Fri Dec 16 2011
Whose part did you do in BIPED?
Tom Caley's. And in GLO . I do a lot of Tom's parts because I replaced Ashley [Chen] who replaced him. My first show was in Berkeley, and it was GLO and BIPED , which were two huge parts and I was crazy nervous, but I did it. We did Fluid Canvas, Split Sides, Ocean, Native Green, Suite for Five, Pictures and How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run —I didn't do that one for very long. Views and eyeSpace . I wasn't in eyeSpace 20 , which we did at the Joyce, because I was doing Crises in that same program, so Merce left me out of it. But I did eyeSpace 40 , which is beautiful and I don't think anyone ever saw it in New York. We wear these beautiful silver unitards and there's a set by Daniel Arsham and the music is really pretty. No iPods or anything like that. It's a really nice piece.
How did you become acclimated to being in the company?
With the process or the lifestyle?
At first it was just mentally hard because there were just so many steps and to coordinate them all was insane. It's a skill just like anything else that you can develop, and I feel I can pick up steps a lot faster now, but at the time I thought, How are they getting this so fast? I remember when I first started feeling like I didn't know what I was doing. I had two weeks to learn all my parts from Ashley, I had videos, I had Merce, and that was it. There was some attention given to the notes, but I remember having that feeling of, Okay. I'm supposed to just look like I know what I'm doing and then I'll be fine. And that's what I did. I just faked it. If I didn't know it, I just did the step with emphasis, and that's what the step was until I could start to really do it right. And that I sort of picked up from Merce, because I sensed that from him. He just wanted some kind of clarity of intention. That was always the thing I joked about with Andrea [Weber] and Marcie [Munnerlyn] because we all joined together: Just pretend you know it, just do it. And then eventually it becomes second nature.
Traveling was really exciting. I didn't know how to balance my life at all. I would completely lose touch with everyone and everything when I was gone because it was all so overwhelming. I did that for a really long time actually. [Laughs] Out of sight, out of mind, now I'm back—hi! I'm better at it now. I remember my first tour was to Berkeley, and I didn't know what the protocol was; I didn't know what the schedule was like. We'd show up at the theater, and we'd take class and then we'd have a break and then run pieces without sound or light, and then there was a four-hour break. I didn't know what to do with myself. I remember feeling so out of my body—we'd flown across the country and the next day we're in the theater and then I'm doing my very first show, and I remember turning to Holley [Farmer] and saying, "I don't know if I can do this. I feel so crazy," and she said, "You're gonna be fine. Go to your hotel room, order some food. Take a bath and then nap, then come back." So I did that. And then I came back and I was totally a different person, and I started to learn, Okay, this is what you do. This is the way the day works. You have to go rest and start over again. I would see every new person come in and have the same shell-shocked experience.
Do you help people along now?
Why are you laughing?
I'm thinking about Silas [Riener]. The rehearsal ended and he said, "Where's everyone going? What do we do now?" and I was like, Okay, I'm going to be Holley for a minute. I did pass it on.
When you talk about Merce, you could sense that he wanted clarity. Would he talk to you about it? How would you get that from him?
He never used those words, but it was through my observation of what he chose to redo or to check after we would rehearse something. And the way that he would use his own body: Even when he was sitting, he would just move his body, and his face would change and he would make a guttural sound, and it was like, Okay, he wants it to be sharp and clear and exact because maybe you need to see it from really far away on a proscenium stage. So I thought about all those things and why he was always so intent on having the shape be clear and about moving big and about the sharpness of a movement, and I came to understand that it was because he was thinking about the theater and the audience already. If someone's in the back, they need to see it. He never said that to me, but it's just what I gathered. And I saw the other dancers who were older than me and how they moved. You don't want to be singled out in a bad way, ever, so it's like, How do I blend in?
But you didn't really blend in.
I guess not. [Laughs] There's no way I could have blended in. No. There were no other black people. And I thought about that a lot. I was happy to see Michael Cole when he came around. And Gus Solomons Jr. Yeah, I always thought about the color and the race thing because there was never any woman of color. Ever. And I don't think it was because of him not wanting. There was an understudy who was gorgeous from Barbados with really dark skin, and I think he was immediately just enamored of her; she was so beautiful. But she just wasn't strong enough, and she didn't get stronger, and it didn't work. I think it's something culturally; maybe some people are not drawn to the work. I wouldn't have been drawn to that work either if I had stayed in Georgia. I went to boarding school. I went to Sarah Lawrence. I was exposed to it, and it was foreign when I was first exposed to it. I didn't like it. I had to begin to understand it intellectually before I could want to do it. But actually, physically it makes so much sense on my body in a lot of ways, in ways I didn't know. And it is very physical. People think of it as this really cerebral, abstract thing, but what we do is actually really physical. So I'm always excited to see anyone of color come into the studio. There's a black guy right now who is doing something with the RUGs. So I was excited to meet him. We all see each other, we notice. I didn't really ever feel like it was an issue. I never had any kind of problems with my color in the company, except Carolyn Brown did call me—what did she call me? I think she called me Ulysses or Gus.
No. But, you know, she's old. I let it go. But I was like, Really? Come on. I don't actually look like those guys. They're from a different era, you know. Definitely. But Merce never mentioned it to me. He never said my name right.
What did he call you?
He called me "RAH-shaun." Always RAH-shaun. And it didn't matter that someone would say my name right before him and he would hear it. He still would say RAH-shaun. I think he thought I was some exotic thing, and it was actually just Ebonics or whatever.
Would you talk about performing Cunningham's roles? How did the others react when that started happening?
I think it happened, first of all, by chance a little bit because I was an understudy and I was the only guy and there were four other women. Robert thought to bring back this piece, Crises, because it was the right number of people. What happened with that was, I was able to do what I think I do better, which was something more dramatic and idiosyncratic. I did do a lot of theater.