Michelle Fleet talks about dancing for Paul Taylor

Michelle Fleet talks about her career with the Paul Taylor Dance Company

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Time Out New York: That’s so confidence-building.
Michelle Fleet:
[Laughs] I got in there at least twice. Nicole, who was at the front desk at the time, says, “Look: The company is taking class next door. Why don’t you go take the ballet class with them? At least you’ll be around them. You’ll get a feel.” I did that, and on the Thursday, I was determined to take a Taylor class. Class is at 10am. I think I got there at 8:30am, and it was packed. I’m like, “Hold on. The audition is Friday, right?” And they were like, “No, it’s today.” I said, “Hernando told me it was Friday.” And it was Nicole again—she said, “Oh, that Hernando!” I was like, “I’m not ready—I don’t have the right leotard, I don’t have my headshot and résumé, I’m not ready!” They were like, “Don’t worry, honey. Take this number. Warm up with this group and learn the combination and you’ll be fine. We’ll take a Polaroid.” It’s a long story. I can’t help it.

Time Out New York: This is the greatest story ever.
Michelle Fleet:
[Laughs] We learned the exercises from Sacre, the bird duet from Images, a little bit of the Syzygy solo. We’re going through the audition and I’m having a great time, just smiling—I’m like, The worst has already happened. I wasn’t prepared. So we learned Syzygy, and I’m fresh out of college: I’m thinking, This is a little bit like improv. You just squiggle, squiggle; there is definitely a structure—this is what it is and then you just wiggle it out. I’m thinking in my head at the time, Okay—A, B, A, I can mix up the theme. Fresh out of comp class, you know? We get started on this combination and we’re fine—midway through, the entire group goes to the left. I go to the right. I flip around and see them and start dancing toward them to catch up to what it is they’re doing. I thought we were going to break out. Hilarious. So that group was done and I just laughed it off: There goes that one. The audition was over, and Paul was speaking low in his chair; he was calling off names. My friend came up to me and hugged me, and I said, “Did you get it? You got it!” And she was like, “No, you’re staying. It was you.”

Time Out New York: How long was the audition?
Michelle Fleet:
Three days. It started on Friday. We had to come back Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday [for the final decision]. He had taken in Annmaria [Mazzini] and Orion [Duckstein] into the main company, and he was looking for people to replace them in the second company. On that Wednesday, we had to come back to the studio. I go up there and everyone is gone and I’m like, I missed it. He probably took someone else. Paul was like [in a soft voice], “Hi, so you gonna join the second company?” And I was like, “What?” He said, “Yeah.” I was the happiest person in the world. The second company was amazing. It was a great place to be and exactly where I needed to be at that time in my life.

Time Out New York: Who was directing? 
Michelle Fleet:
I had Sandy Stone, Susan McGuire, Connie Dinapoli, Ken Tosti, David Grenke. It was a lot of people, and it was amazing. I had Francie [Huber] for a hot minute. We were so well-rounded as far as the variety of directors and the different generations. We would be on tour for six weeks on end. I was dancing with Rob [Kleinendorst] at the time. I danced with Amy [Young] for a minute. With Julie [Tice].

Time Out New York: How long were you in the second company?
Michelle Fleet:
Two-and-a-half years.

Time Out New York: Did it feel like a long time?
Michelle Fleet:
Not at all. I was right out of college. I turned 22 when I joined. Then people were leaving the second company and we were auditioning people to replace them. Also, Maureen [Mansfield] had left the main company. We didn’t know anything about having an audition for Maureen—we just knew that she had given her notice. I was showing the rep at the audition; Paul was there, and at the end of the audition, he hires Ali Cook. And then he talks to Dara Adler on the side. I’m like, What’s going on? Then he walks over to me after he announces that he’s hiring Ali and says, “So, do you wanna join the main company?” I was like, “What?” I was shocked. He said, “Well, do you?” [Laughs] It was out of nowhere.

Time Out New York: I always wonder what that must be like for Taylor 2 dancers who have to audition for the main company. It must be horrifying for them.
Michelle Fleet:
I don’t know what that feels like. I can only imagine. I know when I’m watching, my heart is just beating. You have to be really comfortable and happy with where you are and know that whatever happens, it’s meant to be that way at that given moment. So as long as you’re satisfied with your work and you know that you did your best, it’s okay. That’s how I feel. That’s my personal philosophy so that you don’t beat yourself up. I’ve seen that too. It’s so hard.

Time Out New York: And then it shows up in the dancing.
Michelle Fleet:
Yes. Dancing is very revealing. You can totally see someone’s personality. The honesty. I joined the main company and here I am. Eleven years later.

Time Out New York: Does that feel like a long time?
Michelle Fleet:
It does feel like a long time! [Laughs] It kind of flew by. Laura [Halzack] and I are good buddies and we were just talking about all the people that we’ve danced with.

Time Out New York: What was the first piece you were in that Paul created.
Michelle Fleet:
It was In the Beginning. I was totally nervous. I had only experienced him watching us rehearse. But he was very clear. He knew what he wanted and because he knew his dancers at that time, it was as if they were reading his mind. He would put the music on and they would do things and he would say, “Yes” or “No”…so I was watching them interact with him, so I could get a feel of what was okay or, “no, don’t do that.” He uses that time also to get to know the new dancers.

Time Out New York: How does he not want dancers to behave when he’s choreographing?
Michelle Fleet:
I think he just wants everyone to be very open and not to hold back and to be respectful of each other—to definitely be present and ready. To live in the moment. That’s what I get from it when I’m in that room: to be ready and at the drop of a dime to do whatever you need to do. I think his ideas, once they start flowing—you don’t want to keep having to go back and fix things. Or go back and repeat. You want to keep the momentum going. The more present and aware you are of what he’s thinking and being in the moment of the piece, the easier it is. Sometimes you just don’t know and it’s those moments when you’re like, Uhhhh…how about this or how about that? And he’ll say yes or no. And there are moments when he’s like, “Well, this is the music, this is what I was thinking—what do you have?” I’ve had that experience with him when he puts on the music and you just start dancing around.

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