Bettie de Jong joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1962, when its members were Mr. Taylor, Dan Wagoner, Liz Walton, Bonnie Mathis and Shareen Blair; her Company debut occurred on April 15 in Paris. She danced until 1985. During those 24 years – the longest stint of any Company member – Mr. Taylor set 24 parts in these dances for her: Tracer, Piece Period, La Negra, Scudorama, Party Mix, The Red Room, 9 Dances With Music by Corelli, From Sea To Shining Sea, Post Meridian, Orbs, Lento, Public Domain, Churchyard, Foreign Exchange, Big Bertha, Book of Beasts, Fetes, Guests of May, Noah’s Minstrels, American Genesis, Esplanade, Cloven Kingdom, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), and House of Cards. Bettie, who was Mr. Taylor’s favorite dancing partner, became the Company’s Rehearsal Director when he stopped performing in 1974. The cognoscenti see her deft touch throughout the repertoire. Reviewing the Taylor Company’s 2004 City Center season, Mindy Aloff wrote in Dance View New York, “Regardless of whether a given dance is profound or superficial, likable or grating, it will always be beautifully made and, thanks to the Taylor Company’s rehearsal director, Bettie de Jong, performed with intensity.” A native of Sumatra, Indonesia, of Dutch heritage, Bettie moved with her family to Holland after World War II on her 14th birthday; New York has been her home since 1958.
TaylorNotes: You grew up in a very difficult time and place: Indonesia during the Second World War.
Bettie de Jong: My growing up years in Java were very, very nice; it was a warm climate but we were on a plateau so it wasn’t excruciatingly hot. These were the days of ceiling fans. School started at 7 and we were out by 11 and we went straight to the pool every day. For a kid it was heavenly. It was wonderful until the Japanese prison camps, but when you’re that young you don’t take away what mature people take away from it, you just remember the silly things. You do remember the hunger. It took me a long, long time to be able to leave food on my plate when I had had enough to eat. Once in a while I get flashbacks of being behind barbed wire. Once, with Paul in Berlin, the wall had just gone up and the dancers wanted to go into East Berlin, so we took the underground train to Friedrichstrasse and when I saw all those people standing in line I said, “No thank you!” and took the next train out. If I wasn’t obligated to go with Paul’s Company to the USSR I would have backed out. The idea of being state-controlled… It comes from nowhere because we weren’t in really bad camps – only the last one and that didn’t last very long – it’s just implanted that to be interned behind barbed wire…
TN: Dancers generally seem to know at a very early age what they want to do…
BdJ: I didn’t, though. I took dance classes when we moved to Amsterdam when I was 13, but I was as tall as I am now, and all the boys were smaller than I. I knew the local ballet schools weren’t going to take me because on pointe I’d be another few inches taller, and there was no modern class. When I saw the Martha Graham Company I saw that Miss Graham used tall women and I thought, Aha, that’s my chance. I came to the U.S. to take classes at the Graham school, thinking I’d go back to Holland and teach Graham.
TN: Do you remember the first time you encountered Paul?
BdJ: Oh sure, at the Martha Graham School. He was a big guy who could do anything. The first piece I saw Paul dancing in was John Butler’s Carmina Burana, or it may have been Balanchine’s Episodes; I snuck into the ballet in those days. The first piece I remember him in from the Graham repertory is Embattled Garden. He jumps out of a tree after the dancing has been going on for a while. He was able to be so still that I had not seen him. When he jumped out my heart just leapt out of my chest! That tree was nothing, and he was a bulky guy! It was just amazing.
TN: How did you come to join his troupe?
BdJ: I heard that he was having a closed audition, by invitation only, because one of the dancers had two children and couldn’t go to Europe with Paul. Martha had a kitchen at the Graham School where the senior staff could make coffee and she allowed me to use it, and I stumbled into Paul there. When there’s something on my mind I blurt it out, and I said, “Is it true you’re having auditions?” And he said, “Yes, but it’s by invitation.” Then he said, “You may come.” And I said, “Can I?!” So he gave me the time and place. Well, the steps were all very fast and I hadn’t moved that fast in my life. I walked out with Dan Wagoner, who I knew, and he said, “Paul said he’d never thought about having a tall woman in his Company.” So the next day I went to Graham class as usual and got home around 1pm and the telephone rang. “Hello?” “Where ARE you? We’re REHEARSING!” Paul had never told me!
TN: Did you have the same happy/stunned reaction that dancers do now?
BdJ: It was different then because it was a smaller group and he didn’t have that many dates; it was more like, Oh gee, I’m getting to dance and I’m going to get paid a little for it. We carried our own makeup, we washed our own costumes. But I was delighted. I was going to get to dance.
TN: You arrived in 1962 but you weren’t cast in Aureole.
BdJ: I had gone home to Holland to visit my dad, who was dying, and by the time I got back Aureole was finished. Audiences loved Aureole and it was on every program. That was the hardest part about not being in it, especially with only six people in the Company; it would have been a nice way to finish the evening with everybody in the piece.
TN: Do you get a twinge when you’re rehearsing Aureole now?
BdJ: When I hear that music I get nervous. I have nothing against the dance; I did Paul’s solo once when he wrecked his ankle at the American Dance Festival, and part of Dan’s part when he wrecked his calf muscle. Because it was such an important dance in those days I still get sort of worked up. Even though I wasn’t a regular in it, I got nervous for everybody else.
TN: What was the modern dance scene like at that time?
BdJ: There was a lot going on, just not a steady stream of companies. Sophie Maslow would do a big Chanukah show at Madison Square Garden, Anna Sokolow was around, Pearl Lang was around, Martha, John Butler, Lucas Hoving, José Limón. All these modern dancers were choreographing and they asked their friends to dance, so the companies weren’t always the same.
TN: This must have all been so new to you.
BdJ: We did From Sea to Shining Sea, with all sorts of American images in the third part, and when it came to Betsy Ross sewing the flag and saluting, I saluted with my palm out, and Paul said, “De Jong, we don’t salute like that,” I said, “Oh certainly, yes,” and he said, “You’re crazy.” So the next season Eileen Cropley came from Britain and saluted the same way I had and I said “See!” That’s how we saluted in Europe: palms out, to show you have no weapon. Paul always made fun of me. Of course, I didn’t even know who Betsy Ross was; I called her Betsy Roth. That’s how new I was to this country!
TN: Were you aware how potentially controversial works like Big Bertha and From Sea to Shining Sea were?
BdJ: From Sea to Shining Sea yes. Paul was way ahead of the times in terms of poking fun at America. Big Bertha was very often requested because it was so powerful, but child abuse was still a forbidden subject here in the 1970s. With all the talk about the military/industrial complex, audiences could identify with the idea of a machine destroying our society rather than focus on the father abusing his daughter. The minute child abuse started to be widely talked about, we had the dance taken off the bill.
TN: What abilities does it take to be Paul Taylor’s rehearsal director?
BdJ: When I started doing it I didn’t have any skills at all, none, except for having a pretty good memory of the dances and what other people did in them. I guess I was always interested in the geography of the whole dance rather than my own little part so I always knew what other people were doing, and I think that prepared me. I’ve found that I have to hear the music to know what’s coming in the dance. It’s not just muscle memory but eye and ear memory. Some people are just more in tune. Lisa Viola is very good at that; she sometimes sees things I don’t, and I’m not as detailed as she is. Mary Cochran always had a very good eye for what a dance should look like. Patrick Corbin is very good at coaching. I don’t want to be, because I was never coached. Paul let me do what I thought was right and if it wasn’t right he would give me another image. I feel that a performer should have that freedom, so I don’t like to tell people how to do something unless they really have the wrong approach, and then I’ll try to be general. If I tried something and Paul said ‘Keep it,’ I will translate that to the next dancer, but I feel they should be able to make their own choices. That’s part of the joy of performing.
TN: Dancers say how much they appreciate hearing from you what Paul’s original intent of a moment or gesture was.
BdJ: There was very definitely an image Paul gave us with “the conversation” in Esplanade. He wanted us to be unable to make contact with each other, and used the term “ghost” to indicate the idea that we were invisible to each other.
TN: Was that his way of suggesting a dysfunctional family?
BdJ: I think he was looking for a haunted house, for memories. That’s why my figure never looks anybody straight in the eyes, but always somewhere past. But those images can be read differently too, like in other art forms. No two people look at a painting the same way, and that’s fine.
TN: Do you think your persona led Paul to places he might not have gone otherwise?
BdJ: He always used me for my height; I was always the tallest person, sometimes in heels and a high hat. I don’t think I took him anywhere he wasn’t able to go anyway. On the other hand, he used all of us for the qualities we had in particular, so we all took him to places he might not have gone had we not been there.
TN: Where have you enjoyed going on tour? How do you spend your free time?
BdJ: I really love Paris. It lives. And I love the French countryside, too; the audiences give us standing ovations. I enjoy Italy when I’m there with Taylor Executive Director John Tomlinson, because he speaks some Italian. I had a great time in Turkey, and we were in Teheran while the Shah was still in power; I had taught one of the Princess’s handmaidens at the Graham School. I’m a knitter, crocheter and an embroiderer, but I can’t do any of it anymore because of arthritis; that used to be my pastime on planes.
TN: You’ve had a unique vantage point on the Company from 1962 to the present; how has it changed?
BdJ: The attitude is very different. Technically they’re way above the caliber we were; these kids can do anything. There’s better understanding of how to train people; better nutrition; very few people dance with injuries. But in terms of real commitment, we would go through hell to do a performance. It’s such a different world. And today’s dancers don’t ever say no to Paul; we said plenty of no’s to Paul because we were all his age in the beginning. If something felt funny we would say, “It’s not organic.” Now they say, “I’ll try!”
TN: Looking back, what gives you satisfaction or a feeling of pride?
BdJ: Just this whole experience for me, because I do not come from a theatrical family. Sometimes I walk backstage at a theater and think, Gee, I should have been something completely different! My mother was a nurse, my father was an agricultural engineer dealing with diseases, my sister was a nurse…. I had no familiarity with theater life. So this is all very miraculous to me. My father understood it though. He was involved in agricultural research and he could see the traps and the good things of being in the creative field. How I arrived here I really don’t know, I really don’t.
TN: Are there historical figures you would like to have met?
BdJ: I came here at a time that was very rich in terms of dancers and choreographers, so I got to meet pretty much everybody except for Hanya Holm, and Doris Humphrey, who died about three weeks before I arrived in this country. I met Ruth St. Denis at Jacob’s Pillow on her 50th Anniversary! I saw her “incense dance,” and she did a little dance with Ted Shawn. We were sharing a program with Alvin Ailey, and she knew who the Taylor Company was.
Michael Trusnovec grew up in Yaphank, Long Island, which earned him the nickname “Hank” from Paul Taylor. He attended the Nassau BOCES Cultural Arts Center in Syosset, New York, and in 1992 was named a Presidential Scholar in the Arts. His father, a former New York City police officer, had several businesses including a hot dog truck that Michael worked on. After attending Southern Methodist University in Dallas on scholarship, Michael spent two years in Taylor 2 and then joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 1998.
TaylorNotes: You began dancing at age six; were you an athletic kid?
Michael Trusnovec: My dad was a big athletic person but I wasn’t really athletically inclined. I played Little League for a season – I have the team photo to prove it! – but the ball tended to hit me more than I hit the ball.
TN: What did your father make of your dancing?
MT: Now, he’s pretty proud of it. Then, it was a little different, probably more out of fear of whether I could make a living doing this. When I started getting paid he became the proud papa, and when I graduated from high school he had a billboard made for the front yard; it was really sweet.
TN: Did you take to dance right away?
MT: My mom says I always had a connection to music. No matter how far in the background it’s playing, it’s like I go into a trance, I can’t disconnect from it. As soon as I hear music I get really drawn to it, and if it’s bad music it hurts me, I can’t handle it. I started taking ballet classes at 12 or 13. It didn’t fit my body; I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, and people make fun of guys who take ballet class, but one teacher insisted I stay with it, and I wanted to keep my scholarship to the dance school so I stuck with it.
TN: You’re probably the Taylor dancer who grew up closest to Paul Taylor’s home in Mattituck. When did you first become aware of his work?
MT: We had a dance history class in high school, but I don’t remember seeing his work until Annmaria Mazzini showed me a tape of Roses and Last Look at SMU.
TN: How did you wind up going there?
MT: I had actually never heard of the school. Jazz and tap was my thing; I thought I was going the Broadway-performer route. Then I got a phone call from an SMU recruiter who saw me perform at the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts competition in Miami. It was great to win that award; it made me feel like all the work up to that point had amounted to something. My high school counselor was pushing me to go to Juilliard but I was afraid I’d wind up getting a job and leave school and never finish. SMU offered to cover my tuition, so my folks put me on a plane and I went there sight unseen.
TN: It’s extraordinary that we have three SMU alumni here now.
MT: We had five in the two companies at one point! That’s impressive.
TN: What is it about that program?
MT: I think there was a major shift after my sophomore year; they got a new Chair and started bringing in major works and major choreographers to work with the students, and that started attracting better students. The caliber of student just keeps getting better. And I think we pushed each other and inspired each other, and continue to do so.
TN: So you liked Last Look?
MT: Yeah, something about that raw physicality stood out for me, the music, the emotional content; somehow it just all connected and spoke to me really strongly. And Annmaria Mazzini’s interest in Paul’s work kind of fed me. During my senior year, Paul got the Meadows Award from the School, so he came down, and Carolyn Adams was there, and Joao Mauricio came to set Esplanade and we became friends.
TN: Then you graduated and came to New York.
MT: There was an audition posting early in my senior year – I remember having it on my refrigerator that whole semester and thinking, I’m going. I made it to the final six or eight men. Then I went home; I had no job and I was planning to get head shots and buy Backstage, and two or three days later Linda Hodes called me and said that someone had left Taylor 2 and would I be interested? “Of course I’m interested!” I started work June 10, 1996. Two years to the day later, Paul called me at home in Long Island City. He said “There’s a position open in the big Company, would you like the job?” “No. YES I want the job, oh my god!” I fell on the floor. It was perfect timing because I was planning to leave Taylor 2. I hadn’t realized he’d been watching class the week before with the idea of replacing someone, and I was completely relaxed in class and having a good time.
TN: So you never had that moment after an audition when Paul tells you you got the job…!
MT: No. I missed out.
TN: We could arrange something now.
MT: No, that’s horrible, I don’t want to be put through that!
TN: This was something of a breakthrough season for you. Spindrift was a great vehicle.
MT: Oh, it was an amazing gift is what it was; it was such a nice experience. On videotape I thought the movement was interesting and there were some interesting phrases but I didn’t get everyone’s relationship to the protagonist. Once I learned the steps I was able to connect to the character and the other dancers and give it a through-line. I think a lot of my personality came out in that dance. Feeling like an outsider and then slowly finding your voice and winning acceptance correlates to a lot of people’s stories, and it certainly touched me. This was a rough year for me – the first time I had to deal with people dying around me – and this character reflects back on aspects of his life, so it was personally very touching. And having those experiences enriched my work. I love that dance, I really do.
TN: Brandenburgs was another revelation.
MT: I loved doing that dance! It’s probably one of my favorite group experiences. It’s great having the solo parts, the featured roles, but sometimes it’s really nice to just dance with the boys, and just get to jump and not have any pressure, not have to pick anybody up. It’s one of the first dances in a while that I could just go out there and have fun and just dance. It was such an amazing experience, it was really fun for me. That dance took us some time; it’s really tricky, and it goes on forever and the men rarely get a break, you’re constantly dancing and jumping and the music is intricate. That’s a great dance.
TN: And there’s that wonderful moment, the “Dutch dolls.”
MT: The rocking back and forth? It comes out of nowhere, and that’s what I think is so fun, at the end of the dance, this moment where everybody comes together.
TN: I think Bach would have gotten a kick out of it!
MT: You know, that is a perfect dance. I guess I’m biased; I think all of Paul’s Bach dances are pretty perfect in their own special way.
TN: Banquet of Vultures brought out a different side of you.
MT: Yes, but I’ve gotten to see that side before, in Last Look and Dante Variations; Paul lets me play in that side because I think he knows I love it; if anything, it’s my favorite. Sure the adagio movements are enjoyable but those meaty, emotionally intense, horribly ugly roles…
TN: Does a role like the one in Banquet of Vultures get richer the more you do it?
MT: Absolutely. Every time I do it it’s a little different, my idea behind him changes. He’s a horrible character, and it’s strangely freeing to go that far into a dark character where you can just let everything go and be seething and disgusting. It’s hard to pull yourself out of that; you don’t want to do the bows.
TN: Does your mindset have to change dramatically before you go onstage for Banquet of Vultures?
MT: No, I’ll laugh and talk to people right up to the moment the music starts and the lights go dark, and then I focus in. I’m not one of those psycho people – “Don’t talk to me!”
TN: Are you a political person?
MT: I’m not, the news is all too sensationalized for me. I do get the correlations between this dance and what’s going on in the world, but that has not been a driving force for the character. People tell me they see George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld in the character and I think that’s great, but the thing I think about is a power figure gone wrong who nevertheless believes that what he’s doing is ultimately right.
TN: There’s a lovely moment in the third movement of Esplanade when you’re all following Lisa Viola, and she turns all of a sudden and starts to chase you; you react to her as if to say, Oh, she did it again!…
MT: That’s exactly what I’m thinking: we’ve done this a hundred times and she got me again. And usually that makes me laugh for the rest of the section. Sometimes Paul wants my reaction to be big with my arms thrown up, and sometimes he wants it to be a little surprise. I always try to make it natural; the whole section is such a game, and I love the playfulness of it.
TN: Tell us about the fourth section.
MT: It’s definitely my favorite section in that dance, and I’ve been lucky enough to do that opening duet with so many people, and it changes every time. Something about the eye contact with the woman; they each say something different with their eyes and I think that affects me and how I approach them. And it can be different with the same person on different nights. I carry her out and the way I see her the first time I sweep her up in that first moment sets the tone: it’s either going to be something really sweet and loving, or sad because something’s ending. The story changes every time, which is great, I love that, love that.
TN: Your final duet with the lady has to be the most tender, romantic moment in all of dance!
MT: Oh absolutely, it’s one of the most intimate moments to have with somebody, you’re completely trusting and literally letting them walk all over you! And throughout that section each person has such a high level of respect for the other. When you do that section there’s no one else but the person you’re dancing with on stage. Nothing else matters in that moment.
TN: You’re no longer aware of the audience?
MT: Definitely not. The first section is very much about presentation and making eye contact with the audience, if I can see them. The third section is sort of playful and you know people are watching, and the last section is through-the-roof. But that fourth section is totally about that moment right there, just like the second section. I think the lighting, too, somehow pulls everything in; we can’t really see anything beyond that “fourth wall” so it really separates you, and you want to be as connected to the person you’re dancing with as possible.
TN: And she’s not the person you began the movement with.
MT: That’s so like life! You have relationships with lots of people; I don’t ever think of one being connected to the other, we just keep having these moments with different people.
TN: People always wonder if it’s painful when she’s walking on your stomach.
MT: Not at all. I learned my lesson in college. I used to tense up and I’d get awful muscle cramps, and Joao Mauricio told me not to tighten those muscles but let her sink right into your body. It’s all about eye contact with her because you can sense where she’s going to shift her weight. I love that Paul has that moment where she really lifts her feet before she puts them on you; I love that the audience sees that delicate action.
TN: All Esplanades are exciting, but some seem to have a special Kamikaze quality to them.
MT: I know.
TN: Do you all sense when it’s one of those performances?
MT: Every time we do it we try to get to that place. Sometimes it just doesn’t and I don’t even think it’s us. I feel like we may be doing it the same way, but there’s something about the meeting of the audience’s energy with our energy that puts it through the roof and makes it really special. You take those catch-and-springs: someone like Michelle Fleet takes off at center and comes flying at you, you know it’s going to be exciting and the audience is going to gasp when you catch her, so that definitely pumps you up! That section is such a free-for-all, you can really go beyond every conception you may have about what you can do.
TN: You have such fluidity when you dance – do you know what accounts for it?
MT: I don’t know. When I see a dancer move the way I feel, it really excites me. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the way I hear music and the way it affects me.
TN: Do you have any desire to make your own movement?
MT: Paul gives me the opportunity so often to let the way I want to move effect the way he wants me to move. He’ll let me come up with a phrase and then manipulate it. There was one instance where he asked me to come up with a phrase the next day in Spring Rounds, “something fast and zippy,” so I made a phrase and he said, “Well that’s good, what else?” It pretty much stayed like that.
TN: Are you a big movie-goer?
MT: Lately I haven’t been very good. I’m a foreign-film fan, I love the colors of Almodovar’s films. It’s like music; I like all types. I’ll go see the big blockbuster and then the tiny independent film.
TN: Do you see a lot on Broadway?
MT: Not as much as I should; it’s cheaper to stay home and read. I’m a constant reader; it’s rare that I don’t have a book in my bag and sometimes two at a time. You get to meet these characters, and you can bring that to dances where you have to take on a persona. I had a teacher in college who said, “Have an opinion about the work, about the role, so you’re not just out there doing the movement, you’re thinking about it.” You can tell when a dancer is just going through the motions and when a dancer is really thinking about that character right in the heat of the moment. I love that.
TN: What’s your favorite thing to do in New York?
MT: Just walking around the city – it’s an amazing place for that.
TN: Can you envision a time when you wouldn’t be involved in dance?
MT: Nope. It’s a life-long love affair. I feel the same about New York. Even if I don’t live here someday, I’ll tell people I do. But I’m not going anywhere!
One moment he’s a purple-clad dandy pining for a soldier in pink, and the next he’s exuding machismo and spinning around the stage with a woman on each hip. He woos a Trojan princess with his pants around his ankles, performs a Mexican hat dance in high heels and bustier, and stomps like a cloven-hoofed animal while dressed in white tie and tails. Comedy and drama, Robert Kleinendorst puts it all across convincingly. “He’s a terrific actor in all kinds of roles, especially comedy,” says Paul Taylor. “And he’s very game. In De Sueños, he could certainly have danced well in high heels if he wanted to. The trick was to make him seem like a transvestite who’s straight – tough, probably married, and who likes to prance around in women’s clothes – but not very good at it.” Rob grew up in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. He started playing ice hockey late (age ten), wearing a sweatshirt over borrowed gear, and was soon the best kid on the team. He came to dance late also… but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
TaylorNotes: You’ve said you’re more like your mom than your dad, of whom you speak very highly.
Rob Kleinendorst: He did two tours in Vietnam right out of high school. He’d been drinking pretty voraciously since high school, and one day he just decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. Checked himself into rehab and he’s been clean ever since. He’s an amazing guy. He learned how to use computers for his job at Ford, where he basically ran the plant that built trucks. Now he’s a farrier – he makes horseshoes and shoes horses, and he’s president of the Minnesota Farriers Association. And he’s a great artist; he can carve, draw and sculpt. So the guy can do anything; he’s a Renaissance man.
TN: How do you deal with alcohol?
RK: I don’t like being out of control of my person. They say alcoholism is hereditary, but it hasn’t been the case for me.
TN: Did you and your father ever discus his experiences in the war?
RK: All the time. He got set on fire once, and still has shrapnel in his body from a grenade that they just couldn’t get out. The only thing that really got to him was the sound of helicopters; to this day it gives him a chill. He tried to explain to me what it was like to be on watch. Once, in the middle of the night, he had me sit in the doorway of a little house he built in the backyard. He said, “Hold this toy gun and say bang when you see me.” So I sat there for an hour and finally saw movement about 15 feet away and I said, “Bang!” He said, “You would have been dead an hour ago.” He had crawled from the front of the house, inching forward when I looked away, and got to where he could almost touch me. That was enlightening.
TN: How did you come to dance after being a vocalist in high school and at Luther College?
RK: I went to Luther because they had a really good vocal department and a beautiful campus. I don’t know what I was thinking, because I’m still paying off college debt and will be for another 10 years! I signed up for the dance program in my junior year and I just loved it. Body language is a huge communicator of people’s moods or intent. In a way, it’s non-intellectual. With dance, the movement itself will inform you what you should be feeling. It’s hard not to feel aggressive and angry when I’m doing Cloven Kingdom; the movement and the music just brings that to the fore. That’s what drove me over the top for dance – it was such a basic, animal feeling.
TN: What was your first exposure to Taylor?
RK: My parents asked my professor which Intensive they should send me to one summer and he said, “He’s built like a Taylor dancer.” The only thing I’d ever seen of Taylor was a video of Esplanade, and I remember being amazed at the catches and the physicality of it. So they sent me to the Taylor Intensive at Skidmore College. It was awesome; I didn’t want it to end. I learned from Tom Patrick, Mary Cochran, and Liz Walton. I knew afterward that this was the only company I wanted to dance with.
TN: At 22 you came East.
RK: I moved to Jersey City and roomed with three complete strangers, and got a job at Barnes & Noble where I worked for the next two years. The guy who had moved out before me left a bunch of non-perishables, so I lived on tuna fish and instant potatoes and day-old stuff from the bakery at work. I took classes at the School for two years, and when Paul hired me for Taylor 2 he said, “I remember when you came in, you could barely walk. You’ve gotten so much better.”
TN: You spent two years in T2, and then filled in for Richard Chen See in the larger Company when he was injured.
RK: I got thrown into eight really big parts. I did his roles in Piazzolla Caldera, Cascade and Eventide, and I did Tom Patrick’s roles in Arden Court, Cloven Kingdom and Esplanade. I went into the polka in Company B. I had to do one of the goons in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), and every time the music started I was scared to death. Then I went back to Taylor 2 for about eight months.
TN: How long did it take before you felt like a Taylor dancer?
RK: As soon as I did the Intensive I felt like a Taylor dancer, I felt I connected. As far as feeling like I was solid with the Company, there are still times I don’t feel that way! You just never know what’s going to happen; Paul is a very mysterious fellow. My second year, he called me in for Dandelion Wine and gave me a 24-count solo entrance. He said, “All right, you’re going to enter. What are you going to do?” And I was like…What?! That was my first time working with him in the creative process. When I got the Speaking in Tongues part – The Odd Man Out – I felt pretty good. It’s a fabulous role. I grew up in church as well, so I really connect to the whole religious part of that.
TN: It’s not exactly a positive view of religion.
RK: That’s why I connect with it. I have a negative view of organized religion. Not much good comes out of it once you get the mob mentality…
TN: Are you religious?
RK: I’m spiritual, not religious.
TN: Tell us about your mindset just before the curtain goes up; does it differ from dance to dance?
RK: I’ll warm up until the half-hour call and then I’ll do my makeup for 15 minutes or so and get into costume, and then I’ll have ten minutes to do specific dance warm-ups. I’ll do certain jumps that I feel I want to do for that dance. I’ve never been a nervous performer, unless it’s something I’m really uncomfortable with or that exposes me a lot.
TN: What do you mean by exposed?
RK: Something that I feel I’m not good at, or a dance where it’s obvious if you screw up. Honestly, the only two dances that ever make me nervous are Equinox, where there’s a bunch of lifting that can go wrong, and Counterswarm because of that duet. That duet is the hardest thing – I never set her down and we have to be so in sync; if it starts to go wrong it can completely fall apart. A dance like Counterswarm, Cloven Kingdom, even Company B, because the Bugle Boy is just a killer – I kind of build myself up as a superhuman. I like to think of myself as a machine, because a machine doesn’t make mistakes or get tired. My cylinders are just going to keep chugging. I think about that before the men’s quartet in Cloven. And then there are dances where I don’t have to get into a mindset at all because they are so ingrained.
TN: Your comic roles are very different characters from each other. How did you create Troilus from Troilus and Cressida (Reduced)?
RK: I don’t get into “backstory” – He’s a prince; he got hit in the head with a shovel. It’s about allowing yourself to really be that person, because things will just happen naturally. Once you’ve gotten the rudimentary structure, you try things. It’s important to only do what you think they would do. I don’t think Troilus would do big takes; he’s more subdued, more shy, kind of dumb. I learned as I went along that things tickle him. It was the same thing with Le Grand Puppetier. Paul said, “You’re a courtier, a fat fruit.” As soon as he had me walk in real “femme” and I knew I was going to play up the über-gay thing, I said, “I need a hankie. I need to fan myself and polish my ornaments, dab my brow.” And then when we did the costume, I told Santo Loquasto, “I need a big diamond pinky ring.” The hardest thing about comedy is knowing when you’re going too far.
TN: How did you think of Troilus’s puffed cheeks? It reminds me of Buster Keaton.
RK: I think I started doing it when the Cupids ran around me the first time, as an exasperated reaction. And then I thought it made sense for him to be tired all the time.
TN: What about his pants coming off – is that a tricky maneuver for Cressida?
RK: No, once we worked it out it was fine. Paul originally wanted me to do it naked and asked, “Are you okay with that?” I said, “Sure, I don’t care,” but I think he was teasing. I think he knows that I’m a good sport – he’s thrown everything at me and I’ve taken all of it – and that I’m willing to go almost anywhere. I’m not scared that people will think I’m a flamboyant homosexual from Le Grand Puppetier and I don’t get embarrassed doing De Sueños. Paul knows that I’ll dig deep into things and not feel self-conscious, and it’s fun for him to test my limits.
TN: Are you able to embrace the De Sueños character?
RK: It was hard because that was the end of a long line of character parts for me and I was in the mood for some real hard-core dancing – which, thank God, he gave me in a great duet in De Sueños que se Repiten, as well as casting me in Equinox and Diggity. The hard part about De Sueños is the costume change – there’s so much to wear, plus the makeup, bald cap and wig, that it takes the entire intermission and it’s a frantic 15 minutes. If I’m going from De Sueños into Cloven Kingdom there’s no time to relax. You can tell if the audience is with you the second the curtain goes up. If they’re not, I feel like a jackass and it’s hard not to push it even more to get them. I just have to keep telling myself to do what I always do.
TN: Antique Valentine is a completely different comic piece that you play very straight.
RK: The steps are what make it funny. Paul says you have to play parts like that straight and with commitment, and it’ll be more hilarious or devastating.
TN: You mentioned building up aggression before Cloven Kingdom. What else goes on? Is there “bonding” among the men?
RK: Oh yeah, we have a ritual. We huddle together and Sean paraphrases a line from the movie “The Dark Crystal” – When single shines the four bright suns what was sundered and undone shall be whole, the four made one. We usually get into the wings, growl and get ready to go on.
TN: In the Men’s Quartet, are you thinking about steps or can you let go and become some primitive being?
RK: There might be some dances where I can completely let go but Cloven Kingdom’s not one of them! You have to stay on your game because there are some hard counts.
TN: How do you feel after the Quartet?
RK: It’s hard to feel anything but exhausted by that point. It feels great when you hit that last pose and the audience inevitably goes crazy; that’s awesome. And then as soon as you get offstage, you’re almost throwing up. The hardest part is that once the Quartet is done, I stay onstage when the other guys get to go off, and I don’t catch my breath the entire rest of the dance.
TN: And you’ve got those lifts…
RK: Lifting is not just difficult in that you have to use your muscles, but that to create a solid base you must engage your core and tighten all your muscles in your core – and then you can’t breathe. When you’re really out of breath and you have a woman over your head, you’re even more gone because you haven’t been able to breathe fully all the time she’s been up there.
TN: And you’re breathing through the Cloven Kingdom masks!
RK: But that’s good – I can make horrible faces when I’m tired and the mask covers it.
TN: What are the dances you feel you can let go in?
RK: For me, there’s too much at stake to do that. We’re there for the audience. If I want to have an experience where I completely lose myself, I’ll push my couch aside, put some music on, and dance in my living room. I just don’t think dance should be doing a bunch of stuff that feels really good to the dancer. I’m stuffy about that because I don’t think there’s a place for it on stage.
TN: Do you do things outside of Taylor to build yourself up?
RK: Oh yeah, all of us lift weights. Lifting is 90 percent technique and 10 percent strength – but when a lift goes wrong, it’s 10 percent technique and 90 percent strength. I like to be strong enough that if a lift goes awry I can still save it.
TN: Is Mercuric Tidings about the toughest thing you do?
RK: It’s up there. That’s another dance where I feel I need to be a machine. Non-stop dancing, and it’s all jumping.
TN: Piazzolla Caldera: difficult duet and trio.
RK: That’s another one of my favorite dances. It’s a good part, and it’s fun to be that misogynistic, aggressive, macho character. In that trio – at least in my head – I’m not trying to decide between the two women. They may be fighting over me, but I’m going home with them both, and then kicking them out. In Piazzolla, the women are there for me.
TN: You and your partner do that amazing spin.
RK: It’s really cool because when it starts I’m going around as fast as I can. It’s the only place where I’ve ever really lost front. I have a pretty good inner eye for keeping front but it’s really hard to keep track in all the blackness. I think I’ve only lost track of front in the show once, when I put her down and realized I was facing upstage.
TN: You don’t get dizzy when you’re staring at the floor and spinning with her?
RK: Surprisingly, no.
TN: We’ll be seeing you in Last Look again.
RK: Doug Wright originated my role; he was a gymnast so he had a way of moving that I can’t duplicate. We call that opening solo, being shot out of a cannon – when you have to start a dance at full speed. I love that dance, and you just have to throw yourself into it. I always felt that this was after World War III and we’re survivors of the fallout; I’m having seizures and my brain is not right from radiation. People are doing things they wouldn’t usually do because they know they’re going to die and civilization’s ruined anyway. When there’s nothing to lose, we return to our basic instincts.
TN: Are you more conscious of the music in that piece than in a dance that requires you to concentrate on counts?
RK: Definitely. One of the things I love about Paul is that every little note doesn’t have to have a movement to it. Not only does that get boring as hell but I think it’s patronizing to the audience. Paul has this great way of riding with the music and all of a sudden going completely against it, but in a perfect way. He’s so in tune with the music, and not just the counts but the whole arc and feeling of the piece. That’s what inspires me.
TN: What kinds of music do you respond to most?
RK: Everything! I really like choral music, things like the Rutter Requiem and Poulenc’s Gloria*. I’m huge on Baroque music with its rules and structures; it’s as if the Baroque school had a set of rules, and how they moved within that is what I like. I like Rachmaninoff and Fauré – but then I listen to Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver.
TN: Funny Papers is coming back…
RK: Taylor 2 got run out of a town in South Carolina once because of “I Love Bananas.” A couple kids went home after the show and said, “Two guys kissed each other on the cheek and it was hilarious.” They asked us to leave so we packed up and left. Funny thing is, the silliest dance Paul makes is the hardest to do.
TN: Eventide is coming back too.
RK: I absolutely love that dance. That’s Paul at his most pared-down and it’s gorgeous. It really shows his craft – to have sections with just some running and walking in a circle, with little vignettes in the middle. Nothing mind-blowing, it just draws you in. And that last exit with the two lines: amazing! I’m very happy I got to dance it with Julie Tice because she was just a wonderful partner.
TN: Your whole affect has changed talking about it.
RK: It’s very touching. It’s so simple and it really speaks very clearly about all of our little triumphs and losses within a relationship. And Vaughan Williams – gorgeous, gorgeous music. The costumes and the backdrop: forget it. It’s a beautiful dance. Even though we don’t do many full group sections, when we’re revolving in those circles as a whole it really makes me feel like a family, a single organism.
TN: The group dynamic changes as dancers come and go…
RK: From the things I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard about other companies, we’re always a tight-knit group. That says a lot about Paul and his intuition with people, because he could hire one person who’s a total diva and that could throw a monkey wrench into the works.
TN: What places have you gone that you most enjoyed?
RK: I loved New Zealand. We were in Auckland but you could take a ferry across to an island with a tiny little town. The audiences were amazing, the food was good, and we got to see Black Grace, the company that does Maori dances. Spoleto, Italy is awesome; I loved it there. Surprisingly, although I’m not a fan of huge cities, I like Paris. And I loved going to little towns in France and Italy that have a huge castle and a huge cathedral still standing. Lucca was great.
TN: Tell me about a time and place in history that fascinates you.
RK: I practice sword play – medieval, two-handed long sword. They’re about four feet long and heavy as hell – about three pounds – but if they’re well balanced they feel lighter. I love that era: Medieval England, France, Italy, when they had to fight for their land and their family. That’s why I love the castles so much.
TN: Is being a Taylor dancer everything you thought it would be?
RK: Yeah, it is. As far as traveling the world, being exhausted in a good way, feeling fulfilled – all that has completely met my standards and more. People come up to me and say, “Wow – I saw you in The New York Times!” I wish we had more recognition; we’re at the pinnacle of our field and lots of people don’t know who the hell we are. People should know who Paul Taylor is. The hard part about being a freaking genius is that you’re always measured against yourself. Paul’s stagecraft is so solid… People often give him a hard time; he’s created 142 dances, and maybe ten have been regarded as not so great. But choreographers will spend their whole life and not create Musical Offering, Speaking in Tongues, Esplanade, Airs, Arden Court, Aureole, Cloven Kingdom… the list goes on and on and on.
TN: You‘re taking voice lessons again…
RK: I saw Wicked and I started thinking that when I retire, if I could bypass chorus and get a role in a show, that would be a nice transition. Orion Duckstein and I talked about opening a shop. I did some research on costs and what we would have to make per day is astronomical. But it would give us the freedom to still teach, to still take class, to set dances if Paul wanted us to. I don’t want to be completely out of the dance world.
TN: Share with us an exquisite moment in your life.
RK: I have a lot of nice moments. I remember playing with my band in junior high and everyone came, not just students. My dad got one day off to leave the rehab facility, and he came to watch us rehearse. That was great.
* After reading this interview, Mr. Taylor decided to work with Poulenc’s Gloria and created Beloved Renegade.
James Samson grew up in a small town in a large family whose members were close: “We’d go to the Lomo Club to jitterbug, two-step, circle dance, and we’d have so much fun!” A native of St. Martin’s, Missouri, James received a B.F.A. in dance and a minor in business from Southwest Missouri State University. He went on to study as a scholarship student with the David Parsons New Arts Festival, Pilobolus Intensive WoRKshop, and the Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive where he performed in Airs set by Linda Kent. He has danced for Charleston Ballet Theatre, Omaha Theatre Company Ballet, Omega Dance Company, New England Ballet, Connecticut Ballet and the Amy Marshall Dance Company. In February 2001 James learned that Mr. Taylor was going to be watching class the following day for someone to understudy Andy LeBeau’s roles while he was out with a back injury. “When Paul walks in the room, nerves kind of creep up on you and take over sometimes,” he said. “I just let my nerves go away. I danced the best I could, trying to execute the style.” Mr. Taylor asked James to understudy the New York season and tour for six months, and when there was an opening in the Company in December 2001, he invited James to join PTDC. TaylorNotes caught up with the Queens resident on an afternoon before he headed to physical therapy following successful knee surgery. Given his preference for country life, it seemed fitting that the discussion took place on a sunny day in Union Square Park. The conversation started with James describing his injury.
James Samson: I injured my knee in 2008. I was performing …Byzantium and toward the end, excruciating pain crept up on me out of nowhere. I had a hard time putting weight on my left foot and jumping off of it, and I compensated on my right side so it wouldn’t show to the audience. The next day I could barely walk down stairs. I did physical therapy and Pilates to strengthen my knee, and over the next six to nine months I had no pain, but I did have clicking every now and then. An MRI showed a torn meniscus – the horseshoe-shaped cartilage under the kneecap – so I decided to have surgery. I had the same surgery on the other knee in 1998 but that healed a lot faster.
TaylorNotes: What was it like to grow up in a small town of 20,000?
JS: We had a huge backyard, fields everywhere, great neighbors and kids my age, and cousins living across the street. We played together all the time. I took gymnastics for three years and was good at the floor exercises; I was scrawny and wimpy back then and the apparatus scared me, but I can still do handsprings and cartwheels.
TN: And your route to dance?
JS: My mom put me in dance class when I was eight. I began with tap and jazz and for my first performance – at Lincoln University’s Richardson Theater; I was the Candy Man, with a satin-and-sequin vest and a hot-pink cane, and I thought I was hot stuff! I didn’t seriously think about becoming a dancer until college, where I had my first ballet and modern class. I took the Parsons Intensive after my junior year, then did the Ailey Intensive in New York and the Pilobolus workshop in Maine. After college I became an apprentice with Charlestown Ballet Theater, and a year later I was in the corps doing Nutcracker and modern rep.
TN: How did you come to Paul’s work?
JS: A couple of my professors said I had an all-American look and strong physique and would fit into Paul Taylor’s Company well. I’d watched videos and loved the movement, and had taken classes with Andrew Asnes at Broadway Dance Center. The style felt amazing on my body, it was so easy and natural; the dancers in the Company would all tell you Paul’s movement feels really good on their body. Paul has such an interesting way of moving, and it feels organic to us. His choreography isn’t just on the extremities but inside your body also, and everything connects. As a dancer, Paul made everything look so graceful and easy, and that’s what you strive to do in your own way; to emulate him and still make it your own.
TN: Have you watched many videos of him dancing?
JS: I’m going to do his role in Public Domain and I’ve been studying his movement in that piece. He was fascinating; it goes without saying that he’s the quintessential Taylor dancer. It’s fun to study him; there are so many minute things he brought across that we sometimes lose sight of, like contractions, fluidity and linking one movement to another. It would be a dream to dance like him and be considered on that level.
TN: Do you enjoy social dancing?
JS: I love it.
TN: Just for the record, you just gave yourself a shot of insulin.
JS: I have type 1, or juvenile, diabetes. Before class this morning I drank a big bottle of juice, and I just had some lunch and forgot to check my glucose and take a shot. I’m feeling a little sugar high right now – a little numbness and fuzziness – and I wanted to bring my sugar back down. I have no qualms about doing it front of people. I test five or six times a day, which is a lot but I want to stay on top of it; I just have to rotate fingers when I test. And I take five or six shots a day. I didn’t find out I had diabetes until I was 27, during my first six months with the Company. We were in China for four weeks and during the last week I ate something that gave me an allergic reaction. When we got back to the States my dermatologist ran blood tests and while I was on tour in Spain he called to tell me I had diabetes.
TN: Has it changed your life drastically?
JS: I just have this routine now, and I’ve learned to be more in tune with myself. I have to be aware of my physical condition before I go on stage – make sure my sugar’s okay. I should pay more attention to what I eat, but I’ve gotten good at guessing how many units of insulin I need to counter a dessert. A lot of people are in denial about the disease and don’t test often, but I don’t want to spend four hours a day with a sugar high, and it can take 15 to 20 minutes to come down.
TN: You have a major role in …Byzantium, which can be a bit inscrutable.
JS: It tells about the final days of the Byzantine Empire – the church vs. the people. The church, represented by the Saints, is trying to increase its control but the people resist. My opening solo foretells something disastrous about to happen. I learned it by watching the video of David Parsons in the role. I loved watching him – he’s tall and lanky and flexible with his upper body and I tried to emulate that, but almost to a fault. I was emulating every little step, which was hindering me from putting the movement into my own body and bringing across the message – so I let the steps go and did the basis of the movement, becoming more grounded with it. Then I had more fun with it, took more chances and let it all hang out. When the curtain rises I’m alone on stage with my ear to the ground, listening to the earth for what’s coming before I spread the news. I only have a little depth in which to dance; the scrim is pushing me toward the audience and you feel even more exposed than usual. Then I have those jumps where I’m basically saying, “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!” and there’s really no time to prepare for those jumps. Once I’m in that crouch I have to dive right into the movement.
TN: The Cloven Kingdom quartet is another of your showcase roles.
JS: I was very excited to be cast in it. It’s one of the hardest dances in our rep for the men; that quartet is exhausting and exasperating but rewarding at the same time. It’s a great challenge and fun to do. You get to show a man’s virile, animalistic part and the audience really gets enthralled by it.
TN: Is it harder when the quartet is excerpted on special occasions?
JS: No, it’s a little easier because the men do enough before the quartet to get a bit tired. Sometimes we get preoccupied with our steps, and Paul will remind us that the dance is about our animalistic side and that we need to flex our backs more.
TN: Did he say something that gave you a key to the right approach in Offenbach Overtures?
JS: He said not to over-dance it, not to try so hard with the comedic aspects; to keep it deadpan and do the steps and the comedy would follow.
TN: What did he tell you about your duet with Francisco Graciano in Changes?
JS: He didn’t really give us an idea what it was about at first so he could see what we’d make out of it – he relies on us to help with the choreography – but we learned that this was a mentor relationship that came from Paul’s relationship as a kid with his “adopted” father, Mr. Butts. My role is a caring, loving, big-hearted person who’s showing the boy the right path in life, so Paul wanted me to be endearing in that role.
TN: Can you give us an example of the “wow factor” that must come from working with Paul?
JS: In making a dance sometimes he’ll describe a subtle difference that we don’t quite get, and then he’ll just demonstrate it. During Beloved Renegade, there’s a point where Michael Trusnovec is on his back and Laura Halzack is in a plank position above him; he has to lower her to his chest and then push her back up. Paul wanted to make clear what he wanted, so he laid on the floor, lowered Laura down and pushed her back up – and we were all gasping! We absolutely loved it, got a huge kick out of it. It’s so great to watch any movement he does, and at times like that I just want him to keep going to see what he could do!
TN: Are there some tours that stand out for you?
JS: My first tour was China a few months after being in the Company. How many Americans get to go to China for a month!? I had never traveled outside the United States, and having my own room in this foreign country where everything is so different was a little crazy. Now I’ve been there three times, which is just amazing, and the experience has gotten better each time. Bangkok, Thailand was extraordinary. We’ve been all over Europe, which is fantastic. Istanbul, a place you never think you’d go to, was just great – shopping for items that you could bring home and always cherish. And Greece was fantastic. It’s always a little intimidating to tour overseas in terms of the language barrier but we always seem to get by pretty well.
TN: Under “religion,” your Facebook page used to say “Religions shouldn’t judge others.”
JS: I find religions very judgmental of other ones. So many religions seem to say that if you’re not living up to their expectations, you’re not living the right life. People should be happy with what they believe in, serve their own God, and respect everyone else’s opinions. It seems that if the whole world doesn’t believe as they do, they’re unhappy. They should be happy with their own beliefs and leave everyone else be.
TN: Are you religious?
JS: Not really. I grew up Catholic – I was baptized and confirmed – but we weren’t very devout. I still consider myself Catholic; I don’t need to denounce it but I don’t agree with a lot of what they do these days. We all have our own personal God – or don’t – and whatever our personal relationship with Him maybe is good enough. I don’t think you have to be in a huge congregation for that to work. I believe I’m living the best life I can, and that’s good enough.
TN: You also mentioned that you like mashed potatoes!
JS: I had the best mashed potatoes in my life right across the street from here at Coffee Shop. I had meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Not only were the mashed potatoes amazing – probably five sticks of butter – but the gravy was just as good; the spices were amazing. I could have just had a huge plate of mashed potatoes and been perfectly happy. Every year Paul gives us a birthday present of a butterfly he catches and frames, and this year mine came in a big wrapped box that included a huge box of instant mashed potatoes. I reveled in showing everyone my gift – I had no idea Paul knew that I loved mashed potatoes. I’ve eaten them, and they’re fine.
TN: What are you looking forward to dancing?
JS: Public Domain will probably be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn and do. I think Paul might have improvised a lot of his movement; it’s so detailed and quirky and different, and he was on stage quite a bit. I’m looking forward to it but it’s going to take a lot of homework. And I’m looking forward to doing Brandenburgs again.
TN: It must feel good to be chosen for one of Paul’s own roles.
JS: It really does, because there aren’t a whole lot of things in our rep now that Paul did. A lot of people have gotten to do Aureole, and Sean did Scudorama. Having the opportunity to do his role is astounding. It’s a 35-minute piece and I have a long duet with Laura, and I love dancing with her. I hope to do it justice.
TN: If you could live wherever you wanted, where would you choose?
JS: I’d stay here and continue dancing for Paul until I felt it was my time to retire. I would not change anything now but stay here and do what I love. After retiring I’d move to the beach, live a nice quiet life and start something new.
TN: If you could have dinner tonight with anyone who ever lived, I know what you would have, but who would it be with?
JS: My great-grandfather. I was very young when he died, five or six. He adored me and I adored him. I’d sit on his lap and he’d bounce me up and down and say “Who’s my boy?” and I’d say “Me!” He was a very tiny man but a big ball of love. Within that short period before he got Alzheimer’s we really had a great relationship. Then one night they found him sleeping in the cow pasture with all of his animals around him.
TN: Do you think he’d be proud of you now?
JS: I think he would. That would top any celebrity dinner!
Native New Yorker Michelle Fleet began dancing at age four. She later attended Ballet Hispanico, Talent Unlimited High School and Purchase College, where she earned a B.F.A. in dance in 1999. She also received her M.B.A. in business management in 2006. She joined Taylor 2 in Summer 1999, and made her debut with the Paul Taylor Dance Company three years later. TaylorNotes caught up with her following the Company’s “I-Tour” (Istanbul, Italy and Israel) and a run-out to Bergen, Norway.
TaylorNotes: Tell us about that whirlwind I-Tour.
Michelle Fleet: Istanbul was awesome. It was amazing to visit the mosques, and to see the Byzantine influence after doing Paul’s …Byzantium. I’ve always liked Italy, and it was good to revisit Bari. We went to a cute restaurant, Hippopotamus, in Modena after the last show. We were all at one huge table in this empty place, and then a guy walked in with a gun in his back pocket, and we were all like, Omigod! But he started to recommend dishes to us, saying, “I’m getting that one,” and we thought, Okay then, I’ll get that one! He came over to our table and opened three or four bottles of champagne! Israel was definitely the highlight of the trip. Tel Aviv has one of the best beaches in the world, and Jerusalem was amazing. I went to Catholic school growing up, so I was revisiting stories I’d read in the bible. It was a hard tour – we danced a lot and traveled a lot – but it was totally worth it.
TN: And then you went to Norway, through the generosity of Taylor Trustee Yvonne Rieber and her husband Bjarne.
MF: It’s so beautiful and clean, and you can imagine Vikings running through the forest! We took a boat ride on a fjord. The seafood was amazing, best ever: smoked eel, lobster, shrimp, scallops. The sun sets at 10:30 and even then it’s still light out at midnight. The Riebers are so sweet; they gave us an amazing party at their gallery after the show and it was as if it were Gala night all over again.
TN: You packed the right clothes? Bettie de Jong told me you never appear twice in the same outfit on tour.
MF: Right! I loved the shopping; I bought a fabulous pair of leather gloves with crochet on top. I can’t help it; you find fabulous things on tour!
TN: You also knit and crochet your own things – Bettie’s convinced you’re going to have a shop one day.
MF: I am going to have a shop. I’m going to do a figure competition one day and use the money I make from endorsements to open a knitting café! That’s why I got my business degree.
TN: While on tour!
MF: I needed to do something with the free time I had then. It’s not easy going to school online; you have to be very disciplined, and sometimes there’s no internet service so you hit the books that day instead of going to class, but you miss the interaction with students from all over the world. Some of them came to a show in San Francisco.
TN: You started to dance at a young age.
MF: Dance class was the only thing that tired me out on weekends. I went to a school in Harlem, and then another one in the Bronx where I spent all of Saturdays and Sundays doing ballet, jazz, African, tap and modern. When I was 13 I went to Talent Unlimited High School, and after school I’d go to Ballet Hispanico, where we had ballet, Flamenco and Brazilian modern, as well as Labanotation, conditioning and nutrition. Before I went to high school I knew this is what I wanted to do professionally. Each year after the big recital my mom would ask if I wanted to continue the next year, and I always said yes. She said I’d have to give my all because there were going to be people out there who were better; there was always going to be competition. “You’ll have to work hard, and you have to love it; if you don’t love it, you can’t do it.” Each year I’d get the talk.
TN: For college, you chose to go to Purchase
MF: My high school teacher asked where I wanted to go, Juilliard or Purchase; did I want to stay in the City or get out of the City? He knew I was a Bronx girl and that I’d prefer to get away. So we tried for Purchase and I got in. All these Taylor people were from Purchase, but I had no clue at that time.
TN: Is that where you discovered Paul’s work?
MF: My senior year of college we did Company B – I was in “Rum and Coca Cola.” Then Hernando Cortez told me that Taylor was having a “private” audition a week after I graduated, and I said I’d go for fun even though I didn’t think I was right for the Company. He told me the audition was on Friday and I should I take classes there beforehand. I had just graduated, I was getting an apartment and looking for a job. I went to class Monday and there were like a thousand people preparing for this “private” audition! Tuesday and Wednesday I got shut out because there were so many people there already. I decided to get to class super early on Thursday so I wouldn’t miss it. I got there at 9am, thank God, because the audition was that day, not the next. I had a ratty unitard on, I didn’t have my picture or resume, nothing. I got a call-back, and we learned some repertoire that we showed Paul the following Tuesday; he was going to make his choice on Wednesday. I ran late that day because I had to meet with our landlord. Finally I got there and Paul said he wanted me for the second Company! I immediately quit the waitressing job I’d had for a week.
TN: Did teaching, which is such an important part of your work in Taylor 2, come naturally?
MF: I was a little shy at first but I understood what the job was, and I was so happy to have it. I used everything my own teachers had taught me. Having to articulate to others what was taught to me helped me understand Taylor style and become a better performer.
TN: And how did you get into the larger Company?
MF: We were having an audition for Taylor 2 while the main Company was on tour, and I was teaching the fight section from Runes. We got down to the last group of girls and Paul took two women. Then he pulled me aside and said, “You’re going to join the main Company.” I said, “Huh? What? Are you serious? Okay!” My first show was September 26, 2002 – at Purchase!
TN: So you wound up “auditioning” twice on days you had no idea you were going to audition.
MF: My mom always said I’d better be prepared because you never know who’s going to be in the audience.
TN: My mom always said to wear clean underwear because you never know when you might wind up in an ambulance.
MF: My mom said that too!
TN: Maybe we had the same mom.
MF: Hmmm, I wonder…!
TN: Do you feel that Paul has tapped into different aspects of your personality?
MF: I’m lucky that way. I feel like a chameleon in his work because each piece I’m in, I’m someone different. He sees the more gentle side of me, like in Mercuric Tidings, and then there’s the fiery side in that awesome duet I do with Michael Trusnovec in Piazzolla Caldera.
TN: That’s one tough duet!
MF: There’s a lot of difficult partnering. You have to learn when to let him take over, and when to help him; it takes time. I did that role in Taylor 2, and it’s always different with different partners. I learned a lot about it from Silvia Nevjinsky, who Paul made it on. It’s all about finding the emotional and physical connection with your partner.
TN: What is the emotion?
MF: Lust. Fire. At that moment I am completely in love with Michael and Michael alone; there’s no one else around me, I’m completely focused on him and there’s all this tension building between us. There have been times we’ve kissed each other on stage – it just happens.
TN: No fear?
MF: No, I love that duet, I’m not afraid of it.
TN: You’re now doing the running solo in Esplanade.
MF: My main concern there is to honor the piece and do it with integrity. I have so much respect for the people who have done it before me, and for the idea behind the dance. I’ve gotten to speak to Carolyn Adams, Ruthie Andrien and Lisa Viola about it; I just hope I can fill those shoes.
TN: Or bare feet! Bettie de Jong asked you to change the solo a bit, bring it back to the original.
MF: She told me not to skitter so much, just to run, not think about being on the music, just run. Now I have Bettie in my head all the time yelling “RUN!” I feel like I’m running for Jesus!
TN: Or Paul! You did something quite different in Phantasmagoria, which is kind of a dreamscape set to Renaissance music.
MF: I do Irish step dancing with hard-toed shoes. I had some huge blisters from those shoes! I haven’t taken tap classes in I don’t know how long! Andy LeBeau helped me count out the music for that solo.
TN: Is there a role that you feel particularly captures you?
MF: Changes is not all of me but it’s definitely a chunk of me – not what she’s going through, but the energy behind it, the attack of the movement.
TN: You weren’t born yet during the mid-60’s; did you have a frame of reference for the period?
MF: I remember how cool my parents were, and how liberal my mom still is. My parents were very protective of me but I remember hanging out in the Village with my mom when I was just five. She took me to all parts of the city, we didn’t just stay in the Bronx.
TN: Speaking of Changes, there are often personnel changes in the Taylor organization.
MF: It’s interesting to see the changes. I’ve watching a lot of people come into the organization. It’s fun getting to know them, and watching old friends take on new roles in the administration. This is one big family, and it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away. Once you’re in, you’re in, you’re always a part of the family.
TN: What are you especially looking forward to dancing next season?
MF: I’m most excited about Orbs, an epic piece that we’re reviving.
TN: I’ve seen an old black-and-white film of it on DVD – are you learning the piece from that?
MF: Yes, the film is kind of jumpy and grainy, but at least it has music, unlike the silent film of Scudorama we used two years ago. But I’ll be able to get information from Carolyn Adams, who originated the role I’m doing, so that will be really exciting.
TN: Who were your idols growing up?
MF: It’s kind of embarrassing. As a teenager I loved Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson and Prince, and Patrick Swayze – I don’t know how many times I watched Dirty Dancing, I think I broke the tape. And I loved watching Baryshnikov. I watched White Nights, with him and Gregory Hines, over and over. I’d say, “Mom, did you SEE that?” I’d go to the performing arts library and rent different videos. I was so in love with Baryshnikov – what girl wasn’t? Some years ago he came backstage with Paul as I was on my way to the dressing room. I just froze. He said, “Good show.” I thought: Is this really happening? Did he really just say that? He’s a dancer just like you, Shell – you’re a professional dancer, you’re cool, you’re fine. I said, “Oh, thanks. See ya later.” Growing up, I really looked up to my mom. She raised me, and through my parents’ divorce, my mom was in control. She did an awesome job. She raised me in the City, and that’s hard; I can’t imagine raising children in the City. No wonder she was so protective. I totally look up to her. My birthdays were amazing, I would have sworn we were millionaires. I credit her for my creative side; I’d see a pair of jeans I liked, and next thing you know we were at the craft store and making them ourselves. She nurtured my talents.
TN: Does she come to all your shows?
MF: She lives in Washington State now, but she comes to see us in Seattle and sometimes she flies in to see us in New York.
TN: How do you define success?
MF: I think I’m successful in the sense that I’m happy and I love what I do. When the day comes that I’m in love with something else, I’ll know it’s time to move on, but I’m still in love with what I do. I like sharing what I have to offer.
TN: The other day I heard the opening notes of Sunset coming from the studio, and I thought, “This is one of the world’s great poets, and his dancers are the way he shares that poetry with us.”
MF: I hope I’m successful at communicating his vision.
TN: Some quick questions: Most interesting person you’ve met through the Company?
MF: Ruthie Andrien, Carolyn Adams, and Dan Wagoner.
TN: You also met Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former Chief of Staff and current Mayor of Chicago…
MF: Yes, outside of the Company there’s Baryshnikov, Rahm Emanuel, Martha Stewart.
TN: Rahm Emanuel puts you one degree of separation from the President.
MF: I know! Obama needs to come to a show. We met Barbara Bush once, but I need to meet Michelle Obama.
TN: That was one historic election night in 2008!
MF: I was crying on the phone with my mom. Harlem was one huge party. Everyone met in the main square on 125th Street to celebrate. You just knew there would be no wrong that night; no one was going to do anything stupid, we were all happy and filled with positive energy. I didn’t go to bed until 4 or 5 in the morning.
TN: Worst job you ever had to support your dancing?
MF: The mailroom at Purchase College.
TN: Favorite book?
MF: Push (by Sapphire) – they made it into the movie Precious. It’s a sad book but I love it.
TN: Favorite poem?
MF: One by Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman,” which makes me think of my mother.
TN: Favorite piece of classical music?
MF: There’s a beautiful section in Sibelius’s 3rd Symphony, which was part of the score for Public Domain.
TN: Place you’d like to go?
TN: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
MF: Other than the fact that I love to box, I love to fish, and I love paintball?
TN: If you could have dinner tonight with anyone who ever lived…
MF: It would be with my grandmother. She passed away when my mother and aunt were kids, and apparently I look exactly like her.
TN: Let’s end with something Bettie said about you. “I admire Michelle tremendously – she’s a super person. Very steady, and right there, always ready to present herself and always ready to work. She’s a very positive force.”
MF: You’re making me cry. I love Bettie!
Parisa Khobdeh was born and raised in Plano, Texas, where her parents moved from Iran. She is part of the Taylor Company’s contingent of dancers who studied at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; while there and at the American Dance Festival she worked with such choreographers as Robert Battle, Judith Jamison and Donald McKayle. She also studied at the Taylor and Graham Schools. She premiered with the Paul Taylor Dance Company at ADF in Summer 2003. Writing about her in The New York Times, Alastair Macaulay called her a “rewardingly complex dancer,” adding, “As role follows role, she can be sweet or waspish, furious or funny, nimble or tentative.”
TaylorNotes: Tell us about Plano, Texas where you grew up.
Parisa Khobdeh: Plano is where you’d want to raise a family. My parents emigrated to America from Iran 10 or 11 years before I was born, when my dad got into a master’s program at the University of Dallas. They had planned to go back to Iran but the revolution happened so they stayed here. Our first house was a small, quaint home but it was like a castle to me, with a weeping willow that I’d climb in the backyard; there was nothing better in the world. All my friends would come over and I’d produce elaborate shows; I’d choreograph dances for my family and their guests. My father and I would dance together every morning in the living room. My brother is nine years older than me, and since my parents had fulltime jobs, he spent a lot of time raising me. He’d put me on his shoulders and walk to the movies, and we’d see three or four of them in a day. When I got into a student dance ensemble and wasn’t sure if I wanted to be there, he said, “You have to do something with your life!” He really focused me. He’s always been my best friend.
TN: Do you speak Farsi?
PK: I speak conversational Farsi from what I heard in the house growing up. When we’re together we still speak more Farsi than English; I dream in Farsi, too. I’m learning how to read it now, because I loved the Persian poetry that my dad helped me with when I was young. Forough Farrokhzad is a feminist author who really resonated with me. Sometimes I don’t feel either Persian or American, but somewhere in between. There aren’t a lot of other Persian modern dancers of my generation.
TN: When were you first exposed to dance?
PK: My parents put me in ballet school when I was three to keep me busy until they got off work. I gravitated toward modern dance. Later on my teacher, Kathy Chamberlain, suggested that I audition for the dance department at S.M.U. in Dallas, and I wound up getting a scholarship. I started seeing dance I never knew existed, like that of Pina Bausch. Then I saw the Taylor Company live, and my soul was awakened. I saw Cloven Kingdom, The Word and the premiere of Promethean Fire at the American Dance Festival; that’s when I knew I wanted to dance for Paul Taylor. It was earthshaking. Cloven Kingdom was spectacular, The Word was fabulous, and that moment in Promethean Fire when Lisa Viola just threw herself into Patrick Corbin’s arms was breathtaking, but even more than that: it made me believe that anything was possible. I don’t know how many times I saw Lisa Viola and Annmaria Mazzini do that, and the moment still moves me.
TN: So you auditioned for Mr. Taylor.
PK: In 2003, after doing the Taylor Winter Intensive, I came to audition; the line of women was out the door. I went to the yoga studio upstairs and asked the woman cleaning it if I could stay and relax for a while. She said yes, and then – she was beautifully backlit by a window – she said, “I have a very good feeling about you today.” The first thing we did in the audition was walk across the studio, and I remembered what my Modern teacher always told us: walk as if this is your kingdom, so I gestured grandly – but no one after me did anything with their arms, and I just wanted to disappear! Just then, Taylor alumna Heather Berest, whom I’d studied with in the Intensive, stepped into the studio and gave me a big hug. That gave me a real boost. Later, while we were waiting for the last callback, one girl said that she was more nervous than she’d ever been, and I thought, I’ve gained all this experience – I got this far, I have nothing to lose. Paul then spoke to the finalists. He put his arm around me and said, “You’re all beautiful but I’ve made my choice,” and gave me a squeeze. I just melted. I remember thinking, This is not happening. It was such a beautiful, life-changing moment. I love watching that moment now with everyone new he chooses.
TN: Your asthma doesn’t seem to have held you back at all.
PK: I have exercise-induced anaphylaxis that’s related to both food and stress. The combination of food and overexertion can cause my body to overreact, and I swell up. Once when it happened, my parents didn’t even recognize me backstage. So I’ll have just enough nuts or juice to get me through a show and then eat afterward. But I don’t live my life any differently because of it. I’m a dancer! I’m an athlete!
TN: Brandenburgs struck me as something of a breakout role for you a couple of seasons ago. The freedom and power you showed in that seemed like an exclamation point in your career. And you’ve come full circle with Promethean Fire…
PK: That’s dance in its purest form. There are no archetypes, we’re just people. When the curtain goes up and we’re all standing there with this incredibly powerful music, it feels great to be with my friends on stage. Part of being human is struggling to overcome obstacles, and this piece taps into that. Now I do the duet with Michael Trusnovec, and I’m still gaining confidence in it, but this is the role that made me want to be a Taylor dancer. In that famous moment, the woman takes a leap of faith. I run towards Michael, take off and turn my back to him. I don’t think about it, I just do it – look at him, run and leap. You just decide you’re going to take a risk, and if you fall, you fall. There are times when my face has just brushed the floor – but I know Michael Trusnovec has me; I have infinite trust in him. There’s an interesting observation in the movie The Hunger Games, that the only thing stronger than fear is hope. With anything, if you let fear get into your head you won’t live life to its fullest. And those are the moments that make life so rich – taking those leaps of faith, and having someone you can depend on when you need it. I trust all the men in the Company with my life – literally. I feel I’m at my best when I let go and just let things happen.
TN: What other roles have you taken on?
PK: Two roles that Annmaria Mazzini did, opposite Rob Kleinendorst in Piazzolla Caldera and Beloved Renegade. “I Can Dream, Can’t I” in Company B. And Junction, which I love. It’s one of the first dances I learned in a Taylor Intensive; Sean Mahoney was setting it on us. I picked up everything almost from the first time he showed it; my body understood it. It’s quintessential Taylor; it’s like Aureole in that way, like an ABC’s of Taylor dance. The back is so crucial to the movement; it’s moving you through space. Some of it is so fast, in counterpoint to the music. And then there’s the last section, which we call the ‘avalanche,’ where most of the same movement is in slow motion. It’s probably the earliest dance of Paul’s that is still done where you see Taylor “style.” The Piazzolla Caldera solo is very challenging, being out there all alone – it’s a lonely place. At one point Annmaria Mazzini told me not to watch her anymore, to make it my own. Paul told me I’m perfect for the part; he said, “It’s not rocket science, it’s just dancing.” I was in tears after that. That affirmation freed me up.
TN: Paul and Bettie really allow your voice to come through the work…
PK: Yes! The women in the Company couldn’t be any more different from each other. If we all did that role in Brandenburgs I think we’d all do it differently, because we have our own personalities. The choreography would be the same of course, I just think we might make different choices. We’re different shades, and the connections we make in the steps would differ. We’re not perfect robotic creatures, we’re human. We have different experiences and different colors.
TN: That’s interesting. Give me a word or two about the Company’s women…
PK: Amy Young: regal. Michelle Fleet: joyful – I love when she smiles at me while we’re dancing. Eran Bugge: effervescent. Laura Halzack: ethereal. Jamie Rae Walker: playful. Aileen Roehl: serene. Heather McGinley: earthy and elegant, Daphne-like. Each dancer has a gift and we can all learn from each other.
TN: And the men?
PK: Michael Trusnovec: celestial. Rob Kleinendorst: Hercules; he’s such a great partner that he makes the impossible, possible. James Samson: the quietest man in the game; he’s light as a feather when he lands a jump. Sean Mahoney: Apollo-esque. Jeff Smith: Dionysian. Francisco Graciano: open-hearted; he really connects with you. Michael Apuzzo: innocent and dear. Michael Novak: a young Paul; there’s a purity about him that I love.
TN: The Ailey Company performed Arden Court this year and ABT did Black Tuesday…
PK: I saw Arden Court four times! It was the first time I’d seen a Taylor work on another modern dance company. They’re different creatures than us, and they processed the movement differently. Arden is one of the hardest dances in the rep, and I thought they did a great job with it. Cathy McCann did an excellent job setting it, especially in putting across that the energy comes from the back. I could tell they cared about the choreography. That comes from the top down; Robert Battle has a huge affinity for Paul Taylor and you could see that emanate through his dancers. And Andy LeBeau did a fantastic job with ABT. I have a physical reaction and an emotional connection when I see Taylor movement start with the back; you see the energy just explode through the crown of the head to the arms to the fingertips.
TN: You’ve choreographed some. I’m always amazed that people who have mastered Paul’s style can come up with movement that’s different from what they do every day.
PK: Paul didn’t rehash what he learned from Martha Graham; he hears differently and he sees the world differently. I listen to music different, and see things differently, because of Paul. I’ve learned that one person can create both Last Look and Eventide! You have to have a need to choreograph, to say something, and necessity is the mother of invention. A lot of times Paul makes steps with input from us, and that quenches my thirst for choreographing.
TN: What music do you listen to on your own?
PK: I listen to absolutely everything from classical to hip-hop to Middle Eastern music. Recently I’ve been obsessing over a piece by Ohad Naharin, Minus 16, that uses a compilation including Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater and a guitar version of Hava Nagila; it’s just gorgeous. One of the sections is a Passover prayer, and while I’m not Jewish and don’t know Hebrew, it moves me.
TN: You’ve been to some amazing places….
PK: I love Paris, it’s passionate, it’s romantic. I love the experiences we have together abroad. Our Middle East trip was a little tough because I have a Persian name and relations with Iran aren’t so hot. I was asked a lot of questions at customs. John Tomlinson came back and asked me what was going on, and I said I had no idea because I hadn’t done anything wrong. He said, “I’m not going anywhere without you.” From that moment on, I’d follow that man to hell if I had to!
TN: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
PK: I hope that I’ll still be active and involved with dance generally, and more specifically with the Taylor Company in some way. I want a family of my own, and I’m not sure if that will lead me someplace else or if I’ll stay in New York. If I teach I’d like it to be in a university setting. While I was injured I needed a creative outlet and I took some jewelry classes, and apprenticed with a designer in Soho. I found it really exciting!
Sean Mahoney was 17 when he auditioned for the Paul Taylor Dance Company and was invited to join Taylor 2 at its inception in 1993. After two and a half years there, he spent a brief period with the Parsons Dance Company. Then he danced in a Burlesque show in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn; performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular; appeared Off- Off-Broadway; modeled in an ad campaign for Levi’s; and returned to his first company, Princeton Ballet. Realizing how much he missed the Taylor style, he auditioned again for an opening in Taylor 2. He got the job, and Mr. Taylor asked him to join PTDC in January 2004. “I’m glad I took the journey,” he says now; “I think I’m a more well-rounded person because of it.”
TaylorNotes: You had a rough time as a youngster growing up in a small town.
Sean Mahoney: I grew up in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, a small town about 10 minutes north of Philadelphia. My high school was huge, though, and that’s what put us on the map. I usually rode my bike to high school, but I couldn’t do that when I was younger, because I was diagnosed with asthma when I was 5. I was in the hospital all the time, couldn’t play sports, couldn’t even have a paper route, and I missed a lot of school. I loved playing baseball and soccer, but when they cut the grass I’d break out in hives. I tried swimming for a while but I became allergic to the chlorine; I took up the violin but the resin on the bow got to me. My parents thought, “What the hell’s left that this kid can do?”
TN: And that’s what led to dance class?
SM: My aunt used to dance for Pilobolus, and when I was twelve she suggested I try ballet class. I was the only guy in the class and I hated it; I wanted to quit after the first year. My dad asked me to stick it out for another year, and if I still didn’t like it I could quit then. He took adult beginning ballet so that I wouldn’t feel as embarrassed at school. He was a construction worker, so that was a huge deal, and his buddies respected him for it. Then we found out about a place in Princeton that had a boys’ ballet class – it was sort of a sanctuary for boys who were going through what I was going through. I was cast in their Nutcracker, and my father was in the first act as a parent. He gained an amazing amount of respect for dance; he’d had no idea how hard it was. You sweat bullets. We really bonded, too, buying tights together and going to the cosmetics department at Macy’s and picking out colors for each other! My big, burly dad, who could punch through concrete, was wearing ballet slippers and tights, and it was okay, so the stigma attached to being a male dancer was alleviated, but I still didn’t want my friends to know about it. Then the Bucks County Courier Times did a whole page on my being in The Nutcracker, and my entire elementary school of 500 kids came to see it. The headline was, “There’s Sean,” and apparently that’s what all the kids screamed when I walked on stage. I couldn’t hear anything because I was “in the zone.”
TM: So your role model wasn’t Nureyev or Baryshnikov, it was Mahoney! But you still worried what your friends would think about your being a ballet dancer?
SM: I was the only boy in three of my dance classes, and there was just one other boy in my tap class. Girls want to be ballerinas; guys want to be athletes. The moment my dad and I really connected in dance – I get emotional about it now… I was cast as Romeo in Princeton. The crypt scene is ridiculously sad and it’s hard not to get emotional on stage. After the show, my dad gave me a hug; he was crying and he wouldn’t let go. I remember the feeling of holding my father while he sobbed. Wow.
TN: Does he still come to see you dance?
SM: All the time.
TN: And the asthma?
SM: It’s gotten better but I’ll always have it. My lung capacity is about 80 percent. If I have an attack and I can get to a rescue inhaler right away it will go away in five minutes; otherwise it can last for a couple of days. I keep an inhaler in my road box for those old European theaters with mold and mildew, or for a physically challenging program like Cloven Kingdom, Esplanade and Scudorama. Playing the trombone helped my lungs. I was the kind of kid who’d play whatever instrument was needed in the orchestra, but once I found the trombone that was it.
TN: Was it tough to choose between music and dance?
SM: When I was 16 the artistic director of Princeton Ballet said I needed to decide between the two. My high school music director had said, “Do music, it’s better on a resume than being a dancer, and if you’re an out-of-work dancer you can only get a job at McDonalds.” Ironically, that pushed me toward dance. I got an apprenticeship with American Repertory Ballet Company, now Princeton Ballet. My day started at 7am and I got home at 9 or 10 at night. I was taking 23 classes a week – ballet, jazz, and modern. And I did Mercuric Tidings when I was 17, in the exact same spot I’m in now!
TN: You said you were unaware of your friends in that audience because you were “in the zone”… is that something you get into now?
SM: The zone now is different from what it was then. It used to be a place where I had complete focus, almost tunnel vision; I was so focused on where I needed to be on the right music, doing the right gesture, pointing my foot in the right direction, all that. Now, I can allow myself to enjoy what’s happening. Being able to interact with my fellow dancers is one of the best things about being in this Company – whether it’s a narrative moment, or an unplanned one when you give a sly smile to keep the energy going. So the zone for me now is feeling secure enough to enjoy the moment. It’s a wonderful experience; once you change the paradigm, it can be sublime.
TN: How long did it take you to get there?
SM: I think I’m still getting there! I’ve been with the Company since 2004 and sometimes it still feels brand new. It was a huge deal for me when Paul asked me to do his role in Scudorama. I really love the visceral, raw energy of that dance. There’s no way for us to move exactly the way Paul did; the challenge of reproducing the idea is where it’s at.
TN: What did you learn about Paul’s physicality from doing Scudorama?
SM: When I first started putting it together I thought the man was crazy; it was the hardest thing I had ever done. Running it from beginning to end, I was ready to pass out. I asked him afterwards, “Why did you do this to yourself!?” And he said, “I just wanted to dance.” There’s a way he moves that seems effortless, very natural and fluid, and for me to do that, I could either muscle through it, which would exhaust me, or calm it down and pull it back. Pull on the reins and just let things happen. After seven or eight performances, I felt I had accomplished that in a way that made me look and feel good. He said I was doing a fine job, I just had to let everything go from the back, and that’s all I’ve ever been thinking about, working from my back, initiating from the lower pelvis and working my way up, kind of whipping everything out. Then I thought, let me allow it to happen instead of forcing it to happen. And he liked that more.
TN: You weren’t changing the steps in any way…
SM: No, just the attack, or the initiation. I can grab this tea cup in many ways. The choreography might just be for me to grab the cup, but I can grab it because I haven’t had tea forever and it smells so good, or because I’m angry about something else… it’s the same action in the same amount of time but the intention, the demeanor, the attitude changes the way the movement looks.
TN: Did you develop a narrative to help you nail Scudorama?
SM: The music always reminds me of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, a sort of film noir, and the dance could represent the thoughts of someone who’s kind of losing it as he goes to work; the whole dance could be what’s going on in his mind between traffic lights. In a piece like that I feel that I can play around with an idea until someone says “That’s great,” or “I don’t like what you’re doing here.” The idea of course is Paul’s, but I have the liberty to turn it into something that works for me.
TN: What else are you looking forward to dancing in New York?
SM: Speaking in Tongues – I have wanted to do that dance since I first saw it 20 years ago. I’ve always been the dance captain for it, making sure things look good; now I get to be the abusive husband, with Michelle Fleet as my wife. Offenbach Overtures is so freaking hard, but the men’s duel is fun. It’s nice to revisit some pieces that you’d like to tweak a bit. Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) is a hard one for me because I also understudy the detective – the Christopher Gillis role – so I have to know the entire piece. And Junction was my favorite piece in Taylor 2.
TN: Musical Offering is back…
SM: There are very few times when I’ve been on stage and gotten emotional – Romeo was one, but that was part of the role. But in terms of getting wrapped up in the moment, Musical Offering is one of those. We’re all sort of flogging ourselves; the music is so powerful, you’re exhausted, and we get hit with a beam of light hitting our chest… I just can’t help getting overwhelmed by that. And Eventide, when all the couples walk by each other – I’m getting chills right now! – and then reach to each other and walk off… Every time I walk off stage, I cry.
TN: You’re in “There Will Never Be Another You” in Company B, which I find the emotional center of the dance.
SM: I’m glad to hear you say that. It’s the easiest section to physicalize; it’s not about stamina, like “Bugle Boy” or “Johnnie.” It’s not quirky, like “Polka.” But it’s so emotionally draining. You have to work hard at not being there. When I’m dancing with my partner, I want to hold her and look her in the eye and say that it’s okay, I’m here – but I can’t. That’s what this is all about. So I’m fighting against my natural instincts for the entire duet. To students who are cast in school productions of it, it may seem like the easiest part in the dance, but I want them to feel the same way I feel when I’m doing it; that we’re just not allowed to connect. It’s such a drain, and then I march off with the guys and have to come back out immediately for the finale. Really tough.
TN: In any one Taylor performance you might journey to three or four entirely different places.
SM: That is the hardest aspect of this Company. We’re one of the only companies in the world where one man choreographs everything. You can see pieces in a performance that are completely different from each other, and it seems impossible that they could have come from the same guy. But that’s also because of the dancers he’s chosen; you have to be able to flip your brain, even within a piece like Company B where I have to fight that urge to hold my partner, and then be blown out of a cannon and party like a crazy person in the last section. A very difficult program for me is Arden Court, where I’m doing a very slow adagio and I have to be strong and controlled enough so the lady can hop on my back – from that into Scudorama and then into Offenbach. We only have 15 minutes to wash away whatever we went through before, change our costume, put on new makeup and start all over again, even though we’re still exhausted from the previous piece! We don’t have 40 or 50 dancers, we have 16 dancers who look amazing on stage in every piece; that’s what our job is. It’s definitely an extreme challenge.
TM: Tell me about your interaction with Taylor alumni.
SM: I spoke to David Grenke about a role he created in Spindrift that I got to do. He had a very sinuous way of moving, as if his body had shark cartilage instead of bones. He said he had no idea what he had done, he was just trying to get through the piece. I told him that he blew me away and he said, “Well, do it better than I did!” Yeah, right! I’m so glad that we have relationships with the alumni. Videos are just videos; alumni come in and help us out, which is a godsend. I can’t say enough about the way Bettie de Jong works with us. I feel that she trusts me enough to allow me to try things, and she’s comfortable enough to say, “That’s not working, try this.” She might say, “This is what I did in Scudorama 50 years ago” – but she’ll only tell you things when you need to hear them, which is pretty rare for a rehearsal director. She allows you to be your best at what you’re doing – to remove herself and be an objective eye. And it’s so nice to be able to hang out with her outside of work.
TN: You’ve been our poster boy for the last two seasons – what was that like?
SM: I love photo shoots, I think they’re great. I worked with Tom Caravaglia on solo stuff, and we could shoot for five hours; it’s so much fun to do that. When it gets hard is when you’re restricted to what you have to do, when you need to get this particular jump – the repetition is taxing. That first Lincoln Center shoot with Jordan Matter, it was a gorgeous day, and that Harley was incredible. The moment I had those handlebars in my hands, I wanted one!
TN: What’s the key to hitting that flying position, which you repeated this season on a Ferrari?
SM: I had to defy gravity a little bit – it’s all in the lower back to get my legs parallel to the ground, and I couldn’t use my arms much because the bike would have tipped over. As a dancer you want to look effortless, but this was about showing strain in the muscles, so I had to contract all my muscles without actually gripping the handlebars, and flex everything in my lower half and still get that shape. The leg movement is a cabriole, but in motorcycle extreme sports lingo, it’s called a “superman.”
TN: Where have you been on tour that’s left an impression?
SM: San Francisco is always a hot spot for me, the relaxed nature of it. It’s nice to revisit places in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, to see things that are off the beaten path. My first trip with Taylor 2 to Africa was the most amazing experience of my life. I was 18, it was the first time I had ever been on a plane and we had 22 flights; in some of those planes you could still see the welding on the inside of the fuselage, and the seats were actually buckets. I’d like to go to the Galapagos Islands. But you can’t get better than New York; this is tops. This is where people dream of coming to be a dancer. I’ve made it, I’m here. I have a job, I’m living in the city, dancing for a major modern dance company.
TN: What do you do for fun?
SM: I once went skydiving in Arizona. You can’t breathe for the first thirty seconds because of the upward force of the air, but then the shoot opens up and acts like a satellite dish – I could hear people talking thousands of feet below.
TN: You sure you weren’t hallucinating? What made you do that?
SM: I’d never done it before.
TN: Neither have I but that doesn’t mean I’m going to do it tomorrow.
SM: It was something I wanted to try, and it was amazing. I had three parachutes in case the first and second didn’t open. There are certain things I will never do; I’ll never go bungee jumping. No need to do that.
TM: That’s a relief. How do you perceive your role as a member of the Company?
SM: I’m one of the senior members, and it seems as if I’ve made a place for myself here. But I’m a self-conscious artist; unless I’m put in a role like dance captain, I wonder if people in the Company respect my opinion. I want to believe that they trust that I know what I’m doing, that I’m reliable. I think everybody likes me, so I’m good with that; I’m friends with everybody in the Company and we hang out together, especially on tour where we’re the only people we know. But I also love to get up early and go for a walk by myself and get lost in a city. I enjoy my privacy.
TM: What are some of your favorite pieces of music?
SM: I heard Itzhak Perlman play the Beethoven Violin Concerto in Saratoga once. Absolute favorite piece of music, and he is a monster on that violin. There’s no resolution in the entire piece; this huge orchestra will build up to a part and just before it crests, it will stop and the violin will come in. The only time you ever hear a resolving note is the single violinist, by himself, at the end of the piece. It took me somewhere else. I love Mozart’s Requiem, Verdi’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah. I went to see Peter Grimes at the Met – holy ****. At the end, when the whole cast is chanting “Peter Grimes,” it’s just amazing.
TM: Is there stress in knowing that what you’re doing now is not what you’ll be doing for the rest of your professional life?
SM: I’ve taken steps for a long time to address that. I play bass guitar in a band, Heroes Die, with Taylor dancer Robert Kleinendorst and two other friends. We play lyrical rock, all original tunes in the style of the ’70s and ’80s. I love that it’s so out of my comfort zone. And I’ve taken a lot of dance photographs. I’m working on massage therapy. I know that dancing’s not going to last forever, but I do plan to be connected to the arts in some way.
Eran Bugge joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in Fall 2005. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Hartt School of the University of Hartford, from which she received a B.F.A. degree in ballet pedagogy. In 2012 she was the recipient of the Hartt Alumni Award. TaylorNotes caught up with Eran when she returned from her belated honeymoon in Iceland.
TaylorNotes: You grew up near DisneyWorld – that must have been great fun!
Eran Bugge: Oviedo, Florida was a good little community to grow up in. There was a horse farm near my house, a grocery store on the corner, a middle school and an orange grove. Some of that has since been taken over by strip malls.
TN: Do you feel like a New Yorker now?
EB: Yes. My husband and I love the city. We love public transit and not having to own or drive a car. We love the convenience of the city, like being able to walk half a block to get milk, or ordering delivery of absolutely anything. We love having access to all the art and culture, or even just that particular rare ingredient for a recipe. The world is really at your fingertips in this city. We really can’t imagine living anywhere else – it would take a wonderful opportunity to tear us away. I think we’d live here happily forever.
TN: When was your first dance class?
EB: A creative movement class when I was three. My favorite teacher was Miss Leslie. Many years later she came to a Taylor performance without knowing that I was in the Company, flipped open the program and discovered my name. Turns out she has always loved Paul Taylor and even named her son Taylor. I keep thinking: How are the stars so aligned that my very first dance teacher is such a fan of Paul Taylor’s?
TN: At what point did dance become serious for you?
EB: It seems like it has always been serious; it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment. My Mom loves to tell a story about one of the possible turning points, and probably the only time I told her I wanted to quit. I went to a very strict dance school and you could only study ballet for the first few years of your serious training – jazz and modern got added in after you had a solid foundation. We drove about 30 minutes each way a few days a week for ballet classes at the time and I would get carsick at least once a week. After one of these roadside pullovers on a hot Florida highway I was crying and told her I didn’t want to go to dance any more. She encouraged me to hold out one more year because I would be allowed to take modern dance and maybe I would like that better. I agreed it was worth a shot – and I never wanted to quit again. Later, during my junior year at the Hartt School, I was persuaded to take the Taylor Summer Intensive, and I fell in love with Paul’s style. It became my goal to get into this Company.
TN: Tell me about your audition.
EB: Patrick Corbin was teaching class and one day Paul stood in the doorway. He asked my name and where I was from, and then I was invited to audition for Taylor 2. The audition lasted forever, and I wasn’t chosen. A few months later there was an audition for the large Company; it didn’t seem as grueling as that earlier one. At the end, Paul walked over and took my hand; it was surreal. I auditioned on Sunday and started work on Monday.
TN: I have in mind what I consider to be your breakthrough role…
EB: Diggity – my first really big role! Diggity was a young, spunky role, and it was the first time I was really alone onstage in the Company. It goes back and forth between really luscious, classic Taylor movement and quirky, weird movement. It doesn’t have a super clear storyline, so I invented my own story: I was an only child, a little girl playing in her room and imagining all her toys come to life, and the cutout dogs were part of that: a massive dream sequence.
TN: Dancers of every era talk about the challenge of the metal cutouts of dogs placed around the stage in Diggity…
EB: They’re such an obstacle, it’s inhibiting. I watched the video of Lila York recently and she soared around the stage as if the dogs weren’t even there, whereas I felt like I was constantly trying to dodge them. I actually kicked a dog – sliced my foot bad enough to need a tetanus shot. But I love that dance. The kids I taught it to last summer really enjoyed it too. They didn’t have the obstacles of the dogs so they just got to enjoy the movement.
TN: We’re doing Diggity again in March. Do you have a different view of it now?
EB: Yeah, because I’m not nervous! The first day in rehearsal, Michael Trusnovec told me that he had looked at videos of my first performances and was going to suggest that I free it up a little, but in that first rehearsal I was already doing that. I’m still true to the movement, but I’m a little freer in it.
TN: You’ve talked about the challenge – pain, really – involved in doing some of Paul’s works…
EB: It’s mostly in the lungs. When I first did Esplanade the last thing I wanted to do was run back on stage and bow; I needed 30 seconds more to breathe. You run off stage and you’re panting and you have to run right back on and look pleased! Esplanade was one of the hardest things I’d ever done – and then it was Brandenburgs, and then Musical Offering, and then Mercuric Tidings. Just when you think, I got this, this dance is fine, you do a new dance that’s a cardiovascular challenge and you’re thinking, No, THIS is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. The very first time I did Cloven Kingdom we were on a giant football field of a stage and I was the girl with the silver ball on her head part of the time. You spend half the first section leaping and half your time running backstage to get to the other side, and then you do cartwheels, and that headpiece has a strap right near your jugular. I run, run, run, throw the ball on my head and then leap, leap, leap and then run, run, run, leap, leap, leap, then take it off and give it to someone in the wings and run back on to do the cartwheels. There’s a difference between pain and suffering. There’s tremendous pain in finishing Esplanade but you do it anyway because the reward is having danced a masterpiece for an adoring audience.
TN: You have that gorgeous duet with Rob in the fourth movement of Esplanade, where you walk on his prone body and stand on his stomach.
EB: That’s still hard to do. It’s funny: each guy is different. With Rob it’s like stepping on a hard floor, whereas Michael Trusnovec relaxes his stomach a little more, so that’s like standing on a waterbed! At the beginning when I was doing everything gingerly Bettie would say, “Just stand on them – then they know where your weight is and they can help you.” If you try to pull up in order to feel lighter to them, you’re actually making it harder.
TN: He supports you as you lean far forward, looking like the figurehead on the prow of a ship.
EB: The way the counterbalance works, I can’t always tell if I’m leaned out far enough.
TN: Have you had the opportunity to show all of your sides through Paul’s work?
EB: For the most part. I haven’t done super angst-y, very dramatic things. That’s not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me. I’ve done a lot of ingénue rolls. Paul’s giving me more mature roles now; either that or I’m a more mature dancer and I’m just approaching them differently. I feel more like a woman now when I’m dancing, instead of like a girl.
TN: What was the turning point?
EB: Sunset was my first mature role, the first time I did not feel like “the little one.” And then Roses, a role I never expected to do. My role in Piazzolla comes closest to that angst, but she’s really got more anger than angst, and that’s hard for me. Paul keeps telling me to be meaner; I think he knows that’s not naturally part of my personality. He wants me to be angrier and angrier. I’ve always wanted my dancing to be clean and precise, and do the movement just so. Piazzolla got me to trust that I can do the steps the right way and live in the moment emotionally.
TN: You took on a very different role, that of “doula” for Amy Young and Robert Kleinendorst when Amy was pregnant.
EB: Doula is a Greek word; the modern use is someone who assists at a birth. It’s a role that, in our culture at least, seems to have gotten lost when birth moved from the home to the hospital. In ancient cultures, when a woman went into labor, many women from the community who were knowledgeable about childbirth came to be with the mother to help physically and emotionally as she went through labor. There’s a lot to be said about the constant emotional support that someone in addition to the father can provide – someone who has knowledge of different massage techniques and things that help the woman cope with the pain associated with childbirth. They can reduce the need for medical interventions. Amy and Rob asked me to be there early in the pregnancy because we are really close friends. And we trust each other so much on stage – when you’re exhausted at the end of Brandenburgs, but you know you can get through it together; that kind of thing. Amy said, “If you see Rob stressing out, you know him well enough to tell him, ‘Go take a nap.’ He’ll listen to you more than he might listen to a stranger.” I was so honored that they wanted me to be there. And they have a beautiful baby girl, Sadie Jane.
TN: You’ve been doing some research into Taylor history in connection with your video editing; have you found anything of special interest?
EB: For four years I’ve worked in the video archives and I’ve been transferring videotape to digital storage. It’s amazing how much we have about Paul’s dances going back to the very start of his career – probably before he had any clue what his future would be like. The fact that he’s got stunning photos from his first dance in 1954, Jack and the Beanstalk – it’s just remarkable that they’re still around, as well as the notebooks Paul kept from the start. It’s all been documented so well. Maybe he really did know what the future would hold.
TN: What stands out in your mind from last season at Lincoln Center?
EB: It was challenging with Parisa out and the other injuries that occurred. I was lucky to not have any injuries; I felt strong. Normally by the third week everything has been rehearsed, but this season we had several extra rehearsals and touch-ups along the way. I enjoyed the season a lot. I was at a place where I could really get more into the emotions and the characters that I was dancing. I was especially proud of Sunset and Piazzolla. And I felt very connected to everybody – the changes in casts seemed to heighten our awareness of each other on stage.
TN: You were the Dance Captain for Marathon Cadenzas — did you sense that it matured from the first performance to the last?
EB: Definitely; they always do. You learn a lot about a dance when you’re doing it for an audience; you can feel what’s working and what’s not working, in a way that you can’t in the rehearsal studio, so you might emphasize one thing or another. Gossamer Gallants is an example of that. Paul has said that it’s gotten very broad; when he first made it, it was much subtler. But it’s hard, when the audience is guffawing, not to escalate it with them. At this point we’re reining it back a little.
TN: Private Domain and Fibers seemed to go over particularly well.
EB: That’s the second time I’ve done Private Domain. It felt a little more gelled than the last time we did it. The Xenakis music sets a mood, but we have internal rhythms that we dance to. For the fast duet I do with Sean, I have a rhythm that I sing in my head that matches the steps, and I’m not listening to the music at all.
TN: Because of those archways, at various times you’re completely hidden, half-hidden, or completely visible to the audience.
EB: And in the same moment you are all of those things too, depending on where the audience member is. Last time I was aware of when I was visible and when I wasn’t, whereas this time I tried just to dance, and let that take care of itself. I think we all felt more confident and able to take it to the next level.
TN: What about Fibers?
EB: I’ve liked Fibers since they first put it together – it has such interesting movement. Some snippets we’ve seen in later Taylor dances, but there’s so much movement in it that isn’t familiar at all.
TN: You’ve just gotten back from Iceland, where you celebrated your third wedding anniversary – how did you choose Iceland?
EB: A few years ago we went to Norway on tour, and I loved it. I was surprised; I didn’t expect it to be so green and lush. We were there in the summer, when the sun hardly goes down. We took a boat through the fjords and the scenery was so beautiful. You need a little sweater, but you could do a hike and not get disgustingly sweaty. My husband is from the Canadian Rockies, and he’s not a lay-on-the-beach kind of vacationer – that would be the worst idea ever for him because he likes to be active. It’s just a six-hour flight to Iceland, and they’re cheaper than those to Norway. It’s so beautiful – the scenery is just amazing. In twelve days we went from town to town to town around the perimeter of the island and saw a good part of the whole country. It was awesome; we want to go back.
TN: I don’t often run into people who say “I was just in Iceland and I can’t wait to go back!”
EB: Yeah, it was amazing!
TN: One of your hobbies is gardening. What do you plant?
EB: I try to plant tomatoes every year. Our neighbor is an amazing gardener and has given me beautiful plants over the last few years. We have a weeping Japanese maple that has tripled in size since we planted it.
TN: What are you looking forward to in the 2015 season?
EB: Sea Lark has been fun to make. I really like the music, particularly the music for the trio I dance with Francisco and Aileen. That was a fun interaction with Paul; there was a lot of give and take, and I hadn’t had a lot of dances made on me before. This season I get to revisit dances I didn’t feel completely confident in before. I have more time to really delve into the roles and not worry about getting the steps right.
TN: Eventide is one – that dance seemed to hit audiences and critics anew the last time you did it, as if they hadn’t realized what a magnificent gem it is.
EB: Watching films of the original cast gives me chills. We all really cherish that dance. To me it’s almost like going to church; there’s something sacred and transcendent about doing it, like a religious experience .
TN: Sean Mahoney once said he never fails to tear up at the end of it.
EB: For me, it’s not a physically taxing dance, but it’s emotionally taxing for all of us. Heather and Cisco’s duet is physically challenging, and Heather can’t believe it’s a “rest” dance for me! Other people have moments of happiness in it but I have very few. She can’t resist him so she’ll take whatever she can get, even though she knows her heart’s going to get broken at the end. Paul says that they’re all one couple. I know it’s his dance but I totally disagree with him; I do not believe that my couple can also be Parisa and Michael’s couple. It’s as if they’ve been together forever and they care immensely about each other, and perhaps something tragic has happened to them like the loss of a child. In their two duets one is struggling and the other gives support; it’s a wonderful relationship. Whereas in my duet with Rob, Rob’s character has a wandering heart and he leaves me at the end. Then again, Parisa and Michael leave each other at the end as well, so maybe we are all one couple. That’s a theme in Paul’s work: you can have many impactful relationships in your life and they’re all valid. Even in the fourth section of Esplanade I change partners three times. So over the course of your life you have different relationships and it’s okay to pass from one to another. You learn and grow from them.
TN: You’ll be paired with Rob in Eventide again.
EB: I love dancing with Rob – it’s a really deep emotional connection with him on stage. I can create a world with him that’s very real, and that’s a very vulnerable thing to do with somebody. I think our friendship helps to make that more authentic on stage.
TN: Brandenburgs is another one you’re revisiting…
EB: It’s so fun! I don’t have to think about the steps anymore, and that gives me the freedom to take risks and do something exciting and new, push technical things. One of my solos has a turning sequence and it got to the point where I tried to put triple turns in, something I don’t do in any other dance! Brandenburgs is like an education in luscious classic Taylor movement, which informs everything else you do.
TN: There’s that great section when the whole cast is rocking side to side on the balls of your feet…
EB: That’s really hard! You’re tired and you’re trying to look pretty while you’re rocking your whole body side to side, and Paul always wants us to rock as far and as fast as we can. Sometimes it feels like he makes choreography that’s actually impossible, and he’s not interested in your achieving it but in seeing you try to achieve it. Or sometimes someone has achieved it, so he’ll add a turn because it looks too easy. He wants to see that physical effort. Kate Johnson, who originated the role, came in and worked with me on it as well as on Sunset. The opportunities to work with her have been some of the highlights of my career.
TN: And now you’ll get to dance Brandenburgs to live music.
EB: It’s going to be over the top! It will be an amazing season with live music and having the Shen Wei and Limón companies around.
TaylorNotes: Tell me about where you grew up.
Francisco Graciano: The population of San Antonio, Texas is 75 percent Hispanic, and I grew up with Mexican influence all around me. Spanish missions still function there. I’m kind of a mutt; my mother is from Michigan and her parents are of European descent, but I’ve always identified with Mexican culture because my father was very influenced by it.
TN: How far from Mexico is it?
FG: About a two-hour drive. I would go pretty often as a kid. I didn’t speak a lick of Spanish and I never liked going, because that part of Mexico was really impoverished – no plumbing – and not very appealing to a little kid. I didn’t experience the “exotic” Mexico that a lot of people do. My family wasn’t well off; I always thought, we don’t have a lot, but when I’d visit my family in Mexico, they had even less. I realized that I was actually very fortunate because my parents loved and supported me, and I had a home and food.
TN: Do you come from a big family?
FG: Growing up it was the six of us with my two sisters and a brother. My father’s parents didn’t want to have anything to do with us when he married a non-Mexican, and with my mother’s family in Michigan, I had no relatives nearby. Now I have eleven nieces and nephews and all these cousins and aunts and uncles. It’s really fun to see.
TN: I picture you as an active kid running all over the place…
FG: I was very active but not good at sports. I loved being athletic, and that’s why I got into dancing. I could be athletic and jump and run across the floor, and I guess I exhibited some talent.
TN: How old were you then?
FG: I was nine.
TN: Was there a decent school to go to?
FG: I went to one of the two best in the city for ballet.
TN: And at some point you discovered modern dance.
FG: Yes, from a guest teacher, and when I got to college I realized how vast the modern dance repertoire was.
TN: You won a male scholarship to Stephens College, a predominately woman’s college.
FG: There were 450 students living on campus, about a dozen men and 400-plus women. I didn’t take advantage of that situation though. I was too focused; I was grateful to be there and work really hard as a dance major, and because I also wanted to be an actor, I tried to do as many of the plays and musicals as I could. On top of that, the male scholarship students had to do extra work cleaning studios and such. Some of the women didn’t want us there because it was primarily a place to empower women but all the men were getting free rides. I had my B.F.A. by the time I was 20.
TN: Then you came to New York?
FG: I thought I should give myself five years to make it in the City. I moved to New York in October ’99 on a one-way ticket. I was at the Ailey School for a semester and then danced with Cortez and Co and later with Pascal Rioult Dance Theatre. After a year with Rioult, Susan McGuire, then Taylor 2 Director, called and said Paul would be looking for men in class. I took class the whole week and danced my heart out. Tuesday of the following week Susan called and said, “Where are you? Paul’s asking about you.” So I got back to class the following Wednesday and Paul called me over and said, “We’d like to hire you for the second Company, is that okay?” Is that okay?! So I said yes! I thanked Pascal profusely because he and his wife really improved my technique and performance. I started work with Taylor 2 in 2004 and joined the large Company in 2006.
TN: Did you feel a special connection when Paul made De Suenos?
FG: Sure. While I was in Taylor 2, he asked me how I started dancing. I told him that I had performed the Deer Dance – the Aztec version of the Yaqui Indian dance – when I was a kid. An Aztec Native American who was doing the Rain Dance in San Antonio became my mentor and taught it to me. We’d do it together in Market Square, and after the dance was over I’d take off my deer head and walk around asking for money. He gave me the Aztec name Mazatlee – “little deer.” I also saw Ballet Folklorico de Mexico when I was a kid and when the Deer Dancer came out I was transfixed, because he transformed into this animal. The Aztec version that I learned is very grounded; you’re low and in your plié a lot more. It was my introduction to moving through space in a grounded way and keeping your legs bent and staying in plié. I think that feeling of being grounded is what propelled me into Modern Dance. I was proud to be a part of Paul’s comment on the culture that I grew up with.
TN: How do you put your stamp on a role that someone else has created? I saw things in your “I Am Woman” solo in Funny Papers I’d never noticed before.
FG: I give Orion Duckstein credit; he has a wonderful sense of comedic timing. And I got a lot of feedback from Rob Kleinendorst, who’s also a brilliant, humorous guy. But I was nervous every time I did it because it was out of my comfort zone. I think Paul knew that I’d be uncomfortable doing a flamboyant guy who’s really into this cheerleading routine and that I’d have to rise to the challenge. It was terrifying! The great thing about Paul’s work is that he leaves room to maneuver; you don’t have to be a carbon copy of the person who did it before.
TN: This season you did “Tico Tico” in Company B; tell me about him.
FG: Tico was in the Great War and suffers from shellshock. He was a charismatic kid who was successful with the ladies but when he comes back from the war he has trouble maintaining that persona; these tics come out of nowhere and he’s embarrassed by them. So he has his suave moments but all of a sudden he’s back in a foxhole with bullets whizzing by and his friends’ blood all over him. I’ve watched videos of guys with post-traumatic stress disorder, and I think my characterization has gotten deeper.
TN: Other roles you did at Lincoln Center last March include Last Look…
FG: That was the first Taylor dance I ever saw. I’m realizing the dream I had in college when I thought, Man, I have to do that dance.
TN: What’s your mindset in Last Look?
FG: This constant repulsion of self; you’re so disgusted with your own faults and demons that seeing your reflection is repulsive and shocking. There are a lot of dark moments in that dance, human beings colliding in their most despicable way. I think the interpretive art is in finding those feelings inside yourself.
TN: The Word…
FG: I loved doing The Word. I feel I’m “the dark pastor” at a prep school who’s so dogmatic and doctrinaire that he becomes evil and terrifying. We’ve clung so strongly and thoughtlessly to our beliefs that we’ve become evil, like today’s religious extremists. My frustration with organized religion now is that there often seems to be no middle ground between atheists and extremists, and most of our wars are based on ancient doctrines written thousands of years ago.
FG: The hardest dance I’ve ever gotten to do. I thought Cloven Kingdom would be the hardest, because of the Men’s Quartet and the tuxedos we have to wear; it’s a lot of clothing for moving that big. The first time I ever did Syzygy Paul said, “I want to see a lot of scribbling,” a kind of improvised movement. He doesn’t speak much before a dance so when he does, you know he really means it. After my duet with Heather McGinley near the end, I’m so exhausted it’s almost euphoric; I just kind of let go and let the dance happen, and you can only do that after so many rehearsals that your muscles just know it. It gets to the point where I don’t know how I’m going to get back out there, and when I get off stage I think, How in the hell did that just happen? Syzygy is a great dance.
TN: You and Heather also have that wonderful non-stop duet in Eventide.
FG: I love Eventide. This was my favorite season ever in terms of the rep I got to do. Heather and I have this great, playful energy on stage; we move differently but we complement each other well, I think. Every count there’s something to do, and it’s the opposite of every other section. Sometimes we have quick, small movements, and sometimes they’re quick, big movements. We have to get across the stage incredibly fast, and it’s important in that section to be really clean or the musicality is completely lost. The tempo of the music at Lincoln Center was slower than we were accustomed to, but Heather and I were right there with each other; we could read each other’s body and each other’s rhythm instantly.
TN: Piazzolla Caldera – you do the drunken duet with Michael Apuzzo, with that slow backbend….
FG: The “hinge” – I’m on top, upside down, and Michael hinges forever.
TN: Which of you determines the speed of that on a given night?
FG: We both do. The violin draws out, and that’s when he has to be up and over, and drop and fall; there are counts we have to go by but it’s really up to both of us. First I’m upside down and have no control, and then he’s upside down and has no control. He’s really good about where he holds me and in terms of stability, but once in a while…. It’s live performance; that’s what I love about it.
TN: Arden Court…
FG: I’m the fast guy running around Parisa, who’s in adagio; that’s a lot of fun. When I first learned it, it was nerve-racking. I liked the way Take Ueyama approached the part so I asked him to drill me on it. He said you have to approach it as if it’s an adagio. One of the key points was to allow your hips to move you across the floor and let your feet catch up, and that helped me execute what I needed to in time. I’m thinking, We’re in the animal kingdom where the male is attracting the female, and I’m going to one-up everybody else. It’s exhausting, especially by the time you get to the last section with those big jumps. But I love doing that solo, and Parisa’s a lot of fun.
TN: Diggity: to what extent does that obstacle course – the metallic dogs – make things harder?
FG: I’ve knocked a dog over only once, in rehearsal. You know, the traffic in Diggity can be tricky enough with nothing on stage, but it’s even trickier with the dogs. My joke is, if you cut yourself on one of the dogs, do you get a tetanus shot or a rabies shot? But at some point you just know exactly where they are and you don’t worry about it.
TN: Sea Lark…
FG: Making that was a good collaborative experience where Paul would tell me to do something very specific, but also be open enough where I could interpret what he wanted. He had us study Russian sailor dances. At one point he said, “Do something fancy,” so I tried a big jump and he liked it, and then he said, “Now skip over there,” and I tried to make it look very masculine. And I loved my trio with Aileen and Eran; we had a nice little energy in that trio.
TN: You’ll miss Aileen…
FG: I just got goosebumps! She’s a spitfire on stage, and she’s got the sweetest smile when she looks at you. She could go on dancing for ten more years if she wanted but she wants to be with her husband, who’s serving in the military in Asia. And now we have Madelyn Ho, who fits in really easily, and she’s wicked smart.
TN: You talked about the traffic in Diggity; now you’re part of Larry Keigwin’s new dance, which has complex traffic patterns. This is the first time at PTDC you’ve worked with a choreographer other than Paul.
FG: It’s really rewarding. He has a very different creative process from Paul’s; Paul tends to be more linear from beginning to end. Larry is making phrases and patches of choreography, a bunch of little things that are all related, and he will then construct a through-line from all of those little patches. He started by asking us to interpret words or phrases, like “sharp,” “fluid,” “luxurious,” with movement. It’s fun to see people I know so well move differently and approach a choreographer’s aesthetic differently. We’re comfortable generating movement and collaborating on things; there’s a special bond of trust because we’ve been working with Paul for so long. It’s great to just riff off someone else’s work with all these people I know so well. Seeing us make these phrases that seem completely unrelated and watching Larry turn them into something cohesive is a gift. I’m just honored to work with him.
TN: Has it made you want to choreograph?
FG: Oh no! I enjoy the process of creating movement but being a professional choreographer with a dance company is the most daunting thing I could possibly think of besides being an astronaut.
TN: You’ve found your own creative outlet in photography – what brought you to it?
FG: There’s a sense of camaraderie and support from everyone in the Company that’s really beautiful and I wanted to capture that backstage. We’re mostly doing the work of one man, and doing it with such incredible passion, love, and support for each other. I don’t know another place in the world like that. I wanted to capture Lisa Viola coming off stage and having someone patting her on the back and saying, “That was great.”
TN: What do you like to shoot outside of dance?
FG: Anything that doesn’t have the inherent “wow” factor that dance has. Photography has given me the opportunity to tell stories. The idea that we have moments in time that were captured 20, 30 or a hundred years ago is mind-boggling. Henri Cartier-Bresson was my inspiration. One picture of his taken during the war shows a line of Jews giving their names to a Nazi soldier as a woman stands next to him in an accusatory manner. Everyone in the picture is telling this tragic story, and then you have the genius of the composition: where the heads are placed, where the camera is. Nothing is gratuitous in his work.
TN: Where would you like to be ten years from now?
FG: I’d like to be photographing dance. I see myself as a working photographer. The opportunity to set Paul’s work would be really fun, and I think I will always be involved in concert dance in one way or another. Curating a festival would be fascinating. You know, every time I’ve said I’m going to stop dancing, it has come back and given me a great opportunity.
TN: There’s a line in Godfather 3, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”
FG: Yeah, I’m part of the “dance mafia.” Even though sometimes I wish I was doing something more stable and secure, I get on stage and I can’t picture a better way of experiencing bliss. There’s nothing that could compare to dancing to exhaustion, and willing your muscles to get through Mercuric Tidings, and have this sense of accomplishment because you did something really incredible.
TN: Is the applause the best moment of the day for you?
FG: It’s definitely one of the best parts of the day. That sense of accomplishment, that sense of finishing something that you struggled to get through and got through bravely. The best part of the day is really being lost in the moment with the other dancers on stage. Like with Heather, when we did Eventide. It’s moments like that – I mean, where else can you get that?
LAURA HALZACK – Summer 2016
After earning a degree in History at the University of New Hampshire, Laura Halzack returned to dance – which she began studying at age four – but focused on modern instead of ballet. Having studied at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, at 22 she wound up with more self-confidence than ever. Following Intensives with Amy Marshall and at The Taylor School, she was hooked. After a brief stint in the Marshall Company, Laura joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2006. She has since danced roles in Scudorama and Esplanade that were created on Bettie de Jong – Mr. Taylor’s favorite dancing partner – and many others created on her. TaylorNotes caught up with Laura in early July.
TaylorNotes: It’s hard to believe you’re in your 10th anniversary season with the Taylor Company.
Laura Halzack: In some ways it feels like I just got here, but when dances start coming around again and again I realize, I’ve put some time in here!
TN: Paul has made several dances on you; do you feel there’s a part of your personality he hasn’t tapped into yet?
LH: That’s an interesting question. People perceive me as an elegant adagio dancer like the character I have in Beloved Renegade, but moving in that way was something I didn’t know I could do before I got here. I was terrified of adagio movement, and I was grateful to discover this more mysterious, subtle side of myself and explore it early in my career. That was a huge thing Paul helped me find. I like to move fast, but we haven’t had the opportunity to work together in that capacity. And I’m kind of a goofball; some people are surprised because a lot of my stage personas are elegant, stoic and grand, and then they meet me and realize I’m just a down-to-earth, quirky goof. I also have a darker side and have always wanted to do some of Paul’s darker dances. I’ve understudied Last Look for years; who knows if I’ll ever get in there. It’s one I love to watch from the wings because I always get inspired. But it would be fun in a studio collaboration to make something a little darker like that, or like Banquet of Vultures. Every collaboration with Paul is different and I feel we still have many things we could explore.
TN: You’ve had opportunities to move quickly in dances created on other people.
LH: Yes, I certainly have. I love doing Mercuric Tidings, and I’ve been able to moonlight in Brandenburgs, which I love because it’s fast and lyrical and bright and happy. The first Taylor show I saw as a student at The Taylor School was Dandelion Wine, Dust and Brandenburgs. I love Dust, all the crazy shapes and the unique way to use the music. They closed with Brandenburgs and I just didn’t want it to end, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It’s such a beautiful way for the whole company to shine. It just blew my mind.
TN: In terms of Paul’s darker dances, you’ve done Scudorama, the granddaddy of them all…
LH: Which I love – that was my first taste of the dark side. We did the revival of Scud and the premiere of Renegade on the same program in St. Louis, which was really fascinating. They’re so different and yet you have to have a certain control in both. Scudorama was the precursor to Last Look. I miss doing it.
TN: You grew up in Suffield, Connecticut on the Massachusetts border.
LH: It’s a very small tobacco-farming town; there were only 150 kids in my high school graduating glass. Not a lot of diversity, not a lot of arts. Sports were the big focus; I played soccer and was on the first all-girls travel soccer team in Suffield. I never knew anyone from my town who went on to become a professional dancer; one person I knew joined the circus but that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
TN: Describe your audition for the Company.
LH: I studied at Taylor for two years and had auditioned when Silvia Nevjinsky left but that wasn’t my time – Paul chose the fabulous Eran Bugge. When Heather Berest gave notice, Paul called me over after class one day and asked, “What do you do?” I said I danced part-time and worked the second shift at the Internal Documents Center at UBS Bank. He said, “Well, that won’t do! I’m having an audition – would you like to come?” Cut to the day of the audition; I came early to warm up and found that my group was already in the studio learning the combo. I was ice-cold and I remember that Paul put a crazy triple turn into a jump. I did about a quarter turn and almost fell on my butt, and Paul said, “Oh Laura, I know you can do better than that!” I was so embarrassed and thought I blew it, but I got a callback for the next day and I remember having a really good time in that callback. Then Paul came over to the six of us left and said, “I really like you all but I can only take one of you,” and he turned and looked at me and said, “Laura, it’s you.” I started to cry. It was something that I wanted so much but knew might never happen. I couldn’t believe it was my day. I still get teary thinking about it because it really changed my life.
TN: Tell us about this past Lincoln Center season…
LH: Audiences were really excited to see Paul’s new dances and the classic works we brought back. It was thrilling to do the works of Larry Keigwin and Doug Elkins. We’re all excited that Paul has given us the opportunity to explore all these other parts of ourselves as artists with other choreographers. Gala night was such a beautiful experience – Paul’s Sullivaniana was so bright and colorful, and to have the audience laugh and be excited about a world premiere and a New York premiere… Having energy coming back from the audience was pretty spectacular, and it kept building. Being given the opportunity to do Diversion of Angels was spectacular too.
TN: Was it difficult to learn Larry’s and Doug’s movement?
LH: It was more difficult to learn Doug’s vocabulary. I felt there was more kinship with my personal energy in Larry’s work. I’ve never break-danced in my life, so even Doug’s simple floor work was completely out of my vocabulary. I enjoyed Larry and Doug as artists and individuals. The energy they brought to the studio was fun and engaging; it was also challenging to work in a way we’ve never done before.
TN: In Diversion of Angels, was the Graham technique, which is the basis of Paul’s style, as familiar as you thought it would be?
LH: That’s really interesting; we did take a few classes in the beginning and I could feel the kinship, the roots of Paul’s work there. The movement is a little more – not restrictive, but it has more specifics. Once we got into it, though, it didn’t feel as daunting. The movement for the women in yellow, red and white really embodies what each of those roles is meant to convey: youth, passion and maturity. And those chorus girls are dancing their butts off the whole time, doing what I think of as quintessential Graham movement: those percussive contractions and tilts.
TN: The role of the woman in white seems perfect for your adagio side…
LH: That role was incredibly difficult for me, but I absolutely loved every moment of the challenge.
TN: The technique was difficult?
LH: Yes, but it was more the focus. The studio’s different from the theater. The theater changes your perception of balance, especially with the stage lights, so half the battle is learning where to look. Sometimes things flow in the rehearsal studio and then you get on stage and realize, that exit sign that I was focusing on for my balance isn’t there anymore.
TN: Did you have a chance to watch Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder?
LH: It was so moving! I watched both of the rehearsals and it was such a privilege to see Donald McKayle there; it looked like he could jump out of that wheelchair if he wanted to. Just to hear him direct the dancers and give the singers notes was amazing. The rehearsal director of DCDC said to me, “It’s really exciting for us, because the recording we’ve been dancing to was made long ago by an all-Caucasian choir, and this is the first time we’ve danced to a predominantly African-American choir. It’s really changed the way we do the dance.” Being in the wings opening night and hearing the heart-wrenching passion from the pit – it was mesmerizing; you could tell the dancers were feeding off it. There’s nothing like dancing to live music.
TN: So there is a difference for you in dancing to live music…
LH: Absolutely. It’s different every night. With taped music, our responsibility as artists is to find fresh new ways to interpret what we know we’re going to hear. With live music it’s actually a collaboration. Doing Beloved Renegade with Soprano Devon Guthrie was incredible. She’d come up after the show and say, “I held that note a little longer for you, could you tell?” Absolutely I could tell, and I was right with her. There’s something about being in the moment, feeling the energy each night, and how the littlest difference makes it spontaneous. It enables you to let go at a whole other level and heightens the creativity. In a big ensemble piece like Promethean Fire, you can really feel everybody again, and that’s a very cool experience. Diversion of Angels was fabulous to do to live music; the way that Don York conducted it was a highlight for me. It felt even grander than the recording we rehearsed to. Esplanade’s always exciting because you never know how fast he’s going to hit that last section. Even if Don’s trying to keep a certain tempo, the musicians can get excited too – we’re not the only ones with nerves!
TN: Tell us your perception of the second section of Esplanade.
LH: I did the role of the woman in pants for so many years, that section will always have a special place in my heart: the true humanness, and the power and simplicity of gesture. That was one of my first experiences working with Bettie [de Jong, Rehearsal Director], learning the subtleties. When I did that part I used to feel like I was alone on stage and everything else was sort of swirling around, because Bettie said, “You can’t see anybody else around you,” so it always made me think of ghosts, or memories. She recently said, “That part is sort of a haunted house.” Now, it’s interesting to be one of the ghosts or memories; you have to bring a different energy to it. One of the great things about that section is that it’s left to the viewer’s own interpretation.
TN: What’s the significance of that androgynous quality she has?
LH: When I first got in the Company a man was doing that role. Does the androgyny suggest this was a strong woman? During the time the dance was made, feminist ideas were coming into currency. It’s always been one of the great mysteries of the dance, and I’m sure Paul meant it to be that way.
TN: When I first saw Esplanade I was wowed by the fifth section, but as I came to know the dance, the fourth section always slays me.
LH: One of my favorite things about doing the part of the woman in pants was that I could watch the rest of the dance! When I first got in the Company, I felt I got to know my colleagues by watching them do the fourth section. There’s this reverent look on their faces – Michael’s interpretation was a little different from Rob’s, but the way that they lived in it was such a beautiful thing to watch.
TN: You have those back falls in the fifth section where you just have to trust that Michael’s going to be there to catch you.
LH: I like that abandon. I know that people don’t think of me in terms of abandon, but I do love it. I’m just so happy to be in that moment.
TN: So you’re a risk taker?
LH: Yes. I think I’m a true Gemini. I can be very calculated in things that I do, but then there are times when I’m very impulsive. Any professional dancer has to be a risk taker or you’d never survive. It’s a risk just having this career. I think we’re all daredevils inside.
TN: Did the costume adjustment in Images, when the top netting was removed, freak you out?
LH: You never know what Paul’s going to do! The nude look was pretty tasteful, and the men are always baring their chests in this Company. When I was standing there at first I was thinking, Wow, my chest is out and about at Lincoln Center – never thought this was going to happen! But once the music starts that world just sort of takes over and honestly I didn’t even notice it anymore. Paul made that decision an hour and a half before the show, and my husband had a lot of colleagues there that night who’d never seen modern dance before. They were thinking, Do you usually do that?!
TN: Tell us about working with Lila York on the next Taylor Company Commission. If you didn’t know she was a Taylor alumna would you know it from the movement?
LH: Certain elements of it. There’s a nice familiarity in there, but she definitely has her own voice and her own ideas. The work’s very technical, so it’s challenging.
TN: You’re going back to the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington soon, and you’ll be doing Beloved Renegade again, as well as Profiles …
LH: I love doing Profiles. It’s one of Paul’s most difficult pieces in terms of the partnering. Usually there’s a smooth transition that goes into a lift; in Profiles there are no transitions. You either hit it or you don’t, which makes it sort of scary to do, but also fun. Renegade requires a lot of emotional focus, but it’s another one of the dances that I just love to do. I always have people who drive up from my hometown to Great Barrington. It feels like home to me; I’m a New England girl.
TN: Then you’re off to our annual engagement at the American Dance Festival…
LH: I look forward to going to ADF every year! The audiences are always fabulous, the energy from the students is always great, and the crew there is always fun. It’s also wonderful being at a festival where not only do you get to share your art, but you also get to see other artists sharing theirs. It’s just fantastic! One night you can be on stage and another you can be in the audience being inspired; doesn’t get better than that.
TN: If your husband had a pair of plane tickets tonight, where would you like them to be for?
LH: I’d love to go to Iceland: the cliffs, the waterfalls and geysers look so mystical. Choice two, I’d really like to go back to Greece, a favorite tour spot where I’ve never vacationed. It was so beautiful.
TN: Your photography hobby indicates that you have an exceptional eye.
LH: Photography has become a new creative outlet for me with no pressure. With technology now, it’s sort of anybody’s game – if you see something you can just take your phone out and capture it then and there, and share the experience right away. Because of pictures I’ve taken, I’ve connected with other artists in the world. Social media can make the world seem so small and beautiful. When we were on tour in Montevideo, there was something so grey and gritty about it, like nothing I’d ever seen before. I photographed a lot of street art there, including a long painting on a wall of little figures that looked like soldiers. I posted the picture on Instagram and Sebastian Marcovici, a ballet master at the Paris Opera Ballet, saw it and said he thought the little figures were by a famous street artist, David de la Mano. Don’t you know that the next morning I had a message from David! He said, “Thank you for taking that picture because I’ve never seen what my work looks like in daylight.” As a street artist he makes his work in stealth at night and then disappears! Now we’re friends on Facebook. It’s one of the cooler social media experiences I’ve had. He lives in Salamanca, Spain, but he’s already had a gallery showing in Dumbo, and that’s where I live.
TN: Imagine yourself ten years from now… What’s next?
LH: It’s been such a gift to get to grow up as an artist in this Company, and I hope that ten or twenty years from now I’m still involved with the organization. This has been a defining experience for me and made me realize not only my passion for Paul’s work but how passionate I am about the art of dance and the new mission of the Company. And I want to continue to travel. I find inspiration from seeing the world and photographing it.