EDGE Philadelphia sits down with Paul TaylorOctober 21, 2010
Choreographer Paul Taylor :: At 80, still blazing new trails
by Lewis Whittington
Thursday Oct 21, 2010
Choreographer Paul Taylor, one of the architects of
contemporary American dance, turned 80 this year; yet even with
celebrations of his work (at the American Dance Festival and New York
City Center), he isnt that interested in resting on his laurels. Aside
from chain smoking and creating two new works a year, he is anything
but set in his ways. He remains artistically adventurous, curious and
Taylors company is opening the Dance Celebration series at the Annenberg Center, where his troupe will perform his most recent work Phantasmagoria, along with company classics Arden Court and Cloven Kingdom. Taylor, who was born in Pennsylvania, has a loyal fan base in Philly and they have grown to expect new material from a master.
Even within classic Taylors vernacular - lateral piques, prancy jetes, twirly skips, physical humor and cascading bodies - everything evolves differently. Content-wise nothing is off limits - from sexuality, to slapstick, to war. The only thing he seems to avoid is autobiographical dance. "That isnt my thing," he has said.
He continues to push the envelope. For instance his recent
dark piece Banquet of Vultures was meant as a commentary on the War in
Iraq. It was called by San Francisco Chronicle as reaching "a new level
of intensity. More broadly, not since Last Look (1985) has Taylor been
so uncompromisingly bleak. Never has he been more eloquent... Its an
anti-war piece in the grand tradition of Kurt Jooss 1932 classic The
"I do think that was one of my best titles," he said. The ballet is politically raw "and unpleasant," he added with a laugh.
Highlighting the Philly program is one of Taylors latest works. Phantasmagoria, inspired by Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegels Wedding Dance in the Open Air that depicts a rustic bacchanalia. Annmaria Mazzini, a longtime Taylor dancer, described working on the piece to PBS radio, "You never know with Paul where its going to go from one day to the next: You leave off one day and you think you might know... then he will take a turn to a completely different place." At this point fellow company member Robert Kleinendorst, chimed in, "You just go with it. Its non sequitur and dreamlike."
Taylor, who spoke by phone from New York this week from his studios in New York, dismissed talking about the two new biographies being written about him and concentrated more on discussing the companys current tour and working with his dancers.
For the Philly program Taylor is presenting something for everyone. "We try to make a varied program so there is not a lot of repetition." Never an elitist, Taylor just wants to fill seats.
It is also very important for him to challenge the dancers and keep them artistically connected. " I try to give them things that they havent done before. Cast them in a way that will be a challenge and increase their abilities."
Today many of Taylors modernist works are performed by classical ballet companies throughout the world. Asked about this, he commented: "Its very heartening that ballet companies are trying other things. The two forms (classical and modern dance) have not merged, but approach each other... and they (the companies) are broadening their scope."
Aside from unlikely subject matter on the dance stage, Taylor dancers are known for their athleticism and technique. "Dancers now are stronger, you can ask them to do riskier things, they are so game to try anything and its been a big help. I try come up with stuff we havent tried. It doesnt change the content, but the steps themselves."
Taylor wishes he could choreograph more than two works a year. And when asked if he is ever blank on ideas for dance, he answered with what sounded like a smoky exhale: "Not so far."