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: Can you give me an example?
Michelle Fleet:
One of the first times that happened was when we did Changes. There was a solo, and I remember him putting on the music and he said, “I kind of feel like the character is going through something and thrashing around a little bit and just in a daze.” So I started dancing around and he was like, “Okay, that’s good. No, don’t do that—let’s do this. I like that turn here. Okay, back fall,” blah, blah, blah. I remembered key things that he liked and just played with that and added this and that, and he did the same. We definitely collaborated. It was such a special moment. You get a piece of you into the work. That happened again in the second De Sueños, and it happened with different people. That was great. It’s always nice when he gets up and starts moving around and works with you and manipulates the movement with you. It’s a special experience.

Time Out New York: Are you in Taylor’s new dances this season?
Michelle Fleet:
I’m in Perpetual Dawn. It’s a sweet dance. The music is baroque; he quoted Emily Dickinson and said, “This piece is going to be about young love.” Then he kind of chuckled to himself. I remember him saying, “I want this to be a dance-dance.” He put the music on and we start running out and lifts are happening—bam! Lifts, lifts, lifts and dancing around. I get to dance with James [Samson] a little bit. I think we were the first duet to start and maybe a couple of weeks later, as the piece was progressing, Paul reveals to me, “Well, you’re kind of a loner. You’re looking for love. You’re still looking. You haven’t found it just yet.” He changed it so that I’m not dancing with James, but following him, chasing after him—trying to figure out if I really want to be with him or if he wants to be with me. I end up with [Michael] Novak—I just call him Novie. We end up dancing together in a duet, which we never get to do. This season we also dance together in Sacre—in the bar dance, which is awesome. [In the new work], the duets are all very different, very playful, very sweet. Michael [Trusnovec] and Laura together is more of a mature kind of love.

Time Out New York: Can you talk about a few dances that you’re featured prominently in? What about Esplanade?
Michelle Fleet:
Esplanade is wonderful. It’s a simple dance, but it’s not easy at all. At all. The rhythm, the running, to be still. And not overdoing it. It’s such a community once you get on that stage. When I joined the company, I was in a different role. When I was given [my current] role, which used to be Lisa Viola’s role, which used to be Mary Cochran, which used to be many others—Carolyn Adams—it’s amazing. I was surprised. I guess I’ve been doing it for two or three years now and it’s always a new experience. Running around is such a good feeling each time.

Time Out New York: Did you work with Carolyn?
Michelle Fleet:
I totally asked Carolyn about it. I was like, “Any advice?” And she simply said, “Run, just run. Be free and run.” It’s about the freedom of running and covering the space. And I said, “Okay—that’s what I’ll do.” I’ve spoken to Bettie [de Jong, rehearsal director] about it and Ruthie [Andrien]. I hear Bettie in the back of my head sometimes, “Ruuunnn!” If I’m feeling tired and I know that part’s coming up, and if it’s a huge stage, it’s hard. Keeping the integrity of the role and the dance and respecting it—that’s what I shoot for, to truly leave a mark on it. That I held up to the bar that was placed up there. By no means do I want to go beyond that.

Time Out New York: When you’re running, do you want long strides or little strides?
Michelle Fleet:
There have been people who do little ones and people who do the big ones, but a healthy mix of both is what really works for me. It just makes it exciting for me and hopefully for those who are watching. It’s not necessarily that you have to be doing it the same way that somebody else did it, but that you were covering the space—dynamic change, change of focus. You can play with the audience and with the people in the wings. You’re seeing everything. It’s like you’re at the park, running and playing tag. It’s that feeling of “I see you, I see you!” And you don’t plan your steps out when you’re running in the playground.

Time Out New York: Cascade?
Michelle Fleet:
Cascade’s awesome. I get to dance with Michael [Trusnovec], which is always wonderful. I love dancing with him. It helps that we’re great friends. This is a different way of dancing with Michael. We did Piazzolla [Caldera] together. It’s really hot and steamy; this is a different kind of steaminess. It’s that conservative royalty almost. Every time we go onstage, he’s like, “Milady?” and I’m like, “Yes, my lord.” [Laughs] The eye contact. You sneak a peek every once in a while. It’s funny because we come out in the first second and do one cross—okay, I’ll see you later. The whole dance happens, and then we come out.

Time Out New York: What about Offenbach Overtures?
Michelle Fleet:
It’s hilarious. I get to play off of the ridiculousness of trying to be the best ballerina. Trying to upstage everyone and take Laura’s partner and dance with Parisa [Khobdeh]. I try so hard not to laugh onstage. It’s almost impossible. I love laughing already and watching her—she’s hilarious. And Laura and I have our little catfight in that dance. That’s a great dance and it’s so much fun to be funny. It’s not supposed to be perfect, but it’s hilarious. And it’s hard to be funny. You have to play it just the right way—you can’t overdo it at all. We had some people watching us rehearse and someone said, “Don’t dictate the movement with your feelings. The feelings come from the movement,” and Paul repeats the same thing days later when he’s watching Lost, Found and Lost. It’s just so true. With Offenbach, with Last Look, with Speaking in Tongues, the emotion is all built into the movement. Once you start adding, then it becomes too much almost, and you start to stray from what the movement was supposed to be. You have to have that sensitivity to the movement—to trust the choreography. It’s all there. Knowing how much and when to give.

Time Out New York: What part are you dancing in Speaking in Tongues?
Michelle Fleet:
I’m doing Annmaria’s old role. It’s exciting. It’s a little bit of a twist in terms of casting and when you watch the piece overall. I think it’ll be interesting. You have Jamie Rae [Walker], and I’m supposed to be the older version of Jamie Rae, of the daughter.

Time Out New York: Who is very blond and white.
Michelle Fleet:
Exactly. So you definitely have to acknowledge that and it’s fine. I think about that and I play it that way of course, but at the same time, you kind of have to go beyond that. It’s not about color; it’s just about the relationships at hand and about the community, and that’s what I would hope people think about and see. It’s a meaty, meaty role. I’m dancing with Sean [Mahoney] as the husband. It’s dark and nasty, but there’s a certain amount of freedom in it too—just to be able to visit that side and leave myself. To completely leave myself and to become someone else. I have not done it onstage yet. I did the party girl for a hot second, which is Parisa’s role when she was out for a short period of time. It’s such a different experience, that dance—onstage with lights and once everyone’s in it. 

Time Out New York: What does it feel like onstage?
Michelle Fleet:
It feels like no one else exists in the world. There is no audience, and it’s just us. One day in the studio, when we were all finally falling into it and getting the rhythm of it—because there are a lot of new people—I had just finished the solo and duet with Sean and we were getting ready to do the end, and I grabbed my chair to drag on and Laura passed me and said, “That was good” and I was crying. Crying! She’s like, “Are you okay?” and I’m like, “I’m fine.” And she’s like, “That’s ’cause you did it.” It rips your heart practically. I’m still learning about it, just trying to figure out how much to surrender, but at the same time you’re this angry woman: You are still strong, but there’s a certain amount of weakness and surrender that happens. It’s intense. Those are the roles you live for. Those are the roles where you’re like, Oh! I’m good for a long time now. It’s going to be fun. Fun in a dark way. I love it. This year, we get to do Last Look too. I live for it.

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