Last Fling in Paris for Merce Dancers

posted by Rashaun Mitchell on Thursday, Dec 29, 2011
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Paris, December 13-24. Our last stop on the Legacy Tour before our final shows in New York at the Park Avenue Armory.  Paris is like a second home to the company. We go there every year and our list of favorite places to visit has grown: La Duree (dessert royalty), Per a Cheval (cute lunch restaurant in the Marais), the Rodin Sculpture Garden, and many more. But the best part about Paris is just the walks. And even though it rains almost every day in December, the walk across the Seine from our hotel to the Théâtre de la Ville is always majestic. On the first days off, I walked through the narrow streets of the Marais and hit up the Parisian boutiques for some Christmas shopping. I had lunch with Cedric Andrieux, who danced with me at Cunningham before returning to France to dance for the Lyon Opera Ballet and now Jérôme Bel. In a foreign city, it’s always comforting to have an old friend. But there were many friends of the company on this last European excursion: ex-Cunningham dancers Tom Caley, Cheryl Therrien, Ashley Chen, Lisa Boudreau, Daniel Squire, Kristy Santimeyer-Melita and many other supporters, boyfriends, husbands, and family members who love the work as much as they love Paris.

Many of us attended the dress rehearsal for Forsythe’s relatively new piece, Sider, and it was wonderful to see dancers working in such a different way. A few of us partied at Silencio, a new club designed by David Lynch. And there were post-performance receptions and karaoke bar antics at Le Pub St. Michel and even a Secret Santa potluck party in the hotel (Citadines) with the dancers, production, administrative staff, physical therapists, board members, and special guests. The Citadines are apart-hotels with kitchens in each room. We’ve stayed in them every year and because of that, they agreed to co-sponsor our final tour to Paris at Théâtre de la Ville.

My dressing room at the theater looked out on the Seine, a perfect view for contemplation of the eight years I spent dancing this work. The location is also luckily situated near a crêpe stand. My banana-nutella crêpes helped me get through the first week’s program, containing those classic Cunningham difficulties—extreme slow and shape-oriented movement in Suite for Five, technically absorbing Quartet (which I’m not in), and the new fast footwork- quick changes of direction in Crossover. I was pushed to my limit physically and at war with my body and the sticky, hard floor. But every night the audience erupted in typical French rhythmic applause, and it fueled me to start over again every day.

The freight for the second week’s program came in late, so we took class in an upstairs studio while the crew loaded in. But before we could begin our exercises, we had to sweep the floor of tiny bits of broken glass everywhere. Suffering for art is one thing. but dancers with bloody feet kind of defeats the purpose in this work.

 The second week’s program was much more elegiac. Duets, Rainforest, and Biped. We partnered each other in mustard/ketchup and watermelon colored tights and leotards for Duets. We did our cast’s pre-performance ritual of hugging and grinding a Warhol pillow before Rainforest. And we transported ourselves to a glittery other world in Biped. I did two of the five shows this week before my back rejected the idea of continuing on. The pace of the last few months had finally taken its toll and I was forced to step out of the remaining shows. I taught my parts to the other men in two hours and they quickly and professionally mounted the challenge. The entire company handled this with an ease and agility for which I’m still grateful. I watched those shows in the wings with awe. The shows were transcendent and the final one ended in a huddle of tears. After sobbing, I added that we would be wise to save some for the Armory.

I spent five days and the Christmas holiday resting and recuperating, receiving physical therapy and medication. I’m now dancing again, but it’s a tightrope. It’s the nature of the work and it demands everything of you. I will miss it—the highs and the lows. Someone recently asked me how I felt, and I replied, “I feel a lot.” Thank you, Merce.