Melissa Toogood

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What was the experience of the wake like for you? Was it good emotional or bad emotional?
It was good emotional to be with so many people that understood the situation in the same way, or in different ways, but had as much of an appreciation and connection to him. Everyone did the bounces at six o'clock class, which was an homage to him. The bounces are the very first exercises we do in every class. They're basically to start opening the spine, start warming up, centering yourself.

Let's talk about your dancing experience in the company. What has been meaningful for you to dance?
Everything really. Quartet was a piece I used to watch as a RUG. When I was bored or had nothing to do I'd watch that tape because I just loved it. Susan Emery was incredible. There was a minute when we had five RUGs and I was like, "Can we do it?" And Robert was like, "No. Merce doesn't want the piece done again. He's not going to let that happen." And then when it was coming back into the Legacy Tour, I was like, Oh my God. [Robert] gave me the part.

It is astonishing.
Yeah, it's an amazing piece. I feel very privileged to get to do that piece. RainForest and Crises I loved doing. I wish I could have done Crises more; I think there were only three performances of it, but it's one of those pieces that accesses a part of myself that I so want to go to but in my everyday life I just don't. I've never shied away from it—it's just crazy. You totally lose control, and I'm so not like that in general. I loved having the opportunity to do that. But then you get pieces like Split Sides. I have more to do in that piece now, but for a long time it was just...the piece is split into two groups, and even though there are two halves, there are also two groups basically, because we switch; there's an easier group and more challenging part, and I was in the group that everyone felt was the easier part. But I'm like, "It's actually really hard to do all that slow, basic stuff and not wobble. It was a really good learning experience for me to make myself make that stuff important. I have the easiest part in Sounddance. Everyone in that piece is like, "Oh my God, it's so hard. I'm gonna die!" It's really not that hard, but to be a part of that piece is really special.

Why?
It somehow creates this world. I think of Robert as the eye of the storm. Once you get catapulted out into the space, it's like you're a part of it. The piece takes you with it and then you get thrown out. There's also a real bonding that happens with everyone in that piece. Even though I don't feel like it's the piece that most physically or dramatically challenges me, it's still such a special thing to be a part of. And eyeSpace is special to me just because it's the first thing he made on me, even though the two parts that he didn't make on me are the two parts I dance as a company member. I don't think I'll ever forget that opening quartet, even though I've never performed it as a company member. I think it's forever in my body.

Were you nervous?
Yeah. I would get nervous coming to work. I still get nervous to come to work. But when you're in there and in the middle of doing it, you're so busy focusing on what it is you're trying to accomplish that the nerves slip away until the anticipation builds again when you're about to go back in there and do it again. But while I was in the middle of figuring out and working with him, I wasn't really nervous. It's more like I would go home and review it and make sure not to forget it. Because you would just move on and on and on and add more and more, so every night I'd either have to stay or go home and review and check—oh, I left out that little detail—and try and maintain it all. He would work so fast. The next day on the train I'd start to get nervous again. I got less nervous to be around him. Everyday, I was still excited and in awe, but I got less nervous. We became more comfortable.

Do you think that you're dancing differently now?
Yeah. I think partly because it broke me. I really was physically just pushing through so much that I couldn't handle.... Like I said earlier, I was no stranger to pain. I have a lot of...

Injuries?
Yeah, or just conditions. I have a lot of things wrong with my spine. I've just learned that I have a very sensitive system, both to treatment and to injury, so I can't walk sometimes. Then if I have one good PT session, it's like I've never been hurt. So I'm sensitive in both directions. I was just pushing through all of that, and I think got to the point where—especially after Nearly Ninety—I just really couldn't do. I was in a lot of pain all the time. I was crying onstage during the dress rehearsal at BAM.

Really?
At that point, I thought it was just because I so exhausted, but I was taking ice baths at night because that was less painful than not being in a bath of ice, and it just kind of went downhill from there. I realized I had to really change the way I was moving or how I was managing it. It got worse after he passed away, because we were doing Nearly 90 2 all the time, all the time, and after a year working on it and doing it over and over and over again, it just finally was too much. When we premiered Nearly 90 2, I didn't warm up at all before the show because I couldn't move. I was just sitting in a chair, crying. Yeah, I kind of blocked that out. That's what happened. But it is such a gift, that piece, because even though he's been gone two years, I've been learning from it so much, and it's changed the way I've danced.

Tell me about that.
I started taking Alexander [Technique]. I was in even more pain because it was breaking down so much of the stuff that I was using to hold myself together. So then I was like, I have nothing. [Laughs] I started going to a yoga back-care center, which was fantastic. It's on 28th Street. Yoga Union Center for Backcare & Scoliosis. I just started taking care of myself better and learning how to breathe. Also, partly because Merce wasn't there, I didn't push myself in the same way in class. I started to figure out how to use class as a warm-up and how to get myself set up better for the day. I can see it. I just saw the Ocean film, which we did right after I joined the company full time—my body looked so different. Watching that now I'm not embarrassed by it, but I'm like, Thank God I don't still look like that. It was just before it got really bad, and I can see it building.

Can you see tension?
Tension and muscles built up in the wrong places. I'm just holding on in so many different ways to keep myself together. I found more ease. I'm still as stressed out, but I feel less stressed in different ways.

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