Melissa Toogood



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Are you enjoying yourself onstage now?
Oh yeah. But I always did. Even when I was in pain all the time, when I was onstage that was the only reason why I put myself through it.

Who do you dance for now that Merce isn't around?
I always danced for myself, even when Merce was alive. I would notice that some people were really focused on the fact that Merce was watching in the wings; I totally would forget that he was there because there were however many people out there and it didn't matter who they were. They came to see us. [Laughs] It still was nice to get offstage and then, my God, Merce is right there.

Do you think it's the right decision for the company to disband?
I do and I don't. I think the Legacy Tour was a really good idea because it was a way for those of us that did work with Merce to stay together for a decent period of time. I think it needed to end so that it didn't go the way of other companies. I don't know. Seeing the public's reaction to the work: the fact that Merce passed away and there's all this hype about the Legacy Tour brought more people out to see us than ever before; people who have never even seen dance are learning Cunningham. They've had such a wonderful reaction to it, and I don't think it's just because it's the last time but because they really did get something from the work. I think it's a shame that there is no way to continue something based on the fact that we had this opportunity to create momentum. I don't know necessarily if it's important to have a company. I think the work's in a fragile place. You can't just teach it to somebody in two weeks. It's a valuable learning experience for anyone who attempts it in two weeks. They get something from it, but I don't think the work will develop onstage the way it has been able to. So I would have liked to have seen the school be given more importance. But apparently it doesn't make money, even though there's never been any big effort to advertise or anything for it, so I don't know. [Sighs]

And I heard people are taking classes all the time now, more than ever.
We did get a resurgence, but now there are less and less because there are fewer classes. It's more difficult for people to fit it in their schedules. I think it's a missed opportunity.

I agree with you about the school. I think that's terrible.
Well, it's just going to halt the progress of dance in general. The fact that there's no company attached to the school—there's this idea that people won't want to come take class there unless there's a job waiting for them. But there's been so many people...Pam studied there. She has her own career, and she's taken dancers. So many choreographers have.

Especially now—dancers are realizing that they need some technique.
Exactly. I think it's coming back to that, and we could have taken advantage of it.

That's what I think. Because it's either ballet or Cunningham, right?
Yeah. I mean I love Graham—I studied it very intensely and I still do a Graham warm-up often before a show. Even when Merce was over there. People were like, "Are you crazy?" And I'm like, Whatever. [Quickly] He went there, too. You can't tell me he doesn't still use that. Please. That whole thing that he rejected it? Yeah, he did choreographically, but I think he still used the technique. It's helped me get through some of his work. Robert utilizes it. I just don't think people are going to go to the Graham school. [With Cunningham technique] there are so many generations of people who are teaching it, so each class is different. If you take a class with Louise Burns, it's wildly different than what I would give, and you know, Robert teaches a particular type of class—he really teaches the fundamentals and that kind of Cunningham-Cunningham, like the Torse days and in the '80s. I also try to bring in the quirkiness of certain things that he made in XOVER. Robert can get goofy too; just to share the sense of humor about his material is important.

Yes, there's so much humor in the work, don't you think?
Yeah. Unless you danced in the company, you don't always understand that. Moving is fun, and I think that he loved dancing; it was joyous to him. Once—I think it was when we were with a group of school kids—I remember him saying part of a sentence: "If you're a person that enjoys the experience of moving..." I'll always remember that part about being a person that enjoys the experience of moving. Cunningham has this reputation for being so strict and hard, but it's not about being perfect. None of my teachers at home were really professional dancers, so I don't come from the idea that you have to be taught by someone who was in a company for them to be a good teacher, but I think with Merce's work—and people like Jeff Moen are amazing teachers—you also need to have people that were in the company, who know Merce, to understand that part of it. Even though you're pushing and he's pushing for all these extreme things and a certain perfection, it's not about being perfect. And I think you really get that once you've worked with him. Trying to pass that down is important, so you get at the joy of movement. And the challenge is about the fact that it's fun and it's an accomplishment to go through something and come out on the other side.

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