Mark Morris dancer Stacy Martorana talks about her career
Stacy Martorana talks about joining the Mark Morris Dance Group
Mon Mar 25 2013
Time Out New York: What did you work on during that month?
Stacy Martorana: Squaregame was one of the first things I learned. Rune and Tread,which was the first piece Merce saw me do as a RUG. Changing Steps. A lot of that we started with in the first couple rehearsals. And Fast Dance.
Time Out New York: Did you have much contact with him during that period?
Stacy Martorana: In class, the only thing I remember him ever telling me was a note that I would get a couple times: to bend my back knee in attitude more. [Laughs] I remember being introduced to him as a RUG. He knew me from class, but Tim Ward—who I was hired with—and I had to almost be presented to him. That was one of the few interactions as a RUG. And I do remember him coaching us on Tread, and saying, “Make the fast parts faster; make the slow parts slower.” One other thing I remember was Merce coaching us in Rune. When we stand in relevé in parallel and pick our leg up fast and lower it slowly multiple times in battement, he said how he wanted it to go up more quickly and go down more slowly, which of course makes it more challenging.
Time Out New York: What was that time like for you since you knew that Merce was fading?
Stacy Martorana: I didn’t expect it to happen that soon. I didn’t really know much about his health. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t know it would be a month after. At that time though, I also was just so happy to have that job. What am I trying to say? I was so excited to have that job and to start learning the work and working with the company members. My only experience as a RUG was him basically not being around. So I didn’t know much about the other experience. I heard a lot about it; I got a taste of it. But my experience as a RUG was getting a lot of feedback from the company members, them coaching us a lot. After Merce was gone they fortunately took it upon themselves to help us and teach us, and of course we had coaching from Robert. But it was also that when the company was away on tour, we were on our own. We would sometimes have former company members like Banu [Ogan] and Carol come and coach us, but mainly we were working on our own, learning from videos, running things, doing outreach—a lot of outreach.
Time Out New York: What were those final RUG performances like for you?
Stacy Martorana: I have really good memories. I mean I cried, of course. It was special for us. It was like our moment to shine, and we hadn’t had many performances really over the past two years. So six shows for us was a lot. And we were just there for each other. The four of us and the other dancers added into the show. It just felt like we’d been through this whole long thing together, and here was our celebration. It was so special to have that place full every night and to know that we, even as RUGs, were supported and that people wanted to see the work and pieces that the company wasn’t performing anymore. The most special piece I think for all four of us was Inventions. Robert kind of created that for us. [Inventions MinEvent] was our piece and only we did that and that felt so special. The company didn’t know it, which also made us own it. We could own it. We didn’t have to be worried about if this was right or that was. I mean we did, but not in terms of if other people knew it better than we did.
Time Out New York: When you knew the end of the RUGs was nearing, were you thinking about Mark Morris?
Stacy Martorana: Yes, very much so. I started understudying L’Allegro [il Penseroso ed il Moderato] in April of 2011. I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t think I could ever get a job here. It just seemed too big and like a dream come true. Like those things don’t happen, right? I was asked to understudy. It was on the plane ride home from L.A., where I had understudied L’Allegro, that Matthew [Rose] asked to get my number so that they would have me come in and take company class. So any chance I could, any chance they were in town, I was here for class and would go rehearse with the RUGs after. [Laughs] I was taking class here whenever they were in town and Mark was teaching.
Time Out New York: Please tell me about that. Were you shocked?
Stacy Martorana: Yeah. By everything. [Laughs] It was hard to transition from taking ballet here to then doing Cunningham technique, but it was exciting. It was also kind of learning all over again how to move. It felt so foreign to me. It was like I couldn’t remember how to move my head in port de bras. I had to retrain. Cunningham is all about being on the spine and the one thing I always loved about ballet was épaulement, moving the head. I had to retrain myself to do that.
Time Out New York: What kinds of corrections would you get from Mark?
Stacy Martorana: A lot about my arms. They were so used to being held. It’s hard to answer that question because there are so many things that have changed from his class in a positive way. In terms of safety, I pronate my feet like crazy—especially doing Cunningham with the big movements. He’s helped me with that. Finding more length in my body. I just always felt so tight and muscular.
Time Out New York: You have to be soft in this company—soft but strong.
Stacy Martorana: Right. I feel like I’ve learned how to use the right muscles. And I’m still learning; I have to say, it’s the closest I’ve felt to feeling like I’m working like a ballet dancer, which is funny because it’s what I always wanted, but couldn’t find. And it’s hard to make the changes, but when you start to feel something change, it’s like, This is why I do it. This is why you stay a dancer. I mean I’m still working on a plié in first position. [Laughs] But that’s fine. Some days it’s frustrating, like, Shouldn’t I have this already? But it keeps you interested. There’s always something new to find.
Time Out New York: What interested you about Mark’s work as a spectator?
Stacy Martorana: The dances are beautiful. The group work—I was definitely not used to even watching that kind of group work. The spatial patterns and the dancers—they’re gorgeous. I just remember thinking that they looked so at ease, but what they were doing was hard. It is hard. And what, of course, struck me was the musicality. Having spent so much time not working with music and ignoring it, and then seeing music, it was like something I’d never experienced before. And it’s so clear in his work. Big groups of people move as one, but they don’t all look the same. And they don’t all move exactly the same, but it’s a whole. And that’s so beautiful. And the movement: I stopped training to be a ballet dancer, but ballet moves, I like them. And to see modern dance works that have ballet vocabulary in them was beautiful. And they’re done in a different way.
Time Out New York: What pieces were you first in?
Stacy Martorana: Well, my first show was L’Allegro as an apprentice. Oh my God![Laughs] That experience was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. It was the Kennedy Center. Wow. It was an amazing experience. I remember watching the finale, and it bringing tears to my eyes. And then to do it? The first night that curtain went down, I just lost it. The first rep piece I was in was Canonic 3/4 Studies, which I still do pretty often. It’s so funny, I remember thinking, After Cunningham, things will be so easy. They’re not. [Laughs] Man.
Time Out New York: What has been a challenge?
Stacy Martorana: First of all, listening to music was hard. It was really hard to pay attention to what my body was doing, what everybody else was doing and hearing the music. I was very used to ignoring it.
Time Out New York: Did you get yelled at a lot?
Stacy Martorana: Yeah. But it’s good for me. I mean I didn’t even notice at first that I was ignoring the music. [Laughs] And also at Cunningham, say you’re doing a pirouette and it’s not perfect, and you have to step into something else, but there’s no music to be on time for, so you get there eventually. Whereas here, it’s a beautiful challenge. Now I’m getting used to hearing different kinds of music and learning how to count for myself.