Silas Riener

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Did you watch dance growing up?
[Shakes head] It's funny, we were talking about it yesterday because of the lecture demonstration at the Guggenheim for ABT's coming season. They're doing Duets. They were demonstrating it. I think I went to some education program for children at the Kennedy Center when I was in third grade or so and they were doing something like that with In the Upper Room. I remember red shoes and the bombers, but I don't think I saw a dance performance until later.

So essentially you were dancing before you saw dance?
Yeah. I definitely liked doing it. I was aware of dance as much as anyone who's not in the field. I watched music videos, I went to see shows, but the people in my student dance group had come from either dance team or they were cheerleaders or really well] trained dancers that didn't pursue it professionally and just went to college. So there was a big mash-up of people and they all brought different things and I guess I ingested some of that, but who knows how much?

What year did you graduate?

2006.

Were you dancing with anyone at that point or just training?
I applied to the MFA program at Tisch in my senior year at Princeton, so I knew I was going to that program. When I go home to D.C., I take class at Maryland Youth Ballet and there's a choreographer there named Lucy Bowen McCauley. She asked me to do a show over Christmas break from Tisch, and that I think was the first time I ever received payment for dancing. It was a show at the Kennedy Center.

When and how did you decide that you wanted to really pursue dance?
After my junior year at the college, I did the Arabic program at Columbia, which is, like, nine to one every day. I would do six hours of Arabic and then come downtown and take class at Peridance and that was when I took my first Cunningham classes. I took three or four classes and I auditioned for Stephen Petronio that summer. That was my trial move to New York, see if this is something that is viable, realistic and something I want to do. It was funny because I was doing this whole academic program, but that was when it started to shift. I wanted to be spending more time dancing. And that's when I decided that I was going to try to come to New York and be a dancer in some capacity.

So that's when you applied for the Tisch program.
I knew that I wanted to move to New York, so I was looking at all of the programs in the New York area that were conservatory-based MFA programs because I hadn't taken that many dance classes at that point. Rebecca had advised me to do a sort of post-bacc in dance technique, so I applied to Purchase and to Tisch and I auditioned at Juilliard, which was funny.

How did that go?
It went really well. At that point, the Juilliard school was a really elevated idea in my mind. And I made it through the audition, and I had an interview at the end after the series of five rounds of eliminations. And my interview was with Larry [Rhodes], and he was sort of like, "What are you doing here?" I was 21 at that point, and they don't really take people that are that old anymore.

But they used to.
They used to and they told me I was too old and I should go to Tisch, which is where he used to be the director. And I think about that moment because I think he's right in the sense of, would I have committed to four years at Juilliard? I'm not sure, but the training that they offer there, I probably would have benefited. But I got hired at Cunningham the next year, so he was right in the sense if he was creating a program for people who go through four years of school.

Tell me about going to Cunningham and taking class. Was it on someone's recommendation?
From Rebecca. So Rebecca had me in class for two or three years at that point and she recommended it both for what it is and also for a system of body organization for people that have a lot of choices. It makes you really strong and especially for people who are really bendy or really loose, it organizes the body. She recommended it to me for those reasons. I took a couple classes, and I was really into it both on an intellectual level and also on the physical challenges of not being able to do it, which without sounding arrogant, didn't happen to me much at that stage. So I really took to it and I was taking classes there. I would go on weekends sometimes when I was at Tisch that first year, take Sunday class with Hristoula [Harakas].

She's the best.
She's the best. She's an incredible teacher, and she's teaching at Tisch now actually. Just as a source of information, but also just watching her especially in Cunningham. She is a beautiful Cunningham dancer. So I would take class there on the weekends and after school ended that first year, I did a summer program with Kazuko Hirabayashi in Spain and that's when I started dancing with Take [Takehiro Ueyama] and taking Kazuko's classes and ballet everyday. And when I came back to go to my second year at Tisch, I was taking classes at Cunningham to get back into shape at the end of the summer and that's when Robert [Swinston] invited me to take class with Merce. I had a couple of those classes, and I knew that there was turnover in the company at that point—Cdric had just left so Daniel [Madoff] was replacing him and they were looking for someone in the understudy group and what I didn't know at that time was that Jonah [Bokaer] was also leaving. I got an e-mail from Robert saying, "Come to class tomorrow, stand in front of Merce." It was a Thursday. At that point, Tisch had started so I was taking an 11:30am class at Cunningham and running across town to make it to Second Avenue Dance Company class. I got a phone call that afternoon asking me if I would like to join the company.

 

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