Plugged In

April 30, 2013

Paul Taylor on PBS; reissue of Isadora Duncan’s
My Life; Taylor’s Facts and Fancies: Essays Written Mostly for Fun; The Pointe Book; Ailey II in the online campaign “The Backstory”; Rhythm Is It! documentary




Paul Taylor’s
Beloved Renegade, with Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzack. 

Photo by Paul B. Goode, Courtesy PTDC.


Mark May 3 on your calendars: PBS’ Great Performances will air a new program starring the  Paul Taylor Dance Company at 9:00 p.m. Taped at the Les Etés de la Danse festival in Paris last summer, the evening includes Taylor’s virtuosic Brandenburgs and the poignant Beloved Renegade, inspired by the life and work of Walt Whitman. Check local listings. —Kina Poon





My Life.
By Isadora Duncan. With new introduction by Joan Acocella. Liveright. 352 pages.  $17.95.


Ecstasy, tragedy, Art with a capital “A.” She tangoed all night in Buenos Aires, built a temple for dance in the rocky hills of Athens, and was carried through Budapest by adoring fans. Isadora Duncan transformed her loves and losses into choreography never before created, and reawakened the world to the power of dance. In her book she wrote of the triumphs, the scandal, the sensuous delights, the heartbreak that fascinated the world through the flaming arc of her career.


Yes, Isadora’s 1927 autobiography has been reissued by Liveright. Experience, with Isadora, the mystic power of the dance, the rigors of the artist’s life, the adulation of international artists and intellectuals, and the fight for women’s and workers’ rights. Know the struggles of a single woman supporting her family and her entourage. Experience, too, her frustration at her inability to establish a school for her art, and her bottomless grief at the loss of her two children.


The new unexpurgated edition of My Life has an introduction by noted dance writer Joan Acocella. She teases out Isadora’s authentic voice and questions her claim that publishers encouraged her to up the salacious content of this autobiography. Acocella fleshes out the cast of characters and provides historical context as well. But it is Isadora’s voice we hear: intelligent, petulant, agonized, passionate. She reminds us that it is all worth it, that when we dance we become one with all the wonders of the universe. —Alice Bloch



Facts and Fancies: Essays Written Mostly for Fun
. By Paul Taylor. Delphinium Books. 210 pages. $14.95. 


No fan of Taylor’s dances should miss this slender grab bag of autobiographical essays, philosophical ruminations, fictional endeavors, skewed reminiscences, light verse, and outrageous parodies. In his 1987 memoir, Private Domain, the choreographer revealed a literary sensibility inclined to quirky role-playing and whimsical understatement. Taylor relishes those tones here. He plays the curmudgeon brilliantly in “How to Tell Ballet from Modern.” He proclaims that in ballet “everything is done with stiff necks, locked knees and limp wrists,” neglecting to tell us that Lincoln Kirstein once nearly recruited him for New York City Ballet. Taylor also needles pretentious critics, even those who like his dances (“Poggie in the Quiet, by Cleave Yarns”), and ridicules know-nothing interviewers from the hinterlands who expect you to explain the meaning of your art in 25 words or less, on their deadline. When Taylor doffs his mask, he is astonishingly perceptive and deeply personal about an artist’s needs in “Why I Make Dances” (“because it briefly frees me from coping with the real world”). He proves downright solicitous while  teaching a dance to a couple of guys (“Two Bozos Seen Through Glass: An Epiphany”) and turns downright tender, musing about his departed dog (“My Dear Dogmatist”). A few recycled nuggets from Private Domain include Taylor’s graphic recounting of the premiere of his first hit, Aureole. He confesses that he didn’t think much of it, but the dance world sure did. —Allan Ulrich



The Pointe Book: Shoes, Training, Technique. Third Edition.
By Janice Barringer and Sarah Schlesinger. Princeton Book Company. 2012. 368 pages. Paperback: $27.95; hard cover: $39.95.

Janice Barringer, in her preface to The Pointe Book, states that her and co-author Sarah Schlesinger’s goal is to “unravel all the mystery” of pointe shoes. Now in its third edition, the book more than reaches their mission, leaving no stone unturned in its exhaustive breakdown of pointe shoe history, foot mechanics, proper fitting procedures, shoe characteristics, manufacturer profiles, pointe-related injuries, and teaching philosophies.


The Pointe Book
is a must-read for beginning pointe students and their parents. The authors offer detailed information on pointe shoe anatomy and proper shoe care, as well as what to expect at an initial fitting. A revised listing of pointe shoe models allows dancers to easily search styles based on preferred features such as vamp lengths, shank strengths, widths, box shapes, and foot types. (For the animal lover, there’s even a list of vegan varieties!) A series of conversations with leading ballerinas has been updated to include current talents Tiler Peck, Maria Kowroski, Sarah Lane, and Gillian Murphy.


For teachers, the authors address signs of pointe readiness and early training basics, with a new section devoted to pre-pointe strengthening exercises. Master teachers such as David Howard, Suki Schorer, Peff Modelski, Adrienne Dellas, and Diana Byer offer insights into their training philosophies, while a healthy cross-section of company schools and private studios discuss their various training methods (sample pointe classes included). Teeming with practical advice, this book serves as an excellent reference guide for dancers at all levels. —Amy Brandt







Modern dance has often tackled pressing social issues, and who better to team up with activist college students than Ailey II? The company, in partnership with recording artists and mtvU, recently participated in an initiative to raise awareness about human trafficking. “The Backstory,” a student-driven interactive website, features short videos of Ailey II, choreographed by director Troy Powell. Depicting individuals falling victim to modern-day slavery, the films, inspired by real stories, are heartbreaking and powerful. See —K. P.





Rhythm Is It!
Kultur. 100 minutes. $24.99.


Imagine choreographing a Rite of Spring for 250 dancers250 bodies on one stage (that’s more than the entire Bolshoi Ballet), feverishly summoning the sacrifice of the Chosen One. Now imagine that of those 250, most are adolescents with no formal dance training, who dismiss “serious” dance as a waste of time.


Such was the task that Royston Maldoom undertook in 2003—with the help of fellow educators Susannah Broughton and Volker Eisenach—under the auspices of the Berlin Philharmonic’s arts-in-education program, Zukunft@BPhil. The inspirational documentary Rhythm Is It!, created in 2004 and newly released in the U.S. by Kultur (just in time for The Rite of Spring’s centennial), chronicles Maldoom’s dogged work with students from Berlin public schools and the individual journeys of those youngsters, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds or troubled family situations.


The film, though murky on the logistics of this ambitious project ( provides some missing context), takes us inside rehearsals where teenage apathy, self-doubt, and eye-rolling defiance slowly give way to a hushed reverence for movement and glimmers of newfound self-confidence. Directors Enrique Sánchez Lansch and Thomas Grube alternate those scenes with footage of the Philharmonic and its jubilant, impassioned conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, as they practice Stravinsky’s thrilling score.


Rhythm Is It!
captures not just the making of a dance (though the full production, on Disc 2, is worth watching) but the personal, psychological transformations that dance can empower. As Broughton, a gentle and grounding presence in the film, tells her students, “You practice physically, and then emotionally and mentally, everything will catch up with you.” —Siobhan Burke