A New York choreographer was just as brutal. Not only was his work physically exhausting – he liked to play mind games. His rehearsals would continue long after “quitting time”. Did you know that you can actually exhaust your muscles to the point where they no longer work? When worn-out leg muscles can no longer support your weight – you crash to the floor. It was after I did a face plant on the floor – I rolled onto my back and looked up – only to see this choreographer standing over me and saying “You simply refuse to really open yourself up to this experience. I can’t work with someone who doesn’t reveal themselves to me.” What the hell does that mean? Who knows! I did know that it meant that I was in trouble and that things were not about to get any better. This choreographer (as I later learned) always centered his anger on 50% of the cast. Half of the cast would be perfect and the other half would be hopeless. I was part of the hopeless group, along with Jacques and Todd. It didn’t matter how hard we worked – we were simply hopeless. Every day leading up to the first performance he rehearsed us a few extra hours. The result? After the show – Jacques and I were thrown out of the piece. Todd got to stay in the piece – he was obviously redeemable.
Imagine Jacques’ and my delight to find out that while in a different company, we were about to work again with the same choreographer on the same piece. Both of us spent the preceding weeks getting mentally prepared for the inevitable hell. He arrived and guess what? We were now part of the perfect group! Not only were we perfect but we were better than perfect – he let us out of rehearsals hours early. The praise he heaped on us was a relief and unnerving. I’ve never been one to question a good thing but I did have sympathy for the “hopeless” half of the cast. I watched them slowly sinking to the floor with tears in their eyes and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. One day, after being dismissed from the rehearsal, I bought a coffee and camped out in front of the studio for a couple of hours. Finally the hopeless group emerged from the building, barely able to walk and with their heads falling down to their chests. One of them noticed me and asked what I was doing there. “I’m waiting to give you a ride home.” They burst into fresh tears. I led them over to my car, murmuring sympathy – “Been there, done it,” etc. All of this torture for one single performance. But what a performance it was. In my mind it is still probably one of the best performances that any of us had in our lives.
It was while the French choreographer was sitting in the front of the room, intently playing with a rubber band that Cora said to me, “Hard to believe that we auditioned to get into this mess.” That’s the irony sometimes. You bust your butt in an audition to show how good you are and then you find yourself stuck in a room with a lunatic. This choreographer was a real gem to work with. Everything that we did was wrong. To this day I still could not tell you what he wanted. All I know is that what we were doing was wrong. Even after the piece was a resounding success – I still didn’t know what he wanted. When Cora and I had to teach the piece to another cast member, I know we frustrated the girl to no end. “This is what we do, but we know it’s wrong,” we’d explain while showing the choreography. “Well,” she would ask, “What is it supposed to be?” Cora and I would look at her and shrug, “We don’t know but we do know that what we are doing is wrong.” The choreographer had unrealistic expectations. And when I say unrealistic – I mean unrealistic. He was working on a duet with Cora and one of the men. He told the man to swing Cora up over his head, then let go and step away at which time, Cora was to hang in the air for a few seconds before coming down. Hanging in mid-air only happens in cartoons. I watched Cora go up into the move, the guy stepped away and Cora crashed to the floor. “What the hell were you thinking?” I asked Cora as I picked her up off of the floor. “I don’t know,” said Cora with a glazed look in her eyes, “I kind of got caught up in the whole idea.” I give Cora a lot of credit. That girl never backed away from anything – no matter how outrageous.