Paul Taylor Created a Solo on This Dancer Just Months After Hiring Him
Usually, it takes new recruits a few seasons to make their mark at the Paul Taylor Dance Company. But Taylor wasted no time in honing in on the talents of Alex Clayton. Only a few months after Clayton joined in June 2017, Taylor created an exciting solo for him in his new Concertiana, filled with explosive leaps and quick footwork. Clayton was also featured in new works by Doug Varone and Bryan Arias. At 5' 6" he may be compact, but onstage he fills the space with a thrilling sense of attack.
Company: Paul Taylor Dance Company
Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Training: Stephens College and The Ailey School
Working with the master: "Paul was really interested in the fact that I was new and hadn't completely absorbed the same dance lexicon as everyone else," says Clayton of the experience creating Concertiana. Before joining Taylor, he spent a year in Graham 2 and danced with the all-male contemporary company 10 Hairy Legs. "Even though I had been taking Taylor class for two years, I had all these other styles in my body. I did something accidentally one day and Paul said, 'Oh, I like that!' "
Clayton (at right) in the Taylor classic Cloven Kingdom. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy Paul Taylor American Modern Dance.
Catching the dance bug: Clayton didn't start dancing seriously until he was 16. In high school, he focused on visual art—painting, drawing, textiles—and was planning to attend the Art Institute of Tennessee in Nashville. "Then I saw Ailey perform," he says. "At the time, I was struggling with being gay and finding myself attractive, and just to see beautiful black bodies dancing gave me hope."
Driven to succeed: Clayton takes the truism of the highly motivated dancer to an extreme. He chose an accelerated college program, finishing in just three years. "My mother says I love obstacles," he says.
Trusting himself: When he was about to graduate from college, Clayton's professors tried to dissuade him from spending an additional year training at The Ailey School. "But I really wanted to dance with people who looked like me and who were also incredibly talented," he says. "So I went. And it was the right thing. Remember, people give you advice based on their experience, not yours."
"He's young, eager and quick to learn—and has a great sense of humor."
—Andy LeBeau, assistant to Paul Taylor
Feeling connected: Even though Clayton moves with power and speed in works like Arden Court and Promethean Fire, his favorite Taylor role to date has been in Roses, a slow, almost cosmic dance about love, set to diaphanous music by Richard Wagner and Heinrich Baermann: "I love the romantic, tactile sensation of having this deep personal connection with one human for the entire piece."
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.