Silas Riener



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It was a surprise to me as well. Because Jonah was leaving very suddenly and Merce hired me.

What it was like to take class in front of him? Were you up close?
Yes. There might have been one or two people in front of me. He used to sit in the corner with a little barre and a little stool. So there were a few people that could be on his level and a few people in front of him. And it was kind of terrifying. He taught twice a week at that point—Monday and Thursday. And I remember he corrected a few things that I was doing. I felt like he was watching even if he was...I mean I think that if I had known it was my audition for the Cunningham company, it would have freaked me out a whole lot more. But I was just taking class. I was doing what I do.

In that case, it's probably good that the technique is so hard. 

You can't really think about that much else. And even if you are, it doesn't really matter. Just do the steps. If you can.

Don't forget to breathe.
Not at Cunningham. You don't have to breathe. Just do it.

So he hired you on the spot. What was that like when you got to the company? Did you know people?
I didn't really know anyone's name. I knew a couple of people. I think I knew who Daniel Squire was because I had taken his class a couple times. I knew Jonah. I mean I had to look at the website to learn people's names. I was hired in mid-September and then [the company] went on tour for three or four weeks. They came back and there was going to be two weeks of rehearsal before I was to perform in Paris for my first show. At that point when I had gotten the job, I dropped out of school. Merce didn't go to Australia, so he was there. So we worked together because I had to start learning all the rep. I had two weeks with Jonah to learn all of his parts. So we started working on everything and just in the studio with videos. And one of the understudies, Melissa [Toogood], had been on tour with the company so she tried to teach me a couple of things, but yeah, it was just like me in the room with Merce and trying to learn off the video. I would learn something, I would show it, I would get messed up and I had to keep doing it.

That's amazing to have that time with him.
Yeah, I guess. He was working with the RUGs. They had just premiered XOVER so he was already working on something else, what would become Nearly Ninety. It wasn't that much time.

Do you regret never having been a RUG in a way?
Well it's been really interesting because everyone else in the company had at least a couple of years with Merce as an understudy and I think a couple of things about that. It was really hard for me as an entry point into the technique because I had taken probably like ten or maybe 15 Cunningham classes at that point, so I didn't really know what I was doing and I didn't really know a lot of things. And that gestation period where you're taking class every day, you're with Merce—I didn't have that experience and I didn't have the experience with him making work on me with a few exceptions. Because he made a lot of work on the understudies at the end, which would then get transferred to the company, I didn't have that time with him. I don't regret that because at least I had some time with him. I feel fortunate for what I have. But I'm also not entirely sure if I would have enjoyed it—the break-you-down, boot-camp feeling. I'm not sure if I would have stayed a year or two the way that some people did. Or three.

Did he ever make anything on you?
He made the solo that I do on Nearly Ninety. He changed a lot of things in the rep that stayed in the company. We still do Split Sides. Jonah had a long solo in Split Sides that I do now that he changed a lot for me and the dancer that I am.

How is it different?
Jonah and I are very different dancers energetically and I think Jonah seemed to have a really vested interest in formalism in the Cunningham work, and I think in my nature, I'm a little bit more of a mess. And I'm more interested in that wilder dimension.

The Viola Farber as opposed to the Carolyn Brown.
[Laughs] Merce liked creatures and he liked birds. And some people are birds and some people are swamp witches. But yeah, he made the Nearly Ninety solo on me.


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