New Paul Taylor Documentary Seeks to Reveal a Master's Craft
Dancer Amy Young in rehearsal with Paul Taylor. Courtesy Resident Artist Films.
Growing up near Louisville, Kentucky, there wasn't too much professional dance in my region. So whenever a company visited, it was a treat. I still remember Paul Taylor Dance Company's stop at the Brown Theatre during its 50th-anniversary tour. I was in high school, and it was the first modern dance concert I'd attended. Needless to say, I was absolutely captivated. The musicality, the theatricality, and the humanity of it all struck me. More than anything, watching Taylor's meticulously crafted choreography left me wondering just how he did it.
That's the question director Kate Geis and executive producer Robert Aberlin sought to answer with their new documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain. The film gives viewers an inside look into Taylor's creative process as he makes his 133rd dance, Three Dubious Memories. But even though it reveals intimate rehearsal footage, I found that it raised more questions, making me more curious. Who exactly is Paul Taylor? Where do his ideas come from? What's the motivation behind a certain movement? Creative Domain makes it clear that oftentimes, his dancers may never know, and that sometimes, Taylor himself delights in that very same ambiguity.
My favorite moments of the documentary were instances when Taylor revealed small secrets of his work. For instance, when flipping through the notebook he kept while creating Three Dubious Memories—he keeps one for each dance he makes—he points out a formation he took from Antony Tudor, saying, "Amateurs borrow. Professionals steal."
Now in his 80s, Taylor remains active in rehearsals, demonstrating movement, even partnering dancers to show just how he'd like something done. And he seems to prefer it that way, explaining that less talking in rehearsal is better. To finish the piece on time, he's lays out a strict schedule of no more than 90 minutes of rehearsal at a time for a maximum of four days a week for four weeks.
Interestingly enough, during an age in which "collaboration," in reference to the choreographic process, is a buzzword all its own, Taylor says that he doesn't think of himself as a collaborator. Instead, he does his part making the dance, and the dancers take it from there. Each person is a puzzle piece and all of them are necessary. At one point, rehearsal director Bettie de Jong likens the dancers to colors of paint, each having his or her own hue, but that sometimes they show a bit of another one's shade.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.