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Krista Nelson
Photograph: Anna Finke

Krista Nelson

By Gia Kourlas

When did you start dancing. You're from Illinois? 
I'm from Champaign-Urbana. I went to class when I was 8, but I've been dancing since I was able to walk. My first teacher told me that I was too old and my next teacher told me that I was too tall and I just ignored them and kept going to classes because I really loved ballet. I studied ballet all the way through high school and briefly at the Milwaukee Ballet School. I took classes with their trainees and with the company sometimes. I was only there about a semester. I did one summer program after I graduated from high school. Realized that I should have been doing summer programs well before to meet people and expand my training. But that experience wasn't the right fit, so I decided to move back to Champaign and then go to the dance department at the University of Illinois. They had actually already accepted me, but I chose not to go.

Because I wanted to be a ballerina and I didn't really understand what that meant until I went to Milwaukee Ballet. I still love ballet class and dancing that style, but it just didn't fit well with me. It wasn't Milwaukee Ballet; just something about my personality wasn't right. So then I thought, Okay I'll do the modern program at the University of Illinois. I did that for one semester and dropped out because I decided to move to New York and just be a modern dancer. I lived with a boyfriend. That also was not a good fit, so luckily my professors were very kind and let me come back after one semester of living in Williamsburg. 

Tell me about that. Did you take class during that time?
I wasn't taking many classes. I remember the first day I opened the map of New York and Brooklyn: I sat there and sobbed because it was so different from Illinois or Milwaukee. I mean I had been on my own in Milwaukee, living in an apartment away from my family. I was already exposed to that, but New York was just this whole other thing that I really had no idea how to get into. I went to Steps and to Broadway Dance Center and to Dance New Amsterdam and people kind of reached out—it was harsh, but like the normal New York experience. I was so young and not knowing anybody in the city was hard and, honestly, the relationship I was in was pretty bad. It was a combination of things. I had no idea how to make it in New York as a dancer and I had no idea how to make my relationship positive. He was not very supportive of me and I needed support so I realized pretty quickly that I needed more training and knowledge before I could be a viable candidate in the dance world in New York. I was not ready to be here. [Laughs]

Had someone suggested that you leave college and move to New York? 

No I just thought, I don't want to do this anymore and I'm moving to New York. Which was really bull-headed, but so was not going to college. My family thought I would be going to college right away, but my mother's always been really supportive of my dance career so she said, "Whatever you want to do, do that if you think that's going to help you dance." A lot of times I think I had the wrong idea about how that might actually be accomplished. 

That's funny.
It is funny. I'm really happy that I ended up here because I've made some bad decisions. Well not bad, but I've made some drastic changes.

Does anyone in your family dance?

I have a cousin who dances, but obviously she's much younger than me. My mom always wanted to be a dancer, but her family wasn't able to pay for her dancing classes, but she took classes a lot in college. But she always wishes...she had a ballerina book and she really always loved dancing. And she loves coming to see me dance. 

So you went back to Illinois and did you finish school?
I finished in three and a half years—with all the people I had started with. When I was in the program, there was no head, so it was kind of an interesting time. I'm not sure how it compares to how it is now, but the professors there span a good variety of technique and approach and aesthetic value, so they really helped me open up my ideas about what is dance and what could be valuable and what I should try and what was my best effort, because some of my ballet training had closed off some areas. I was not very accepting of certain things. It's good to be discriminating, but it was really important, that process of discarding some of the strong ballet stuff. 

What classes were you taking outside of ballet?
I took jazz classes with Cathy Young. She's fantastic. She really helped me open up because she's so energetic and vibrant and passionate about dance. And not judgmental. It felt really exciting to try the stuff that she was asking me to do. I did improv with Chris Aiken. They were the guest teachers during the time that I was there. I had modern with Sara Hook and Rene Wadleigh and Cynthia Oliver. And Becky Nettl-Fiol was another. Linda Lehovec. They all focused on different kinds of techniques, but I think they tried to make sure what they were teaching was different from all the other professors. I guess that's probably true at many universities for dance, because it would probably benefit the students to have a range. I took some ballet there, too.

But it was not serious?
No. And after being at Milwaukee Ballet, it was definitely not the same world. It was really interesting at the time because I was so used to triple pirouettes and really big grand allegro and at U of I, those aren't the values. Those were my favorite parts of class so trying to find new ways to enjoy ballet was interesting but good. 

Did that experience make you like dance even more or did it put you off? Did you find yourself as a dancer?
I loved being able to do lots of different things, and it was the first time I'd ever done that. I went a long time without doing anything except ballet. It's not normal anymore I think in this world. I'll go and teach young girls, and they're like, "I take lyrical, ballet, jazz, hip-hop." I was really taking hard ballet. Even when I was in high school we followed the Vaganova syllabus. I've learned a lot about anatomy since then so I wouldn't make the same choices in how I did it, but the classes were hard. When I came to Cunningham, felt so at home because it was like the hard Vaganova classes.

Did you have any Cunningham at school?
Michael Cole came and taught a master class. It was my first experience with Cunningham, and I really enjoyed this class. I remember I was sitting on this grass lawn in front of one of the other dance buildings and Rene Wadleigh walked up to me and said, "Krista, I really think that you should go to New York and work really hard and get into the Cunningham company." And I was like, "Oh thanks Rene, but I really want to get into Mark Morris's company." And she said, "Well that's fine too, if you want to do that." But I think she totally called it. She saw the connection. I came to the studio—I think this was three years after the first class I took, and I felt like, I understand this. This is right. It was my dream to be in Mark Morris for a long time. And then Merce opened up a whole other world to me.

Had you seen many performances by the Mark Morris Dance Group? 
Yeah. They would come to Illinois every year or every other year. I loved the company and the work. The Cunningham company came and I also remember that I walked out of the theater thinking, Well, I'll never be in that company. Because I saw Julie [Cunningham] and Holley [Farmer] and they were so amazing, I still remember them doing those Changing Steps solos. They were unlike anyone I had ever seen before. And I just felt like, I'm not going to be part of that. [Laughs] They really affected me. 

Was Michael Cole the only connection with Cunningham that you had in school?
Robert Wood also taught one semester of Cunningham, but I think it was a more personal take. When I came to the studio and when I took Michael's class, I really felt connected to it and I didn't feel that so much with Robert's class. But it was still interesting and I remember some of the back motions were definitely what we do all the time here. 

Coming from ballet, how was your body? Were you more used to using your legs? 
[Eyes widen] I think a couple months ago, I learned how to use my abs. I know that that's an exaggeration, but I thought my legs were everything. And also Merce helped me discover that and I know it wasn't specific to me, but his work demands and gives you so many opportunities to explore the torso and arms and all those combinations of coordinations, and I really feel so happy to have experienced this. When I think back on the ballet, it was just not right. 

Did you move to New York a second time with the intention of checking out Cunningham?
I came in 2005, and I moved to New York with no clear plan and no contacts except for my boyfriend Nic Petry who is also a dancer. He dances for David Parker and the Bang Group. That was my only access to the dance world.

Is he from Illinois too?
We're actually both from Champaign-Urbana and his mother was my third grade teacher. But we never met until we were both in school at the dance department. Which I think is perfect timing because if we had met earlier, I'm sure we would have blown it. [Laughs] We have the same birthday, which I think is also funny.

You moved here together? That must have been a completely different scenario.
Totally different. We kind of had a secret relationship the last semester we were in school; we moved to New York together and we lived together right away, which ended up working really well. The first year and a half was pretty hard for me; I didn't have a lot of luck finding a job. First of all, I could not find work very easily or work that wasn't something I didn't hate doing. I was having no luck with auditioning and classes weren't bringing opportunities.

Were you at Cunningham?
No I didn't go to Cunningham for about two years.

Oh my God.
I know. I had some funny weird thing where a friend from school really wanted to be in the understudy group and I was just like, Well that's kind of her thing. I don't want to go over there. I'm really into Mark. And I actually, I did do really well at one of [Morris's] auditions and they invited me into the company class. It felt like, Yes! This is right, this is what I'm supposed to do, but then it didn't work out and luckily I came to Cunningham. Actually, I think it was that experience and my feelings about how things wouldn't work out with Mark that brought me to go to Cunningham. I thought, That was my big dream and it's not going to happen so maybe Cunningham will help me take my mind off of how bad I feel about that. When I came to Cunningham, I was also dancing with Catherine Tharin, and she has kind of Hawkins-based work, and she was so nurturing to me. I think she kind of saved me because no one else really seemed interested in me at all, and she really took a lot of time and care and helped train me. She talked with Robert [Swinston] and said, "My dancer Krista went and took your class and she loves Cunningham. Can you please look out for her because she's great." And he did and I took two or three classes and he invited me to the company class. I was like, "Robert, I don't know the back exercises!" And he taught me them in the small studio. A couple days later I took Merce's class and I was so unbelievably nervous. I'm really good at pretending I'm not nervous in dance class, I think I stood at the back , but then when I started to feel more comfortable, I definitely stood right smack in front of Merce because I really wanted to get that job if there was one. I took class for less than a year and Melissa [Toogood] joined the company. So her position as an understudy was going to be open and the other understudies really were encouraging to me. So I really, really made sure to stand right in front of Merce the whole time. Robert offered me a position and it was the happiest day I had in a really long time.

What was it like working with Robert when he was teaching you the exercises?
Robert and I get along really well. It was great because he knows so much and he wanted to teach me, and I was really excited that he cared enough to pick me out and help me and invite me to class. It was really exciting and I learned a lot immediately from him. There's so much in his body that you can see; it's very clear. His back and his torso move extremely clearly and the dynamic reminds me a little of Merce. I feel like I really respond to a visual—trying to experiment with someone else's dynamics by watching and trying. Also, people just tell you if you're—

Not doing it right.
Yeah. He is very, he's not going to beat around the bush and that is fine with me. [Laughs].

When you became a member of the RUGs [Repertory Understudy Group], what were some of the dances you worked on?
When I came in, they had been working on some sections of Nearly Ninety. I think they'd done a few of the "wind" sections. That's the only new material that I worked on with Merce, but we did work on that a lot. And we also would do sections of dances. There was a Signals suite and there was a Doubles suite and we did some Scramble. There were tons of sections. Solos, duets, trios, quartets, and then sometimes, like with Signals, we cut the septet for four. 

How would it be decided what you would work on that day?
Merce would tell us when he was there. He would just say, "Okay, well Doubles." So we'd do Doubles. He'd sometimes say, "There's something in the beginning" and so we'd start at the beginning and he'd never say to stop and we never felt like we should stop because Merce Cunningham was watching us, so we'd just do the whole thing again. [Laughs] Many times. And so the day would go like that: We would run some repertory and he would ask for things. We'd do them for him, we'd work on them, we'd run them again and at the end of the day we would start working on the new material, Nearly Ninety. When I first came in, it was just sections and he would say, "The seated section" or "Wind number one." 

How many "wind" sections are there in Nearly Ninety? 
There are four in the piece. There were a few sections that got cut, but he would have some kind of name for the sections and then we would just run a section, probably do it a few times. We would just run material constantly. A lot. Over and over and over. And he would take the timing and work on it. 

Did that suit you, like running work over and over? 
It was amazing. I've never worked like that before. And he would teach us things one step at a time. I'd never learned anything like that also, just verbally being instructed. It was really fun because you got to use your own creativity and try to interpret the instructions exactly how you thought he meant them, but then you would look over and see, Oh wait, that person's doing something else. It was fun to see how it played out for each individual.

How many were you?
When I started, Melissa was an understudy for about a month so there was an overlap for that time. There were five and then when Melissa joined the company there were four. 

I've heard from other dancers that instead of giving breaks that he would tell stories. 

Yes. I loved Merce story time. He really loved birds and nature, and I feel like I remember several stories about a bird. Or when they came back from the performances in California where they were in a warehouse—he really talked a lot about the light and the natural surroundings and the view out onto the water. It was really remarkable to him. There were lots of windows. 

He really must have needed that contact with you. 
Probably. He couldn't come to any of us and I remember [former Cunningham dancer] Sandra Neels told me once that whenever she went to the studio, she always made sure to go up to Merce—to give him a kiss and talk to him. I mean it took her to point out to me that he couldn't come over to anyone if he wanted to talk. 

How isolating.
Very. And I think he had already passed when she told me that, but it made sense. 

Did you ever go over to talk to him? What was your relationship like?
No, I did not go over to talk to him by myself. One time my parents came to the studio and I introduced them to him, but he was kind of—but he didn't seem very happy that day so he didn't seem interested in meeting them. [Shrugs] His interaction with student groups was also really interesting. He would often give answers that I felt surprised children or were clever in a way that would be really interesting for the children. A lot of times the same questions come out: "How old are you?" "How long have you been dancing?" "What's your favorite dance?" But then sometimes there would be really insightful questions from a child and sometimes he just seemed to have fun interacting with them. But sometimes he just wanted to work and you could tell he was like, Okay, let's finish this outreach. I want to work on Nearly Ninety.

But kids would come to the studio and watch demonstrations?
Yeah. And actually that was a really great performance experience because we would always have a talk back with the children after, and they were always so inspired and happy to have participated or watched. It was kind of a surprise to me when I joined the company and I literally never talked to audience members. Not never, but it was rare. So that was an interesting shift—from understudy to company member—because I loved being able to interact with the audience.

I think Cunningham work is the perfect thing to show kids too. Or Balanchine—the leotard ballets.
They're really into it. I really agree because you can tell they recognize this doesn't fit a lot of the rules, but they still like it.

And they see the humor in it too, right? 

Yeah. It's difficult though, because when you're in a fancy theater and you paid $50 for your ticket, you don't want to be disrespectful and laugh at the wrong thing so I can understand. But you're right—it opens your mind up if you can see things younger. I really enjoyed doing that outreach a lot. I miss that connection—and teaching children dance.

Did you also teach? 
We would go into the public schools and teach a very simplified version of Cunningham and then at the end we would have made a dance with the children using chance procedures. They would come to the studio and we would perform for them, and we would have a talk back and then they would perform their dance after they took a little warm-up class. It was a great program. 

How long were you a RUG?
About a year and a half. Actually, I was an understudy with all of the people who are going to be performing tonight [for the final RUG performance at the Cunningham Studio]. It's hard for me. 

You were the last person hired. Is that why it's difficult? 

I really love them all and I think they should have had a chance. I see there's not time for a chance, but they're really great dancers and they work hard and today's their last day with Cunningham. At all. I feel pretty bad about it. I'm having an emotional day, period, but I feel terrible that they won't be able to be in the company. They have done such a good job in this difficult situation of working hard up until the last possible moment and having integrity. I know that it's been a struggle for them to deal with the emotions and it's disappointing, which makes it then even harder when they work so hard for nothing. They don't really get paid and they don't have anything to look forward to at this point necessarily. Hopefully something will change and that's not true, but at this point, it's not clear. So I feel pretty bad.

How did you get into the company?
This is funny. My first day, there was a secret meeting. I went into the secret meeting in the morning. And Trevor [Carlson] didn't even know who I was, but I was sitting there because Robert said I should go. 

A secret meeting for the RUGs?
Everybody. It was staff and the understudies. I think the company might have known this already. It was an announcement of the Legacy Plan. And Merce was still making work; it wasn't something they were thinking of enacting at the moment. They were planning. And so they said, "Part of this Legacy Plan means that new understudies will be hired and we'll take you on tour with us as company [members], because we're going to need you to help with this massive amount of touring, to make sure people don't get injured or you can go in when people are injured." This kind of thing. So it was amazing because from the very first day I knew that unless I really blew it, I would probably get a job. And that was definitely not guaranteed as an understudy. Then when Merce died Jamie [Scott] and Dylan [Crossman] were hired—and then John [Hinrichs] was hired. So I was the only one left in our group who wasn't; the Legacy Tour was coming up and Robert said, "You're going to be hired, so make arrangements" because I was teaching and doing other things. But then it was not clear if I was going to be hired after I already quit my jobs. They said they were going to hire me as an understudy on tour, but I was like, "I can't pay my rent with the salary of an understudy and if I'm on tour I can't make other money so that doesn't work for me either." I think there was a discussion among the administration and Robert and the company. I didn't know what was going on in that time that they were telling me different things, but finally in the end they said, "We promised you. You're going to be hired in February." That was one month later than what they had told me originally, but, you know, I wasn't going to argue with that. And actually Julie came to me and told me that she wanted me to know that when Robert said, "I want to hire Krista because I promised her and she's the last person to work with Merce" that she and the company really felt that it wouldn't be fair for me to not join. Which really meant a lot. Julie was really always so kind. It was hard when she left because she was one of the people who was kind to me and stood by me from the beginning. She was gone. I was so sad. I was taking over parts, so it was much better for me dancingwise because I had parts in fewer than half the dances. I still don't have parts in a lot of the dances, but it's a lot better now. So it was this weird thing of I'm benefitting, but I feel really terrible. She was so inspiring to me. I always thought she was so beautiful and talented and also going into her roles was hard because I was thinking, I'll never do this like Julie. I'm sure that everyone has that problem. People get used to seeing certain dancers in the company and for anyone stepping in it's a challenge any dancer has face. 

Do you keep in touch with Julie?
I do. She's going back to school, and I'm thinking of doing that so she's definitely helped me. There was a time when I was really not doing very well emotionally and she was there for me, even in the worst of possible situations: I was doing her part in the dance when she was injured and couldn't do it. I was so upset and she was there to listen to me and help me. She connected me with my therapist, which has helped me so much. I've been in therapy for about a year and a half now and it's been such a benefit to me. She gave me so many different things and it was weird. Just like tonight is weird to go and see my friends do their last dance. 

Where was your first performance?

It was in Ohio at the Wexner Center. My family drove there, and I did Split Sides. I had actually done Split Sides as an understudy; I filled in for Julie the summer before, but I did a completely different part. At this point I've learned almost every section except for Silas's solo and the trio. [Laughs]

I'd like a sense of what it was like for you stepping into the company and suddenly being on this Legacy Tour.
My experience was very different, having done those performances as an understudy. I did Split Sides and I did CRWDSPCR at Jacob's Pillow. Going back to being an understudy after that was extremely difficult, and I had no idea what I was missing. Others might have had a better idea of what it was like and how exciting it might be, but I didn't realize. That experience was so fantastic that going back to being an understudy was just difficult and then I think I was really stressed from the back and forth of thinking I was going to be hired then I wasn't. By the time they said I was going to be hired, I was like, "I don't believe you." [Laughs] But then it was exciting to go to Ohio and the next tour was Rome. It was my birthday. I was really scared to perform. I have so much anxiety, but that happens to everyone and I think my therapist has really helped me to deal with anxiety. It's a lot of people looking at you in a unitard. And the pressure of being in the Cunningham company and wanting to do what Merce designed or what he was looking for is a lot of self-pressure.

You're the last person to work with him and all of that.

You know I didn't even add that, but there you go! [Laughs

Did you have friends in the company?  
I felt close to the people I had worked with as understudies when I joined, but it is interesting because I found being in this company takes so much energy to make sure that you're healthy and you're eating the right things and you're doing what you need to do just to be ready for a show. There were a lot of friendships that had already been formed so I don't know. I didn't really make friends with everyone right away.

It's like walking into high school?
Probably. Yeah. Kind of. And I think I had such a weird experience of entry into the company that I probably wasn't as friendly or optimistic as I normally would be, and I think that's too bad. I wish I would have been just super sunshine, but I had so much going on and I didn't know how to deal with it. Going to therapy has really helped me see: Well I'm having these feeling and that's fine. Or I don't have to be overwhelmed by certain feelings. Also, just to put things in perspective because I'm very sensitive; everyone in this company is very sensitive and that's what makes you dynamic, also, and able to maybe pick up on things that maybe Merce was looking for and bring things to the work. I see that if I'm being oversensitive, it's not going to help me to break into the group in the best way. 

Could you elaborate on that idea of sensitivity and the dancer? 
We're constantly evaluating ourselves and looking at, Could I do that pli better? Or, Wow, my knee is really hurting, so what's happening? Maybe I should make my hair more interesting for the next show. That's a superficial thing, but it relates to personal dynamics—looking for what Merce wants. Is there a shadow going across his face? Because he didn't seem to like the way that person did the phrase, so maybe he meant something else. There's a lot going on all the time for each of us, and I see now it's very enveloping—all the things you need in order to give your best performance and to be constantly growing and gathering and learning. I just didn't realize the sensitivity and how much I could affect other people also at first. 

How did you learn that? How did that become apparent?
Looking at how I was being affected by other people and then realizing, Well I'm not in a vacuum. I'm definitely contributing to this relationship. So what am I doing in it and how can I better facilitate a positive interactive? Or for everybody to be able to work to their best capability—because I really do feel in any situation, whether it's a big group or little group or two people, that everyone is contributing to whatever is happening. I didn't realize that I would have any impact on anyone. There's a lot of people in the company! You feel like no one's watching you and then you realize—everyone was watching me to see how I was going to fit in with them or how I was doing. I didn't get it right away. 

Can you talk about any of the dances that you perform regularly or not that have meant something to you?
I love RainForest. It might be my favorite dance. I also love Roaratorio. I love how it's community onstage and it's not that we necessarily need to be doing this, but we smile at each other a lot more than we do and I just really love doing that. Dancing and connecting with people are the two things that I really like to do and if I can connect and dance at the same time, I just feel so happy. Also I get to dance a lot and I like that too. And I love Quartet because it's so different from all the other dances, and I feel like I really go into a different universe when I'm going onstage for that piece.

How so?
I feel slightly terrified and the music is like a fog, an aural fog, and I dance with Jennifer [Goggans] and we have to be together exactly almost the entire time and having the concentration—if either one of us does something slightly different, whether it's spacing or a step or timing, we have to match. I don't think I have that kind of role in any of the other dances where I'm a twin. There are so many aspects to our relationship and the one that we have with Melissa or Brandon [Collwes] or Robert and I really love that it's vague and that there are multiple ways to interpret these relationships. It's also so stark. It really does feel like a dark place and I like to go there in a dance. 

Do you know what you're dancing for the Armory?
I chose Landrover. There's a solo and a duet I do with John Hindrichs. He's the best partner, and I just really love dancing with him. We went to school together at the University of Illinois, so we've known each other for a long time. Robert told me, "It makes sense that you would pick Landrover because you're perfectly suited for it." There's a lot of leg work, but also torsos...there's kind of a juxtaposition of quick, flicking leg and slow, melting torsos and I really like the contrast between things like that. The duet I do with John is so beautiful and performing it, I feel so beautiful. John and I have been dancing together for a long time and I feel like he can definitely sense what I need and that he really cares about both of us doing the work well. And that, in a partner, is fantastic. He's the person I dance with the most. I've partnered with some of the other men, not everyone. I danced once with Rashaun [Mitchell] when he did Daniel's [Madoff] part in RainForest when Daniel was injured. That's the only time I've ever touched Rashaun onstage. [Laughs

How did you find out that Merce had died?

[Company manager] Geoffrey Finger called me.  I did Wolf Trap—I know I told Merce that I missed an entrance in my first show at Wolf Trap. There are four couples and they're doing this slow movement in Split Sides, and I just performed the duet with Daniel [Madoff] and it went really well and we were excited about it and we were talking and happy about how it went and then I freaked out, and I didn't know what was going on and everyone went on and I thought, I don't recognize this section. What am I supposed to be doing? Robert looked at me and he said, "What are you doing? Get out there!" I freaked out. Marcie [Munnerlyn] was like, "It's okay. Just walk out there real slow," and so I did and I worked my walk and I fit right in to the first part. I felt really bad about this and when we went to visit Merce at his apartment after this Wolf Trap show, I confessed. He was not going to be coming back to the studio and we knew this was probably the last time we would see him. I was like, "I missed my entrance, but then I went out and I walked really slow" and I reenacted it for him. And he was like, "Well, it was a memorable beginning," and so I felt like he forgave me. [Laughs] It just kind of came out. I thought it might make him laugh and he did laugh. But I got a call from Geoffrey Finger who said, "Krista, I'm so sorry to tell you this..." And I thought, Oh man! Did they lose my bag or something? He said, "Merce died," and I just did not believe him. Even though we were all prepared that Merce probably wouldn't be coming back to the studio or be living very much longer, I seriously did not believe him. And then I did.

Did you go to the studio that day?
Yeah. I brought a geranium from my garden and I remember I saw Stacy [Martorana] on the corner. She's one of the understudies. I remember seeing you there. When we did the bounces, it was amazing. I had cried a lot that day and by the time I got there I was feeling cried out, but when we did the balances, as my head went down it was tears and you could just feel it from everyone in the room. I'm really glad we did that. And also I think that's when it really hit me fully that he wasn't going to be there for us to experience ever again—whether we're balancing or doing Nearly Ninety or whatever. It will not feel the same and it really doesn't feel the same without Merce. He had such charisma and energy. He was irreplaceable. 

Even aging. 
Yes. He was in a wheelchair. I always felt like I could give everything because he was there, every time. And working with him, he continually pushed us to do things we never thought we could do, and then you'd look back and realize you accomplished something that seemed impossible. It makes sense that he excited the room. He really inspired everybody.

Has it been hard for you to find that inspiration during this tour?
No, it's just different. I think Robert's done a really great job of leaving us space to find our own inspiration and paths and entries into things. Merce was so good about allowing you your own process of entry and Robert studied that consciously and really tries to make sure he doesn't over-coach or over-conceptualize things for us, and I am so happy for that. 

What are you planning on doing when this is over?
I would like to continue dancing. I don't know how because I would also definitely like to go back to school. At this point, I don't have any full-time job offers for dancing and I think that might not be realistic for me right now; I'll probably be doing projects or pickup work and I think that I can fit that in with school. So I would like to try to have both things.

Can you think of any choreographers you would want to work with?
I haven't been going to shows. This tour has been so intense for me. I feel like I cannot go to see shows. I'm so tired when we're home; I just want to see Nic and enjoy my house. I moved in the spring and I feel like my neighbors think I'm crazy because I come home with suitcases and then I go shopping for stuff and I'll bring it home and then I'm gone for weeks. 

What do you want to study?
Psychology. I'm also really interested in the brain so I'm hoping to find some connection whether it's neuropsychology or biopsychology I'm not sure exactly. 

Who do you dance for now that Merce isn't in the front of the room?
It's a combination of myself and the other company members and the audience. I used to think of dancing for Merce, but I don't really think of him so much anymore. I think that happens when time passes. What's been really interesting for me is finding a balance of holding to my values as a dancer, energetically or in terms of the performance quality, and then also meeting the expectations of the company and Robert and the audience and the play among those things. It is sometimes really difficult to figure out—and probably impossible to ever really figure out. That has been a long, interesting process. 

And if you could dance in any era of Merce's company other than now?
I can't pick now? [Laughs] I've done so many dances and especially in the last group of understudies—since Melissa—we have been able to do so many parts that used to be coveted and treasured and you didn't do it unless you were the prima in the company. So the fact that I got to do the Signals solo—that would have been completely unacceptable in the past! I guess if you make me pick some other time, I would say working with Merce at the beginning, because the dancers were more intimate with Merce and I would have liked to have known him. And John Cage, too! I just hear that John was so inspirational and positive and funny and smart and brought his interests in all these other things to the group and driving around in a bus. It just seems like it was really exciting. But hard and hellish. I was just thinking of those pictures where they're so tired. But they looked so beautiful, too. They were so innocent.


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