The Choreography of Paul Taylor

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  • 2017-03-29

The Choreography of Paul Taylor

The choreography of Paul Taylor
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Since his first dance routine more than half a century ago, Paul Taylor has become one of the world??™s most popular and respected choreographers. Companies throughout the globe perform his works. Taylor has created more than 150 dance pieces. His style is unique and he is often seen as a distinctly American artist. (Kane, 1999)
??¦critics and audiences all over the world agree that Taylor is a giant among modern dance choreographers. He has developed what is very much his own style of dance that celebrates vigor, athleticism and strength-making Taylor, in a very special sense, an American choreographer. (Krahn, 2004)
This essay is tribute to Paul Taylor on his upcoming 80th birthday celebration by analysing influences, collaborations and development in his choreography through almost 60 years of his career.
When Taylor was only in his 20??™s, he became the youngest member of the pantheon that created the genre that became known as American modern dance. (PTDC) ???Now in his 80th year ??“ an age when most artists??™ best work is behind them ??“ Mr. Taylor continues to win acclaim for the vibrancy, relevance and power of his recent dances.??? (PTDC)
Taylor has been responsible for the choreography of more than 150 dances with his own company, which has a distinguished of 55 years history. The company has also performed in more than 520 cities, as well as performed in 62 other countries. His work is known not only for it??™s originality but also for it??™s ???musicality and excitement??? (Krahn, 2004), and has been licensed for performance by more than 75 companies worldwide. These works also form part of the repertoires of the ???Royal Danish Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Houston Ballet, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, Ballet Rembert, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, and many regional American dance companies???. (Krahn, 2004)
Paul Belville Taylor (junior) was born July 29, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and grew up in the depression era in the United States. Biographers refer to the fact that his childhood was difficult and he was often lonely and separated from his parents. After his parents divorced, he was shuttled between various friends and relatives as his mother worked full-time in a restaurant. Taylor??™s feelings about his mother and his childhood are described very clear in his autobiography book Private Domain:
A lot of time was spent amusing myself with made-up games and imaginary playmates. I don??™t remember even being lonely ??“ I had health, privacy, and a mother whom I was wild about. Through more of a figure to love than an actual presence, she made me feel special.
My preferred prayer, one that Teddy Bear and I murmured in private, was a plea that Mammy not have to work so hard. (Taylor. 1999, p. 9)
His introduction to the arts was through his study of painting and swimming at the Syracuse University. He later switched his attention to dance. This change, it is said, was initiated by partnering a classmate in the schools modern dance club recital. (Krahn, 2004)
Taylor??™s first work, Hobo Ballet, was created in the 1952, while he still studied at the Syracuse University.(Kane, 1993) His dance training began with a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music Dance Department and Connecticut College School of Dance. He was later to study with Martha Graham and Antony Tutor at the Martha Graham School and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School. (Anon, 2003)
???At 6??™3???, Taylor is a large man for a dancer, but he danced with a startlingly fluid movement. His lyrical approach gave barefoot modern dance a neo-classic style with a virtuosic edge.??? (Coleman, 2002)
Powerfully built, he immediately captured the attention of dance giants Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Doris Humphrey. This young dancer had a commanding presence, instinctive talent, and a unique way of moving. (Anon, 2001)
Taylor was soon dancing with several well-known modern-dance/important companies, including those of Merce Cunningham, Pearl Lang, Anna Sokolow, and Martha Graham, with whom he was a soloist from 1955 to 1962. (Lyle, 1979) During his time with the Martha Graham Company, he performed in a number of pieces, including Clytemnestra (1958), Alcestis (1960) and Phaedra (1962). (Krahn, 2004) The success of Taylor??™s starring role in George Balanchine??™s Episodes (1959) helped him to establish himself as one of New York??™s leading dancers. However, Taylor came into his own creating process during the 1950??™s when New York became a major world cultural centre.
???While he was still a soloist with the Martha Graham Dance Company he presented his own works in various concerts throughout the United States and Europe.??? (Krahn, 2004) ???The same year he began performing professionally ??“ 1953 – he also began choreographing, and in 1954 he started his own company, the Paul Taylor Dance Company.??? (Lyle, 1979) He gradually became recognised as an original creator and choreographer, particularly with regard to one of his earliest works, entitled Three Epitaphs.
Paul Taylor has described himself as an ???American mongrel??™. It is an apt assessment, given the range of ideas and influences that permeate his choreography, and it is also indicative of his resistance to being pigeonholed. Critics have referred to the ???dark??™ and ???light??™ sides of Taylor??™s choreography; his dance vocabulary is an ingenious mix of pedestrian movements alongside the most rhythmic and sweeping of steps (sometimes within the same work); his musical choices are wide-ranging and his collaborations with visual artists have been equally eclectic. (Kane, 1999)
Taylor??™s work is associated with exciting experimentation in other fields of art. He collaborated with artists such as ???Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Alex Katz, Tharon Musser, Thomas Skelton, Gene Moore, John Rawlings, William Ivey Long, Jennifer Tipton and Santo Loquasto.??? (PTDC) During his collaboration with Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns; he ???shared their desire to bring the vernacular into high art, using gestures and stances from the street ??¦??? (Anon, 2001) Taylor and Rauschenberg collaborated in several productions over the years, ???including Three Epitaphs (1956) and Seven New Dances (1957), and it was through the Rauschenberg that Taylor met Gene Moore, the designer of later works such as Images (1977), Airs (1978), Arden Court (1981), and Musical Offering (1986).??? (Kane, 1999) John Rawlings and Alex Katz are other designers of Taylor??™s dances. John Rawlings first worked with Taylor in 1962 on Piece Period, and then he created the design for several key works, including From Sea to Shining Sea (1965) and Esplanade (1975). Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) in 1980, was Taylor??™s last collaboration with John Rawlings, as Rawlings died later the same year. (Kane, 1999) George Tacet (pseudonym for Taylor himself) has appeared as costume/set designer in several works. George H. Tacet is one of those imaginary friends from the Taylor??™s childhood??¦ ???I was the only one who ever saw or spoke to him.??? (Taylor, 1999, p.9-10) Finally, Jennifer Tipton has lit almost all of Taylors dances since 1960s. (Coleman, 2002)
???When Taylor retired from dancing in 1974 at the age of 44, many felt that this very good choreographer was on his way to becoming a great one.??? (Coleman, 2020)
Taylor was concerned with expressing the experiences and feelings of ordinary life and ???in a number of his early pieces, Taylor composed dances of everyday gestures, such as checking a watch or waiting for a bus. Once seen separated from their context, one can recognize the richness of these everyday movements.??? (Anon, 2001)
???For the first several years after starting his own company, Taylor surprised dance audience and alienated traditionalists by rejecting the then-popular narrative, dramatic themes in modern dance and introducing his own avant-garde brand of choreography.??? (Lyle, 1979) Apparently, Taylor got many rejections from critics at first, as he didn??™t follow the modern dance traditions popular at the time. At the same time, it was a turning point bringing change to Taylor??™s career.
In the early 1960s, Lyle mentioned in her book Dancers on Dancing (1979) about Taylor??™s choreography that his dances have taken on more conventional theatricality, occasional storytelling, and a movement vocabulary whose lyricism reminds many viewers of the classical ???ballet blanc???. (Lyle, 1979)
In the late 1960??™s and 1970??™s Taylor was responsible for some of the most innovative and original works of the time. During this period, he was also concerned with a more minimalist approach to his art. Later he was to combine the minimalist approach with ballet. The pieces that were produced during this period were Three Epitaphs (1956), Orbs (1966), The Book of Beasts (1971), and Airs (1978). (Anon, 2001) Taylor received acclaim for many of his creations, an example of which would be his piece Aureole (1962)
??¦ one of the most highly respected dance works of the time for its grace and technical difficulty. It is Taylor??™s combination of the subtlety of ballet with the spontaneity of everyday gesture that has made him such a powerful force in modern dance. (Anon, 2001)
The originality and popularity of his works can be attributed to numerous factors. As has been mentioned, central to works was the focus on the experiences of common human emotion. The works that he produces are essentially about the way that people feel and interact in relation to the social intuitions around them. The use of body language in his works includes a wide range of both physical motion and creative imagination. Most important in these works is the focus on the human condition. His style is based on the underlying basis of dance as the expression of human existence and experience. A description of Duet (1957) is as follows:
“Duet” ??¦ was an experimental piece in which Taylor stands next to a reclining woman in street clothes, and neither one moves. This four-minute piece was a distillation of many essential elements of dance, calling attention to posture and the interconnection of people within a space. (Anon, 2001)
Some critics have taken this concern with the human condition to another level and insist that there is a focus on primal and essential humanity in Taylor??™s work. As Taylor has stated, ???I believe in Darwin??¦and the natural world.” (Jacobs, 2001) One critic expands on this statement in an attempt at understanding the style of Taylor??™s choreography.
Therefore, the tracks and grooves of Taylor??™s technique grow out of the grounded muscularity, the insular physics, of the animal kingdom: the racehorses heavy tilt into the turn, the big cats jazzy, deep-shouldered directional shifts within the chase, the concentrated stillnesses of both prey and predator, the easy elegant grazing on grasses. Taylor??™s dancers are always Homo sapiens–descended from the apes–human animals rather than human beings. (Jacobs, 2001)
The above aspect makes his works unique and is evidenced in many of his creative compositions. For example, in the Three Epitaphs where black masked dancers, ???droop and stoop like the primordial ooze they crawled out of??¦??? (Jacobs, 2001)
Another central characteristic of his work is its imaginative and creative spontaneity and the refusal to subscribe to any unnecessary conventions.
In this, his achievements must surely outstrip those of nearly any other choreographer. Even ballets master George Balanchine, for all his musical ingenuity and emotional depth, relied on certain conventions to solve musical equations. Yet Taylor, unfettered by any specific technique or school of dance, offers surprise after surprise. (Kaufman, 2004).
In this regard, many critics and commentators have pointed out that interaction between music and motion that forms such an important aspect of Taylor??™s works. The following quotation provides some insight into the symbiosis within the words between sound and dance, and the way in which Taylor conceives of this process.

“Sometimes,” said Mr. Taylor, “I have sort of an idea for a dance, and Im looking for something that I think might go with it, or against it . . . something to complement or help it. Other times, Im just looking around to hear something I can stand, because you have to hear it over and over; it takes a lot of work. If the music is not going to hold up well on several hearings, I dont want to get stuck with it??¦. There are no rules; there are no laws. The individual choreographer makes his laws; hes selecting what he feels would be right.” (Teck, 1989)

An example of the way that Taylor allowed spontaneity and creativity to form an integral part of his creations is evidenced by the words of dancer Kate Johnson.

Paul creates an atmosphere where the individual is allowed to have some space to try things out. The more confident you are in taking that space the more generous he is with it. You also have to be willing to take the risk of being responsible for yourself. As soon as I started working with him, I felt I had found something that had a huge capacity for involvement. There is so much to delve into in his works. So many of the pieces have an emotional content that I feel has great depth. I connected with the work in such a core way and felt so personally fulfilled that to be objective about it now is almost impossible.” (Reiter, 1994)
It is also interesting and enlightening to note that Taylor??™s choreography, which once was critiqued as bring difficult and even ???painful??? (PTDC) to endure has become the standard of modern dance. One of the reasons why Taylor is seen as being important in the art world is that he was instrumental in bridging the divide between various art forms and styles. ???He bridged, as no other choreographer, the once-distant camps of ballet and modern dance by allowing internationally acclaimed ballet companies to acquire the works he created on his own celebrated troupe. ??? (PTDC)
The period from 1950s ??“ 1980s was very rich of Taylor??™s work, and even now at his 80th birthday (July 2010) he is still creating work. There are several important works that been mentioned by many critics including remarkable Junction (1961), Aureole (1966), Esplanade (1975), Le Sacre du Printemps/The rehearsal (1980), Of Bright and Blue Birds and the Gala Sun (1990), and the latest Piazzolla Caldera (1997), Black Tuesday (2002) and Promethean Fire (2002). Some of the earlier Taylor works are still being performed by Taylor 2 (founded in 1993). Taylor 2 is a group of six dancers directed by Andy LeBeaux, a former member of the main dance company, whose purpose is to make the works of Paul Taylor accessible to audiences in smaller venues like schools, colleges and community organizations both large and small. (PTDC) This group makes every effort to be available even travelling with their own dance floor and are so flexible they can perform on a dance floor as small as 16? x 20?. (Anon, 2001)
Taylor has not been actively dancing for the past 3 decades but has been deeply involved in the running of his company and encouraging new talent. His main inspiration is still to be found on the streets and in everyday life. His work continues to act as an artistic inspiration for many. ???Through the years several former members of Taylor??™s troupe, including Twyla Tharp, Senta Driver, Dan Wagoner, Elizabeth Keen, and Jane Kosminsky, have left to form their own companies??? (Lyle, 1979) to continue and develop Taylor??™s ideas.
In 1998, former choreographer Matthew Diamond made Dancemaker, a documentary about dancer-choreographer Paul Taylor and New Yorks Paul Taylor Dance Company. Taylors dancers are seen in warm-ups, rehearsals, and candid offstage situations, while Taylor takes centerstage in interviews, archival footage, and backstage interludes. Diamond explores his subject on layered levels of Taylors musical inspirations and peak moments of artistic apogee. Dancemaker was shown at the 1998 Seattle Film Festival and been nominated for an Oscar. Ever since then Dancemaker is one of the most popular videos containing Taylor??™s interviews and his working processes with his troupe on Piazzolla Caldera (1997).
Taylor??™s choreography ranges from the humorous and sardonic to the lyrical. ???Paul Taylor has proved to be choreographic chameleon capable of working in several disparate styles.??? (Anderson, 1992, p. 183) Staring in the 1950s with everyday, ordinary movement with long periods of stillness, he moved into 1960s with lyrical work, e.g. Aureole, ???that has often been termed classical in spirit because of its grace, harmony, and lucidity.??? (Anderson, 1992, p. 183)
Taylor??™s works have changed with time by stepping up from avant-garde minimalist to more theatrical presentation, from minimum or no movement at all to many physically difficult dance movements. His collaborations with other artists, designers or musicians, always brings him to the next surprising exploration, but he never gave up his idea of being a great watcher. Taylor??™s ideas are still coming from the streets and his imaginary world, and he still studying and exploring human feelings and different type of relationships between them.
Taylor mentions sexual encounters with both men and women, yet concludes that “As far as romance goes, I can forget it.” He seems to find his responsibility for his “family” of dancers a satisfying substitute. (Coleman, 2002)
Same-sex partnering appears in works such as Esplanade (1975), Kith and Kin (1987), Company B (1991), and Piazzolla Caldera (1997). Still, these works may not indicate much about Taylors private life. As he has warned many interviewers during his career, “Im not trying to do autobiographical dances, thats not my thing.” (Coleman, 2002)
Paul Taylor is the recipient of over forty awards and six Honorary Doctorates. He has been selected for these prestigious awards because of his lifetime of achievements as a dancer, a choreographer, an author, an artist and the epitome of a creative role model. The new generation is honouring his prolific and powerful body of work, his engagement with other art forms, and the long term association with his company.

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