L: Where did you spend your dance career?
C: I won a scholarship to go to the Royal Ballet School. After that year in London I came to Den Haag at the conservatory for another year and a half before entering Netherlands Dance Theater. I was at NDT II for two years (it’s more like 3-4 years in NDT II now [before being hired into NDT I]), and then NDT I for seventeen years… then The Forsythe Company two years.
L: Tell me about your personal projects.
C: Well I started doing that through Bill and his sort of improv. I started doing performances: gathering interesting people together, and within three days building a structured improv-based idea with different artists. I would structure it with lighting and creative-enough people that I could trust to fill the space for a whole hour, and then I would just go “OK, we’re going from this section to that section, and that’s how we’re going to connect it, and then we’re going to work on this thematic…” That was great and terrible. Sometimes it was successful and sometimes it wasn’t because it didn’t happen on the night when it had to all come together – you know how improvs cannot be repeated. Sometimes great things happen, but they don’t always happen in the show. But still, it was a fantastic experience.
L: How did it feel during those nights when it didn’t come together? How painful was that?
C: It’s pretty nerve-wracking partly because you’re sitting in the audience just watching, and you can’t do anything in the moment.
L: So you were just sitting in the audience? You weren’t performing?
C: Occasionally I did, but usually I would structure them and be outside, because of course I needed to be the outside point of view. But sometimes there was just a shoe onstage and they were all offstage…
L: Like they missed the transition to the next scene… wow. So did you blame yourself in those moments?
C: No. The thing is I loved it and I believed in it, because that’s what improv is. But the audience critiqued me on that, and that was harsh. Because then they say “You’re not in the 60’s anymore” because it doesn’t function all the time. Then I’m like “Well, that’s the point of structured improv” so my argument was still “You have to let the no, the nothing be.” I had more of an open mind, but I guess they weren’t ready for it at the time.
L: But that’s the nature of the beast too – if you’re getting three days to make a performance…
C: Yeah, but that was my own choice. It was my own setup. I got this opportunity in the theater and they backed me up, but then after they just didn’t pull through on me. I was organizing solo evenings, but they gave me the dance department so I could organize what I wanted in this theater.
L: How big was the theater?
C: It was like four or five hundred people.
L: A big deal. How did you face that possibility of failure? Because that can be a big obstacle.
C: In Frankfurt you fall, you get up, and you go on. I found it harsh to accept the critique, but at the same time I still believed that failure was also a good thing. But not everybody believes that, so then you have judgment, and that judgment sticks, and then they don’t give you that chance anymore.
L: Right. And I suppose as an audience member it can be hard if you pay money for a show and…
C: Yeah, but it wasn’t that expensive, it’s not like they’re paying 50, they’re paying 10 to 15 euros for a show.
L: Sure, so it’s built in to the price: you might get something amazing, or you might get something not-so-great.
L: So you feel this is something you learned at the Forsythe Company?
C: Yeah for sure. Because if I compare NDT with Forsythe, you know, Jiri was very controlled and everything did have a structure. We rehearsed well, we built trust, we built on giving freedom in that, and we knew what we were doing onstage. And then Bill was like “break the structure, out of the box.” Everything was more risky, so it was much more like throwing yourself in the deep end all the time. And from that I learned a huge lesson in my normal life. In that sense I’m glad I went to Bill, to then be freelance to go “OK, well that didn’t work? Then I’m going to try something else.” So I did these three day structured improvs, then after I got into community arts projects. I’d be working with 200 people, gathering them all through the city – Suriname people, black guys doing this, and Indian dance and hip-hop and everything combined. It was a fantastic experience but a lot of work for a little bit of money, because it’s always like that. But thank god Jiri always asked me to set his pieces, so it sort of balanced out. I had a bit of stability, but of course nothing is ever sure, so you always have to… it’s a fine line to walk always.
L: But I think your point about being able to fail, the fact that you could learn that is so important. I think that in our world, in general, we miss the opportunity to learn to fail because we rehearse things a lot and we have them pretty set. And we feel like we fail if we mess up just a few steps – we’re so afraid of that. I think that can be a big obstacle.
C: But actually, still, working with Jiri, he likes people to go for it. He prefers to see a dancer going out there and risking it, and catching it, and making something out of it than someone who’s all control control.
L: And I’m sure you did risk it back in the day.
C: Then of course he has this control thing where he says “Ok, maybe that was a bit too much.” Yeah well, I went for it! That’s always the balance. It’s forever finding that balance. And I must say I always enjoyed rehearsals when I was a dancer so much more because I allowed myself to risk more. Then onstage you pull back that little bit so that won’t happen and you fight for it, for your life to make it happen.
L: That’s something I’ve been thinking about during these rehearsals. The moment I got onstage, even though it was still a rehearsal, I pulled back so much. I mean, it didn’t help that I sliced my finger that morning but I certainly felt like I was pulling back, and there was such a fear that came along with that. The idea came that this was just how I did the ballet now.
C: But that was the first step onstage. You always pull back quite a lot, and it’s getting used to the lights, your surroundings, your new home so to speak. But then there’s always the next step. It’s a shame you don’t get so many performances, because that’s what our luxury was at NDT, we would do Bellas and we would do like 18 of them – we’d go on tour and do more, so then you can explore where are those limits: “Tonight I’m feeling this, so I go with that.” There was that freedom in a sense.
L: Do you think that’s important for a show to really grow into its own – to have an extended period of time that it runs?
C: Of course. Yeah, it’s nice. I mean it’s a luxury I guess.
L: I suppose nowadays. It’s hard to sell tickets isn’t it? Unless you have name-brand recognition.
C: Yes, so sometimes it’s just that one show you have to put everything into. That’s kind of the hard thing cause then the pressure is higher and then to be a professional and have to go in and be like “Okay, now I’ve just got to remove all my armor and just give it what I’ve got and whatever it is, that’s it, and then I’ve got to live with it, accept it, and enjoy it.” That’s like the number one, no? The moment is now.
L: This is another thing I’ve been thinking about, because I recently had a couple of rough-feeling rehearsals – not that they necessarily looked so bad – it’s just that you want to enjoy yourself.
C: Yeah, but then just to “be in the moment and forget that you’re performing” is tough, because of course you have to be aware of your performance. And you have to be on the music, and you don’t want to wobble, and you don’t want to do this, and there are so many things still holding you back…
L: Another thing you told us to do in rehearsals for Bella was to give warmth, and that really helped me shift my fear. I feel like you can’t be afraid and warm at the same time.
C: And warmth is actually breathing at the same time. There’s generosity.
L: There are so many things that come along with the concept of warmth.
C: So then if you give that it opens so many more doors. And then you’ll enjoy it more, actually.
L: For sure.
C: But you did already. I saw that change. Not everybody is able to transform that in their bodies. But you just have to keep it alive in yourself and be with your colleagues, you know, let the music guide you… I think that’s always what inspired me. The music. The music always took me to another place.
A big thank you to Cora for taking the time to speak with me. These are the kinds of conversations that I hunger for, and I’m happy that she was willing be a part of this one. To see more of what she’s up to, check out her project called C-scope, either on the project website or Facebook page. And if you have any thoughts or any suggestions for the blog, feel free to comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell me something I don’t know!