Melissa Toogood

Photograph: Anna Finke
Melissa Toogood

When did you start dancing and where are you from?
I started dancing when I was about three in Sydney, Australia.

Why? Did you want to dance?
I think my parents put me in it. I don't remember not dancing or not wanting to dance, so it's hard to tell.

And what kind of dancing did you start with?
Mainly jazz and tap. And some gymnastics, but it wasn't until I was about ten years old that my aunt told my father that if I wanted to be serious about dancing, I had to take ballet. So I started ballet when I was ten; it was just because it was supposed to help me be a better dancer in general. I never wanted to be a classical dancer. But I took it very seriously.

Where were you studying? Anywhere of note?
Not really. Just a little local dance studio. I took as many jazz and tap classes as I did ballet classes. Then I went to a local performing arts high school, which was not very good. There's this huge variety show that happens in Sydney, it's called "School Spectacular."

I think I've heard of that. It includes all disciplines, right?
Yeah. I think it's the largest variety show, at least in the southern hemisphere. It's amazing. So I was in it in seventh grade, which for us is high school—seventh through twelfth. I was there with my first high school and I saw the kids from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, and I was like, Why aren't I at that school? [Laughs] So I came home and told my parents I wanted to change schools, and they were like, "Oh that's funny, the principal of your primary school told us we should send you there, and I was like, "Why didn't you tell me?!" So I auditioned the next week and started there the next year, and that changed my life.

Tell me about that place.
It was, first of all, an amazing education in dance. I probably did more written work for my dance classes than I did in my English classes. It's ridiculous; it's very in depth. Not just dance history, but writing about composition and a lot of analysis. The first time I saw Merce's work was watching Beach Birds in high school and writing papers about it.

Oh, that's amazing.
I hated doing all that stuff—like they'd make us keep dance journals and all these things, but I'm like so glad, and even now when I get stressed out—or there was a point in college when I wanted to leave—I just turned back to doing those things that they taught me, and it helped me figure out what was me being emotional and what was really a problem. And they also brought me to the United States: My high school was invited by Daniel Lewis, who started the National High School Dance Festival here. So my high school really pushed me to go to college and leave home to pursue a career. They really opened up a lot of opportunities for me and also prepared me physically and mentally.

You mentioned dance journals. Did those help you emotionally? 
Yeah, very much, I think more so when I went back to doing it again. They made us write about what we were learning and what we were doing, what we were going through. And I've always had a lot of injuries, too, so figuring out that stuff...and that started in high school. So the fact that we were studying so much kinesiology and anatomy, I really took to it even more because I wanted to figure out what was wrong with me. I think that's definitely helped me with Merce's work, too.

So when did you come to the United States?
After high school, I got a full scholarship to New World from the High School Dance Festival. So I started there in 2000, missed the Sydney Olympics. I left right before.

That sucks. 
I know. [Laughs] It's like the one regret I have in life.

New World is in Miami. Had you even been to the U.S. before?
Yes. I'd come for the High School Dance Festival three times. Two of them were held in Miami, so that also helped me make the move because I felt a little bit familiar with the school and some of the faculty, and the third one—where I actually seriously auditioned for colleges—was hosted by CalArts. The festival happens every two years.

When you moved here, what kind of dancer were you? 
I was definitely aiming for modern-contemporary work. Before I went to Newtown I really wanted to be a tap dancer.

Well, that makes so much sense in terms of Cunningham's work. So you were a good tap dancer?
I thought so! Enough that I felt like I could really pursue it, but I didn't feel like there were so many opportunities, and then I was introduced to more serious contemporary work, so I left that behind. But I still took it when I could in college.

Did you like many contemporary choreographers in Australia?
Honestly, we didn't really see much. As great as Newtown was, it was kind of insular in that it tried to really focus us on what they were trying to teach us, and they didn't bring in many guest artists. I remember David Parsons came and taught us a class, and I was like, Oh, I should go and see the company. I never really thought that I should go see stuff, which is weird, but I think part of that, too, was that I didn't want to ask my parents for any more money—that was an extra thing. How much can I ask for? All the dance classes and camps I was doing was enough. [Laughs]

Right. Did Beach Birds strike you at the time?
At the time, I think it wasn't necessarily that I was thinking, That's the company I want to dance for. I don't know that I even really knew that the company still existed, because we were watching it in dance history class. It's definitely one of the only pieces I remember watching. There's a handful of pieces I remember: We watched two videos of the same piece, one by the Joffrey and one by London Contemporary Dance Theatre, to compare the fact that they were trained differently. And I remember watching Nacho Duato and a lot of Jir Kylin.

So you were in Miami for four years?
Yeah, I did the BFA program.

What were you thinking when you graduated? Were you wanting to move to New York?
I don't know. I think at that point I didn't really know how to enter a professional career. I did work with some professional choreographers at home in high school, but it didn't seem like it was a company, really. Every student in tenth grade does work experience, so you spend a couple of weeks in the field, and I did that with Sydney Dance Company. I loved that, but for some reason I just didn't feel like it was going to be an easy transition. I didn't really know how to go about it, and I felt like I wanted more time to develop. And, yes, when I was 18, I looked like I was 12, so I didn't really think I'd be hired as a professional at that point anyway. So I went to college, and New World was one of the ones I was more focused on because they were a more modern-based school rather than ballet focused. I didn't audition for Juilliard. I think I was already too structured, and so the fact that I ended up at New World—it's a little more loosey-goosey. I think it was good for me because it opened me up. After my second year, I wanted to leave because I was so frustrated that I didn't think I was being worked hard enough, but I was focused on the wrong things. Part of it was because of my training at home—like my anatomy classes and stuff like that. In college it wasn't anywhere near as much as what I did in high school. Once I focused on the stuff that I didn't have yet and really delved into that, there was so much freedom. We had works-in-progress nights and we filled all our lunchtimes with classes we made up for ourselves. [Laughs] Basically, two of my classmates were already professional tango dancers—people would bring them overseas to perform and stuff, so they started teaching us tango class. New World really had that creative vibe. Once I really let myself go—more than just like, I'm a technique junkie—it proved to be really beneficial for me. It was good. And that's how I ended up coming to Merce; it was through New World because Banu [Ogan] and Foofwa [d'Imobilit] came and staged a piece.

Which one?
Inlets 2. They really pushed me to come to the studio.

What was it like working with them and on that piece?
Straightaway I was physically like, Oh, this makes sense. I'd always loved every type of dance that I did. I wasn't really focused on a particular company or type of company at that point, I just liked everything. And I felt like I'd be happy going anywhere. After that first class, I was like, Oh, okay. This makes sense to me even though it's so complicated—it just made sense with my body. Banu thought I'd taken Cunningham before, and I was like, "No, never." She was trying to get me to leave school. It was really hard for me to decide not to leave, actually. I think it's because Foofwa sat me down and spoke to me seriously about it, and it gave me a really good perspective. Basically, he told me to just go for the summer and see how I felt. So I came to the studio for the summer, and I loved it. He said it could be a difficult place; he was there long enough to see that sometimes there were people that would have been great in the company, and it just didn't happen for them, so he was realistic with me. Spend some time there, and if things don't happen, move on. So I think that was really good for me in the long run based on the experience I had there afterward. Because I was at the Cunningham Studio for a while after I graduated, and there were a number of RUGs that were hired before me. I was put in the company class right away; it was hard. And then I started dancing for a company in Philadelphia which is a dance-theater company.

Called what?
Miro Dance Theatre. Amanda Miller and Tobin Rothlein—not the famous Amanda Miller. But I did two evening shows with them. And I had a conversation with Robert [Swinston] at that point, just, "Am I wasting my time here at Cunningham?" And he was like, "Yes." Not because he didn't think I was good enough, but I think he tried to push for me to be a RUG and it didn't happen. I danced for Miro for a while and then I was like, What am I doing? I stopped taking class at Cunningham, which was stupid because I loved it there. So I went back just because I really enjoyed the technique and knew it was going to make me a better dancer anyway, and I think Merce saw something different then. And hired me right after I came back.

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.

Is there another time that you would have loved to have been in the company? What do you fantasize about?
Well, I think there are two periods. Now, it's the '90s, just because of the repertory. I don't really get to do those types of pieces. It used to be around the time of Viola [Farber] and Carolyn [Brown]—just because I would want to move from that type of place, but I've been getting to do those types of pieces [from the '60s], so I don't crave that as much anymore. I'm doing RainForest and I did Crises—pieces where it comes from more of an animal place rather than one of technical proficiency. It's a different physicality. But that's why I wanted to dance for Merce, too; there are decades of range in his work, so you don't really feel trapped in the work of one person. He constantly evolved.

Could you elaborate on some of those differences?
Some of the physical motivation is different. Like when I was trying to learn Carolyn's solo from RainForest, I was figuring out the footwork—so that it would be clear, but more so that I could just forget about it, whereas working on Nearly Ninety or XOVER, which he made on me, the actual direction of the steps and whether it's fifth or fourth [position] is more integral to the point of what it is. With Crises and RainForest, it wasn't. In the opening duet with Rashaun [Mitchell] in Crises, I didn't have to figure out exactly how many rib movements there were. Or is it forward, back, then side? It was more about constantly letting each body part move at a different time, and I didn't have to set it in that way even though it was very clear to me what it was I was trying to do.

It's slightly more wild, right?
Yes. And the steps: I tried to figure out how many steps I needed to do to make it look a particular way and also trying to be, Okay, what is Carolyn doing as far as the footwork? But it's really obvious to me that that wasn't the most important goal. Whereas with other works, a lot of the rhythm is in the feet. He really started to play with the size of steps, and that specificity became more and more important to him.

I wonder if it's because he was not moving.
I think part of it was that. After I became a RUG was the point where he really started to become fully in the wheelchair, and the fact that he wasn't dancing and couldn't physicalize anything first, I think he kind of enjoyed pushing someone else. [Laughs]

How did he make the movement in Nearly Ninety and XOVER? Would he dictate the positions?
Yeah, he made every step. He always did. I was so shocked by that. When we premiered it at BAM, someone asked me about it. I think they assumed, which is fair because so many people work that way now. Dancers make phrases. It's a big part of what I'm scared about in trying to find another job where that isn't the case, because I love working the way that I did with Merce. I think I have just as much to offer that way. I don't have to make the dance to be able to interpret it in a unique way. But a lot of people assumed that we made stuff up because he couldn't move, even though he made every step. I'm sure you saw Cdric's show [Cdric Andrieux by Jrome Bel]; it really is just like that. I worked on Nearly Ninety from beginning to end as a RUG and premiered it as a company member. I went into the company while it was still being made; he made a lot of stuff on me as a RUG and then continued to do that while I was in the company. Then the stuff that he made on the company, I was also involved in, so I got to the point where he would make another part on me and would be like, "Okay, do the four and then the three and the two and take it in this direction," and that's all the information I needed, whereas the others didn't all know what the four was. I already had a set structure—he reused certain modules that he made throughout the piece, so we were able to get things done really quickly.

What else did you work on as a RUG?
My first piece was eyeSpace 20, then eyeSpace 40, then XOVER, then Nearly Ninety, then Nearly 902, which was really just, "Chuck a bit here, make a transition there, done." But that was his last day working in the studio. He made new steps the last day he was in the studio.

What were the steps, do you remember?
It was the transition between the first half and the second half. So he made a transition for Brandon and I to get off, and the part was originally Julie and Daniel, but Julie was injured again, so he made it on Marcie [Munnerlyn]. Marcie and Daniel were the last two people he choreographed on. So he made that transition to link the first half and the second half of Nearly Ninety for Nearly 90 2, and then he cut some things here or there. But the four of us were the last.

What was it like when you went to visit him?
The first time was hard. We went to see him twice. Now, I would be even more open with him, but at that point I was like, Okay, try not to cry because I don't want to upset him. But I was crying. It was hard. I just didn't know what to say, really. [Her eyes well up.] It's okay. I cry all the time. [Laughs] He was so okay with where he was. He wasn't...he really was at peace. And he became even more open about how grateful he was to us and told us he loved us. That was really nice to have the experience to say goodbye to somebody, because you rarely get that. And the second time we came to see him, I had taken a bunch of photos of birds in my front yard when I was at home in Australia a few months before. I was like, Okay, I'm going to bring these to him. I'm glad I did that. He looked at them and was like, "Oh, wow, look at the colors!" So I'm glad I shared that with him. We were trying to think of things to tell him about, and we had just gone to this Bollywood class. He wanted to see it, so we were dancing for him and everyone was laughing and Daniel was explaining that it was from the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and how it was very popular right now. Merce said, "Oh, it looks very popular." [Laughs] We were the first van to stop there on our way up to the Pillow—when we left, we were all laughing and having a good time, and the next group came in and they all looked so depressed and sad. We were like, "Just have a good time!" So I'm glad I got both. I got to kind of be sad with him and tell him I loved him, too. And then the next time we just had a laugh, which was nice.

That's great.
Yeah. I think I left thinking that I would probably see him again, so I think it was good to go to the Pillow not being depressed and thinking about that, even though we were. We were all thinking about Merce. On our way home from the Pillow, he passed away during that huge, crazy storm. Of course. [Laughs]

So how did you hear?
The company manager at the time called me early the next morning. As soon as I answered the phone, I kind of lost it because I knew. I'm like, Why is he calling me? It's a free day: Of course, Merce died on a free day. And we had a free day the next day, so we didn't have to miss any work because we went back the day after. [Laughs] We had the wake on a Monday, which was a free day, and went back to work Tuesday.

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.

What are you dancing at the Armory? 
He asked us to pick one thing. A lot of people put in many requests, but I asked for the Torse trio.

Why?
Because...I don't know. It's stupid. It's so hard. As Robert says, "It's the real deal." It's hard-core Cunningham. And that piece, my first week as a RUG, Robert did a workshop, and we did the whole third section of Torse. He gave me Robert Kovich's part, which is basically a solo for Robert—it's a decent chunk of the dance, and then you do it all again with everybody. And I remember after that week I was like, Oh my God. If it's gonna be like this, I don't know if I want this job! We learned the Torse trio after that. I don't know, I think that also initiated me in the work, and it's something that I worked with Merce on a lot. He changed certain things for me, and I like dancing with the boys that I'm dancing with.

Who are you dancing with?
John [Hinrichs] and Daniel. I think that's why I asked for that. I didn't really feel the need to ask for a solo. [Shrugs] I don't know.

You mentioned before that you want to keep dancing, but do you have future plans? 
I definitely want to keep dancing. I would like to be in a full-time company, but it's not all up to me. [Laughs] I've been working with Rashaun and Silas [Riener]; we plan on finishing Rashaun's piece, which we showed at St. Mark's this year. Robert wants to keep doing some things, so if I'm in New York, I would definitely want to still do Merce's work when I can. Pam [Tanowitz] asked me to do a piece, which I'm excited about because I love working with her. I don't know. I'm open to moving anywhere; so is my husband, actually. He's an artist. He's been doing the drawings in the New York Times [Kenneth E. Parris III].

They're great! I didn't realize he was your husband. 
Yes. And he can ideally work from anywhere.

Do you have anything in mind?
I really like Lyon Opra Ballet. We'll see. I don't know. I don't do pointe anymore, and apparently that's a new prerequisite.

Is it really?
Yeah. I don't know why. There are so many dancers in that company.... They're commissioning more Cunningham works, and I did some of Maguy Marin's work at Jacob's Pillow. I like their repertory. There's a range and physicality I think I'd really like.

What has this period of time been like for you? Especially as it's winding down? 
I wanted to focus on doing this job well. And any project that's come to me, I felt like I had to say yes to just because you're worried about next year; if I had said no to Rashaun, I wouldn't be working on his show next year. I probably should have taken some more time to rest, but when I do that, I fall apart emotionally. Three days without dancing, I go crazy, so it's probably better to just keep going. I've been teaching a lot more at the studio. Actually, Merce put me on faculty before I joined the company. It really stressed me out when Robert told me he wanted me to start teaching. I was like, "Nooo! I don't want him to see me as a teacher!" Because I'd seen that happen to other people, and he was like, "No, you don't understand." I think it was a way to give me a new challenge, because he knew there wasn't room for me in the company yet.

But he wanted to keep you around?
Yeah, and they did want to train a new teacher, and Merce picked me. But it did stress me out, especially because when I was growing up my dance teachers were the people I looked up to. It's really a huge responsibility, and I take it very seriously. Everyone thinks I'm funny because I plan my class so far in advance, but I know it's important. I didn't think that I would love it as much as I do. I prefer teaching repertoire to technique class. I always have. Even in college I was often put in rehearsal assistant roles. I was constantly kind of pushed in that direction. Some of my teachers in college warned me not to get pushed there too soon because they thought I should have a career performing. But I keep getting drawn to it, and Robert's had me help him with workshops, so I think I definitely want to try and pursue that direction later.

Will you still teach the technique? 
Hopefully, depending on how much I'm performing. I had a really good talk with Patricia Lent a couple months ago because I was like, "Is this something I need to be fighting for because everyone is gonna be out of work?" And she's like, "No. If in years to come the work is still surviving, the opportunities will be open to you then. So if you want to focus on performing, you don't have to worry about trying to push for it all right now." That was good for me to hear.

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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