Paul Taylor Created a Solo on This Dancer Just Months After Hiring Him
Paul Taylor choreographed a solo for Alex Clayton in his March 2018 world premiere, Concertiana. Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy Paul Taylor American Modern Dance.
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 afterClayton 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.
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."
Tony Testa leads a rehearsal during his USC New Movement Residency. Photo by Mary Mallaney/Courtesy USC
The massive scale of choreographing an Olympic opening ceremony really has no equivalent. The hundreds of performers, the deeply historic rituals and the worldwide audience and significance make it a project like no other.
Just consider the timeline: For most live TV events like award shows, choreographers usually take a month or two to put everything together. For the Olympics, the process can take up to four years.
But this kind of challenge is exactly what Los Angeles choreographer Tony Testa is looking for. He's currently creating a submission to throw his hat in the ring to choreograph for Beijing's 2022 Winter Games.
In a studio high above Lincoln Center, Taylor Stanley is rehearsing a solo from Jerome Robbins' Opus 19/The Dreamer. As the pianist plays Prokofiev's plangent melody, Stanley begins to move, his arms forming crisp, clean lines while his upper body twists and melts from one position to the next.
All you see is intention and arrival, without a residue of superfluous movement. The ballet seems to depict a man searching for something, struggling against forces within himself. Stanley doesn't oversell the struggle—in fact he's quite low-key—but the clarity with which he executes the choreography draws you in.