for everybody to be able to work to their best capability—because I really do feel in any situation, whether it's a big group or little group or two people, that everyone is contributing to whatever is happening. I didn't realize that I would have any impact on anyone. There's a lot of people in the company! You feel like no one's watching you and then you realize—everyone was watching me to see how I was going to fit in with them or how I was doing. I didn't get it right away.

Can you talk about any of the dances that you perform regularly or not that have meant something to you?
I love RainForest. It might be my favorite dance. I also love Roaratorio. I love how it's community onstage and it's not that we necessarily need to be doing this, but we smile at each other a lot more than we do and I just really love doing that. Dancing and connecting with people are the two things that I really like to do and if I can connect and dance at the same time, I just feel so happy. Also I get to dance a lot and I like that too. And I love Quartet because it's so different from all the other dances, and I feel like I really go into a different universe when I'm going onstage for that piece.

How so?
I feel slightly terrified and the music is like a fog, an aural fog, and I dance with Jennifer [Goggans] and we have to be together exactly almost the entire time and having the concentration—if either one of us does something slightly different, whether it's spacing or a step or timing, we have to match. I don't think I have that kind of role in any of the other dances where I'm a twin. There are so many aspects to our relationship and the one that we have with Melissa or Brandon [Collwes] or Robert and I really love that it's vague and that there are multiple ways to interpret these relationships. It's also so stark. It really does feel like a dark place and I like to go there in a dance.

Do you know what you're dancing for the Armory?
I chose Landrover. There's a solo and a duet I do with John Hindrichs. He's the best partner, and I just really love dancing with him. We went to school together at the University of Illinois, so we've known each other for a long time. Robert told me, "It makes sense that you would pick Landrover because you're perfectly suited for it." There's a lot of leg work, but also torsos...there's kind of a juxtaposition of quick, flicking leg and slow, melting torsos and I really like the contrast between things like that. The duet I do with John is so beautiful and performing it, I feel so beautiful. John and I have been dancing together for a long time and I feel like he can definitely sense what I need and that he really cares about both of us doing the work well. And that, in a partner, is fantastic. He's the person I dance with the most. I've partnered with some of the other men, not everyone. I danced once with Rashaun [Mitchell] when he did Daniel's [Madoff] part in RainForest when Daniel was injured. That's the only time I've ever touched Rashaun onstage. [Laughs]

How did you find out that Merce had died?

[Company manager] Geoffrey Finger called me.  I did Wolf Trap—I know I told Merce that I missed an entrance in my first show at Wolf Trap. There are four couples and they're doing this slow movement in Split Sides, and I just performed the duet with Daniel [Madoff] and it went really well and we were excited about it and we were talking and happy about how it went and then I freaked out, and I didn't know what was going on and everyone went on and I thought, I don't recognize this section. What am I supposed to be doing? Robert looked at me and he said, "What are you doing? Get out there!" I freaked out. Marcie [Munnerlyn] was like, "It's okay. Just walk out there real slow," and so I did and I worked my walk and I fit right in to the first part. I felt really bad about this and when we went to visit Merce at his apartment after this Wolf Trap show, I confessed. He was not going to be coming back to the studio and we knew this was probably the last time we would see him. I was like, "I missed my entrance, but then I went out and I walked really slow" and I reenacted it for him. And he was like, "Well, it was a memorable beginning," and so I felt like he forgave me. [Laughs] It just kind of came out. I thought it might make him laugh and he did laugh. But I got a call from Geoffrey Finger who said, "Krista, I'm so sorry to tell you this..." And I thought, Oh man! Did they lose my bag or something? He said, "Merce died," and I just did not believe him. Even though we were all prepared that Merce probably wouldn't be coming back to the studio or be living very much longer, I seriously did not believe him. And then I did.

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