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By Amy Brandt
Serene strength via Paul Taylor
In Paul Taylor’s Aureole, Heather McGinley seamlessly combines celestial beauty with well-knit strength, counterpointing plunging attitude penchées, weighty cabrioles, and slicing grand jetés with a refined upper body and serene smile. For the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s newest female member, the opportunity to perform the 50th anniversary of Aureole during the company’s Lincoln Center debut last spring was both a tremendous honor and a challenge. “There’s quite a bit of fast footwork in it,” she recalls, “and the only way for me to accomplish it is to completely relax, to feel a quiet mind and heart. Then it’s like the whole stage opens up and you feel the sun on your face.”
At left: McGinley in Taylor’s Arabesque. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy PTDC.
McGinley’s crimson hair makes her stand out—but her dancing was what caught the eye of major critics during her inaugural season last March. The New York Observer’s Robert Gottlieb even pegged her with potential to become a major player in the company’s future. Her warm reception seemed a sweet reward for her persistent journey towards PTDC.
McGinley, who’s been dancing for as long as she can remember, had very different ideas when she left her hometown of St. Louis for Butler University. Trained in the Cecchetti method under Lisbeth Brown in St. Louis, she had every intention of pursuing a ballet career. But her priorities shifted during college. “I wanted to be a lot more expressive than I was allowed to be in ballet,” she says. “I wanted to speak more with my torso than my feet and hands. I felt more at home in contemporary work.”
Butler professor and former PTDC dancer Susan McGuire gave McGinley her initial taste of Taylor technique. But after graduation, McGinley aimed to earn a slot in the Martha Graham Dance Company. She studied at the school and joined the second company before dancing with MGDC for three seasons. Gradually, though, she felt drawn to Taylor’s company. “I loved watching the relationship between his dancers while they were performing,” she says.
While still with MGDC, McGinley familiarized herself with Taylor’s style, running down to the school to take class and attending summer and winter intensives. She auditioned for the company—repeatedly. But while the rejections were difficult, they refueled her determination. “Every time I auditioned,” McGinley recalls, “I was kept longer. I had a feeling the time would be right at some point.”
That time came in the summer of 2011, when Taylor finally offered her a spot. Her first week proved more than a little stressful. “We flew to Turkey four days after I started. It was nerve-racking!” she says. She was pleased to discover that the dancers’ onstage camaraderie was equally genuine in the studio. “Heather is very easy to work with,” says rehearsal director Bettie de Jong. “She needs very little direction. She is a true professional.”
McGinley, 29, loves the vast range of Taylor’s repertoire, as well as the challenges that come with it. She cites her role in the fiercely aggressive Syzygy as her favorite so far. “There are moments where you just have to flash with energy and completely thrash around the stage,” she says. “I have a fight duet with Francisco Graciano. He’s a really nice guy, and I’m naturally even-tempered. I have to take myself to a dark place so I can run as hard as I can at him.” Graciano in turn felt at home partnering her. “I like taking risks with her because I know she’s up for anything,” he says.
She also experienced Taylor’s comedic side as a neon green, man-hating insect in Gossamer Gallants. McGinley doesn’t consider herself a natural comedian. Luckily, Taylor’s skill at crafting comedy took some of the pressure off. “He builds the humor from the tiniest hand gesture to the relationship with the person next to you.” She finds rehearsals with Taylor especially inspiring. “There’s an excitement in the air, and a huge willingness to try anything that he proposes, even if it sounds impossible,” she says. As to how Taylor feels about his new charge? “Fabulous dancer,” he says. “She has a very bright future.”
That future, McGinley hopes, will include many more years with the company. She looks forward to digging into as much repertoire as possible. “There aren’t a lot of roles I wouldn’t want to dance,” she says. “I want to do it all!”
Amy Brandt is a dancer with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet.