Q&A: Paul Taylor

Choreographer Paul Taylor. Photo: Paul Palmaro
Choreographer Paul Taylor. Photo: Paul Palmaro

The iconic choreographer discusses modern dance in the 21st century, the popularity of contemporary ballet, and his company’s longevity.

Richardson — The legendary Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts on April 13, 2013 for a one-night-only performance. The evening’s program includes The Uncommitted (2011), Brandenburgs (1988) and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal) (1980).This marks the company’s sixth appearance as part of the Eisemann Center Presents series and also includes a master class on April 12 and an open educational rehearsal prior to Saturday’s performance.

Choreographer Paul Taylor is known as the last living pioneer of modern dance. Born during the Great Depression, Taylor attended Syracuse University in the late 1940s before transferring to The Juilliard School. In 1954 he assembled a small company of dancers and began choreographing. His most notable works include 3 Epitaphs (1956), Aureole (1962), Esplanade (1975) and Company B (1991). Taylor joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1955 and was invited to be a guest artist with the New York City Ballet in 1959, where George Balanchine created the Episodes solo for him.

Taylor has received every important honor given to artists in the United States. His accolades include the Kennedy Center Honors in 1992, the National Medal of Arts awarded by President Clinton in 1993, and the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1995. He is also the recipient of three Guggenheim Fellowships and was named one of 50 prominent Americans honored in recognition of their outstanding achievement by the Library of Congress’s Office of Scholarly Programs.

Today, Taylor’s dances are performed by the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the six-member Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company and dance companies throughout the world, including the Royal Danish Ballet, Rambert Dance Company, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He remains among the most sought-after choreographers working in the industry today.

TheaterJones asks Paul Taylor about his company’s longevity, preserving his work, and how modern dance has changed over the last 50 years.

TheaterJones: The Paul Taylor Dance Company has been going since 1954. How do you keep yourself from burning out?

Paul Taylor: It’s really not a problem for me. I love to work, I love what I do and I enjoy the people I work with, so the concept of burning out doesn’t occur to me. I don’t think I am burning out.

To what do you attribute your company’s success?

Paul Taylor's The Uncommitted. Photo: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times
Paul Taylor’s The Uncommitted. Photo: Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

(He laughs.) Well, to a lot of things, but especially the dancers, my managers over years, my fundraisers and then the fact that I know how to cut expenses. I was born in the Great Depression and my family really set the example as to how to cut costs.

Have the qualities you look for in a dancer changed over time?

I really haven’t changed in that way. I still look for the same qualities that I always did. I will say that dancers today are usually more technically advanced than in my day, but I don’t look for anything different than I always have. For me it’s all about communication both verbally and through the movement.

What is it about your work that makes it so relatable to people of all different generations? I am speaking primarily of your piece Company B.

Well, I don’t really think about how the audience is going to relate to the work when I am creating it. I try to make things that I think I’d like to see. I don’t know how to work any other way. With Company B, it’s really the music that draws people in. It’s basically a war dance and most people know about war and therefore can relate to it. It’s about the people who stay home, with glimpses of the people who don’t. So, on the surface it seems like lots of fun with the spritely and happy music when actually from the very beginning there are hints that it’s not going to be that kind of dance.

What challenges have you encountered when it comes to archiving and preserving your work?

Fortunately, I have an archivist that takes care of all that.

What are your thoughts on contemporary ballet and the influx of contemporary ballet companies in the U.S.?

I’m not really the person to ask about that because I rarely go out to see dancing. What I will say is that modern dance has always had an influence on classical ballet dance, and so dancers today are more interested in doing work that is not totally classic. You know quite a few ballet companies take my work and put it in their reps and that is very nice.

Paul Taylor Dance Company in Company B. Photo: Rex C. Curry
Paul Taylor Dance Company in Company B. Photo: Rex C. Curry

American Ballet Theatre performed Company B in Dallas last year. Were you happy with their version?

I was there when ABT learned the piece and I thought it was very good. There are differences between their style and mine, but it takes years of training to get the kind of weight in the movement that most of my dancers have. I figure if the dance is solid and structurally firm it can stand on its own.

Where does traditional modern dance fit in the 21st century?

It’s hard to say what is traditional because each generation has its own version of what they think modern dance should be. It’s constantly changing. What people use to call modern dance is now called something else. So, I think it will just go on changing according to the different generations that come along and add to it.

 You have done and accomplished so much in the modern dance field. Is there anything else you would like to do?

Oh sure! I mean dance is a bottomless pit, and I would just like to keep on working as long as I can.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.


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