Heather McGinley talks about dancing for Paul Taylor

The daring Heather McGinley talks about her upcoming season with the Paul Taylor Dance Company

How did you shift into Taylor?
I auditioned for this company many times. I just love the way we get to take the space in Taylor movement. I get to run as hard as I can across the stage and slide at someone. There’s something really exhilarating about the wind-on-your-face kind of feeling. But I don’t have to leave the Graham technique by the wayside; it’s the best of both worlds.

And here you get to really move.
Yes. In Graham, the shift of weight and the opposition of the body are very important, but we get to do that and take the entire stage, so it feels a little different. It’s very satisfying. In college, you have these ideas about, Oh, I want to dance here or there or do this or that, but then you have to get the job and you have to be the right person at the right time, and openings happened at Graham. I was doing Night Journey and Clytemnestra and Acts of Light, but whenever I could, I would take a class at the Taylor studios. I was always looking up to see when they had auditions; in the meantime, I was very happy to be dancing with the Graham company.

How is the class different?
Taylor class is a style; Graham is a technique. There’s such a specific progression and different variations depending on how advanced the class is. In Taylor, class was often taught by current members. They’re approaching it partly from, how am I going to get ready for my day? It’s maybe a little bit milder to begin and then much more intense by the end. In the beginning, you can just relax and break up your feet and by the time you’re doing any kind of foot warm-up in a Graham class, you’ve already been on the floor for 45 minutes. You’re pretty warm, and you may not get to do that gentle roll through the foot; they want to see an aggressive prance.

Did you treat Taylor classes like auditions?
Definitely. There would often be company members in the class, so I certainly observed them and once in a while I’d be in class. and Paul might fill up his coffee and stand for a minute and walk back out. It was very exciting just to be in the same room as him.

How many years did you take class?
Many years. I joined the company in 2011; when I auditioned in 2010, I was kept until the end of the audition, so I was in the room when Aileen [Roehl] got hired. Every time I auditioned, I was kept a little longer, and I felt more encouraged to come back. I never remember feeling an ounce of disappointment. Maybe I didn’t get the job that day, but I kind of felt it wasn’t my time. From that point on, I made even more of an effort to take Taylor classes as often as I could. I attended their summer and winter intensive between that audition and the next audition. I started to feel really at home here. I had never been so relaxed in an audition.

Tell me about the audition when you got in.
It felt like the perfect day. [Laughs] The studios are way out on the East Side and sometimes it can be a pain to get down there, but it was the easiest path—the train came, the sun was shining, it was good weather. The number I was in my group was at the end of that group, so I got to watch the combination happen a couple of times before I went. You know how all those little things just sometimes line up for you? I also got the sense that the current company members were rooting for me a little bit.

What did they do?
Parisa [Khobdeh] was teaching a combination from Scudorama—a very intense work with knee turns. I think my knee was even bleeding when I went in to do it. But she gave me a really aggressive correction when we were learning it. She knew my name, but she said, “You in the blue—more of this” or something, and I just felt like people were telling me, “Go for it.” At the end of the audition, we were down to the last few people. I believe we were doing some movement from Mercuric Tidings, and we were in two small groups of two or three. I went in the first group; the second group was dancing, and I was standing on the side, so I couldn’t really see Paul watching. I went to lean forward to see, who is he watching? How is this going? What is he thinking? And then I just stopped. I felt like I had just done everything I could, and it was just going to be what it was. Right after the music ended, he called us all over; he stood up and started telling some of the dancers that he really enjoyed their work and that they had done a great job, and then when he got to me, he said, “Heather, you’re the one.” I just burst into tears. It was the most ecstatic moment.

How many auditions had you been to? 
That was my fifth. I came to one for Taylor 2 when I was still in college. Susan McGuire sent me; we usually call the auditions the person who got the job that day. I was at [Eran] Bugge’s audition, Jamie Rae [Walker’s] audition, Aileen’s audition… [Laughs]

Had Paul given you much encouragement before that?
When I came to Bugge’s audition—it was six months before that I’d done that Taylor 2 audition. When you first walk in the room with your group of 20 or 30 dancers, he has you stand in a line and he gets a sense of who’s in that group; he’ll flip through the headshots and résumés, and as he was just looking down the line, he said, “Oh, I remember you.” I definitely felt encouraged by that one little side comment back in 2005. [Laughs]

Were you onstage right away after getting the job?
I think it was six weeks later or so. They had just a couple more shows of that season and then they had a couple of weeks off. My first week in the company, I had four days of rehearsals and then we got on a plane to Turkey. I was dancing Cloven Kingdom, and I was so nervous. Luckily, I had spent many years dancing in long dresses in the Graham company. You learn to work with having something floor-length on all the time—rolling on the floor, getting up and not getting caught in it. But those were often A-line and the Cloven Kingdom skirts are really full-circle, so it’s a lot of material. I wear a mirrored-ball headpiece that I had to take on and off a couple of times and between the headpiece and the super-dark lighting and the shallow stage…. Everything went wrong in that tech rehearsal. I got completely wrapped up in my skirt; my headpiece fell off. At the end of the opening section, all the women start cartwheeling through each other and then offstage. That did not go well. I didn’t hit anyone, but I spun around so hard that I almost started cartwheeling in the wrong direction.” I got it all out in that tech rehearsal. [Laughs] The show went fine. But everyone was so supportive, and I remember very clearly I was only in the last piece that evening and I was backstage going over my steps and asking, “How do you do your makeup in this company? How should I do this?” The other girls in the company were so helpful, and something that really struck me was all the dancers watching each other from backstage. I hadn’t experienced that level of support where everyone is really like, Oh, that person’s new in that solo: Let’s see what they do with it. It definitely has a family atmosphere that I hadn’t experienced quite to this level before.

Why does it have that? Because it’s so grueling and you have to support each other to get through it?

Yes. And I think that the choreography in some ways lends itself to that—we really have to rely on each other onstage. You have to trust each other. Even if we were arguing about if we were supposed to be on this mark or that mark, onstage I always feel that everyone has each other’s back. There’s a great camaraderie when we get onstage. There are so many moments where you look right at someone. I don’t know where else you get to do that.

What were some of the other roles you broke into?

My first season, I was cast in Aureole, which was so much fun. That wasn’t too hard to learn. A lot of the steps are what you might do in a Taylor class. That one just felt good right away. That season, I had a really fun role in Syzygy; it was the first time I’d gotten to do that type of role onstage—like what I said about running right at someone as hard as you can and sliding at them? It was just this kind of leave-it-all-out-on-the-stage. We have shorts on with tights underneath, and I went through so many pairs of tights because I would just shred them at every show.

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