Had you had a background with other kinds of modern dance at all?
Over time I started to realize that dance and performance really had been a passion to me. It wasn't so much that I was attracted to dance - I was also very physical, I was a gymnast, I was on the cross country team in high school, I was into yoga, any time I went to a rock concert I was up in front dancing in front of the band, I was very in love with physicality. But perhaps more importantly, I was always in the school plays, in elementary and high school, and in a couple of plays in college. I sang a lot-- in the church chorus, and high school and college chorales, so there was a closet performer in me that I thought was just a hobby. Now I see this hobby was also a foundation for where my work led me once I came to New York at the age of 22.
So when you got here... How did it all hit?
Again, I was just clueless about new work, but I knew I loved Contact Improvisation. I attended the Ricky DeMarco Gallery summer program at the Edinburgh Festival where I was getting my final college credits in 1973. There I worked with choreographer Stuart Hopps who knew about Steve Paxton's work. Pilobolus was at Edinburgh at the same time on their first European tour, and during the festival, I was cast as one of the forty Mandelbaums in the last "happening" by Tadeusz Kantor called Lovelies and Dowdies, a fantastic work. So I was starting to wake up about what was happening in contemporary performance, but I was still extremely unschooled.
I did have an idea that New York might be the place to go, and I had heard that there was a $200 student ticket on the SS France if you just showed up and it might be half empty, and sure enough, that's what happened. I sailed to New York City on the SS France with my backpack and my long hair. I had just two friends in New York, Charlie Seltzer and Leon Fried- and I stayed with Charlie at first. Someone, I believe Stuart Hopps in Edinburgh said, maybe I'd want to go over to DTW (Dance Theater Workshop) and see what they're doing. DTW at that time was kind of like Movement Research now in that they had a lot of classes. So I went there and became a scholarship student. I was working in the office and taking classes. I thought I had come to NYC to study and find people doing Contact Improv but there were no Contact practitioners here - Steve had left, Nancy Stark Smith was out in California, Danny Lepkoff I hadn't met yet, he was up in I think Vermont at the time - so I studied with others in new dance.
It was an incredible first couple of months - the people at DTW, especially Jeff Duncan, Art Baumann and Judy Scott referred me to events like an Anna Halprin workshop, which I took within a month of moving to NY. I heard that Yvonne Rainer was teaching at the School for Visual Arts and heard through Steve Paxton and my friend Curt that she would be someone interesting to study with, so I basically crashed her class and I joined in a class showing on the first day. She generously let me stay and audit the class for the semester. She had a tour mid semester, and hired had three substitutes: one was Meredith Monk, one was Lucinda Childs, and one was Judy Padow. At the time I was realizing "Oh, Contact is just great but there's more to the new dance and performance scene". I particularly fell in love with Meredith Monk's work and I think part of that was my acknowledging that my school theatre and choral history was important to me, plus she was working with new forms and she had a strong visual sense -
She kind of wove together all the threads that you'd had in your background?
Yes! And had a true appreciation of visual arts as well so this was just a fantastic discovery for me. At that time I was pretty seriously studying Buddhism and Joseph Campbell's work and Meredith's interest in archetypes and mythology and different cultures also interested me deeply. She also - I didn't realize how important it was at the time - but she really had an incredibly diverse company-she was ahead of this times in that regard- older, younger, large, small, black, white, Asian, gay, straight - it was a true portrait of our multicultural world. Being gay and having recently come out - I felt very at home working with her and living in New York City.
So you started working with Meredith right away out of the classes?
Not exactly. Shortly after her substituting Yvonne's class, I read a review for Education of the Girlchild, I believe at the Performing Garage in Soho. It sounded interesting and I went, and thought, "Wow, this is great." So I called her up, and I told her I'd like to study with her, if she ever offered classes - which she did at that time. And oddly enough, in January of 1974, she was out in Oberlin for the whole month doing the exact same residency that Grand Union had done in January of 1972 when Steve Paxton did Magnesium. She and Ping Chong were creating a piece called Chacon, one of their travelogue series. When she came back to New York, she called me up, I took her class and she and Ping Chong had the New York premiere of Chacon at St Peter's Church Theatre, which is now the Atlantic Theatre, in the spring of 1974. From the class she asked if I wanted to be in the Chacon chorus - a role of a farmer actually - so many connections did happen rather quickly.