Melissa Toogood

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What do you think had changed or what do you think he saw in you?
I don't know if it was that he had spent time with the other RUGs at that point and that didn't work out, or I wasn't as stressed out about trying to get a job then. I was just enjoying dancing; I was just falling over all the time and I was loving it. Both those things might have affected it. So then I became a RUG, and I was a RUG for a long time.

I know. I couldn't believe it.
It's circumstance. No one left for a long time after that.

Was any part of you grateful to be in that situation for so long?
Yeah. I became very close with Merce, and we got to the point where we could work very quickly—that happens when you work with a choreographer for a long time. You start to read their mind a little bit, and I felt like we got to that point. I joined the company for a few months when one dancer was out for a while, and I came back and he started making stuff for me again. It took me a second to start being able to pick things up again. Because when I was in the company, I was a little bit separated from him actually.

That's what they say.
Yeah. Just from making new work.

But that's why you're there.
A big part of it.

How were you close with Merce?
Mainly through dance and work, but I definitely noticed my last six months to a year as a RUG, he really—I don't know if it's that he was working us so hard. When he would do that, he didn't necessarily like to give us breaks, but he would give us breaks without kind of saying "take a break" by having story time. So he would just start telling us a story, and we would sit down and listen for a while. Then he's like, "Okay, let's do this now." So we didn't really take a break, but we did; our break was talking with him, which was really wonderful. He's a good storyteller. Very detailed and funny.

Can you remember a story he told or a particular kind of story?
I don't remember the details as well as he does, but there was one time that he was telling us about Gypsy Rose Lee. He was at somebody's house and she was there, and he was spying on her. It makes sense that he would be that mischievous. This one was really awesome: He was at Paul Newman's house and he told us about this letter that he had framed in his bathroom. Someone had written him saying, "I really enjoy your tomato sauce and I heard you also make movies. Could you send me a few titles so I might pick one up at the drugstore?" He had that framed in his bathroom, and I think that really spoke to Merce. And tickled him. Have you heard of "Peg Leg" Bates? Merce was telling us about all these things he could do and we're like, Yeah, right. There's no way that it's physically possible that he's doing fouetts on a peg leg. So we were on a break watching YouTube videos and said, "Oh my God! He wasn't lying. Merce told us the truth!" Another time Beyonc was supposed to film something at the studio, but apparently it didn't happen because we didn't have air-conditioning. Of course. We were telling Merce, and he didn't know who she was, so we printed a picture out for him and then later that day we were talking about something and he said, "Oh, you could just tell them Bianca was here," and we were like, "Umm, it's Beyonc." It was funny. We did an event at the public library when I was a RUG. We were on our way up there—Merce wasn't coming—but he wished us luck and he was like: "Performing in the library is such a novel-ty." And we were like, Oh, my God, how long have you been thinking about that joke and wanting to share it with us? [Laughs] He was funny.

I love how everyone imitates his voice, too. It was so deep.
Daniel Madoff and I were RUGs together for a long time. We started the same day actually. For a long time he would imitate Merce, but I hadn't really gotten to know Merce yet, so when Merce would start talking, the other RUG at the time and me would start laughing. It was almost that he was the one imitating Daniel. We knew Daniel speaking like Merce better than Merce. It was almost like, Merce, you're not doing it right. You know? [Laughs]

As he got frail, the voice and the mind were still so there.
When he wanted to command the room like that, he would just go, "Whoaaaa" in this bellowing voice or bang on the desk. We were like, Okay!

Did he lose his temper very often?
Not when I was there. He definitely mellowed. I saw him once. I was in one of the studios; I was just a student stretching after class. He was frustrated because of the wheelchair, and he dropped his cane and he dropped the f-word. He didn't really like to have to ask for help, and he asked me to help him with something, but I just did as little as was needed. So that's the only time I saw him really get frustrated. I didn't see him lose his temper very often. He didn't like it when we talked a lot [in the studio]. There were so many people and voices—in trying to solve a problem, he would always prefer us to just do it again rather than talk about it. If the chatter got out of control, he would get a little frustrated. He was always about doing.

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