The last year and a half has seen profound change at the Paul Taylor Dance Company. The most dramatic event, of course, was the death of Paul Taylor, the man who founded the company in 1954, creating almost 150 works over the ensuing six decades. He died in August of last year, only months after selecting the then-35- year-old company dancer Michael Novak as his successor. The choice was a surprise, both to Novak himself and to the world of Taylor fans.
After joining the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2010, Michael Novak quickly became a critic's favorite for his quiet power onstage. But no one was more surprised than Novak when Taylor tapped him to be his successor last year, three months before the legendary choreographer died. Dance Magazine recently caught up with Novak during the company's appearances at the Orchestra of St. Luke's Bach Festival.
What's better than one film about Rudolf Nureyev? Two films about Rudolf Nureyev!
We're excited to share that a feature-length documentary titled Nureyev is slated to make its North American premiere next month. Nureyev will be shown in major U.S. cities starting April 19, giving you just enough time time to brush up on your Nureyev history before the Ralph Fiennes directed biopic, The White Crow, hits U.S. theaters on April 26.
Paul Taylor cultivated many brilliant dancers during his 60-plus-year career, but seldom have any commanded such a place of authority and artistry as Michael Trusnovec. He models what it takes to become a great Taylor dancer: weight of movement, thorough grasp of style, deep concentration, steadfast partnering, complete dedication to the choreography and a nuanced response to the music.
Trusnovec can simultaneously make choreography sexy and enlightened, and he can do it within one phrase of movement. Refusing to be pigeonholed, he has excelled in roles as diverse as the tormented and tormenting preacher in Speaking in Tongues; the lyrical central figure—one of Taylor's own sacred roles—in Aureole; the dogged detective in Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal); and the corporate devil in Banquet of Vultures.
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.
The news of Paul Taylor's death two weeks ago at the age of 88 has sparked innumerable tributes to the choreographer. We were inspired to delve into Dance Magazine's extensive photo archives to see what images of the late modern dance titan were hiding there. We present a baker's dozen of our favorites from over the years.
A person's walk is like a fingerprint, according to four Paul Taylor dancers who are stepping on without their beloved choreographer. Taylor died August 29, passing the legacy of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance to Michael Novak, the second artistic director in the company's history.
"Human movement never lies," says Novak, who sometimes slipped into present tense when describing his mentor. "For auditions, Paul makes dancers walk across the floor in rhythm. The first time I auditioned, I didn't get the job. I was terrified, but now that I'm on the other side of the audition process, 'the walk' is telling."
"When you're doing the walk, it's nerve-racking and hard to know the value," explains Eran Bugge, who recently celebrated her 13th anniversary with the company. "Now I know that it's totally revealing. You can see a person's control to be human and dancerly at the same time. Sometimes you can see weird coordinations, but Paul liked that."
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A quiet power has marked Michael Novak's dancing since he joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2010. Long a critics' favorite, he has gracefully shared the spotlight with higher-profile performers, contributing steady excellence to works from Gossamer Gallants to the iconic Esplanade. But no one was more surprised than Novak when Taylor tapped him to be artistic director designate. Novak, 35, will oversee every component of the Paul Taylor enterprise, from the Paul Taylor American Modern Dance initiative to the school. But most critically, he will direct the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which may be his toughest role yet—one he has already begun training for.
We spoke to Novak earlier this summer, before the announcement of Novak's new role turned out to be portentous: Taylor passed away this week.
Yesterday, modern dance giant Paul Taylor passed away. He had turned 88 at the end of July.
Considered the last of the 20th-century modern dance titans, Taylor celebrated the 60th anniversary of his company in 2014. A prolific dancemaker, he continued to make new works into his final year, the last of which premiered during the company's annual Lincoln Center season in March—his 147th. Aureole, Cloven Kingdom and Promethean Fire are among his iconic works, though perhaps none is so beloved as his 1975 masterpiece Esplanade. During his performing career, Taylor danced roles created for him by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine, as well as in his own work.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
It's been a long time coming. Paul Taylor, who at 87 is still actively making dances, has named the person who will succeed him at the head of the various organizations that bear his name: Paul Taylor Dance Company member Michael Novak.
The announcement has come with no small amount of surprise, as longtime PTDC dancer Michael Trusnovec has long been considered the heir apparent. But, as was announced today, Taylor has appointed 35-year-old Novak as artistic director designate, effective July 1. As Taylor told The New York Times, "I thought he was just next in line. I've watched him for some time. He pays attention, and I know that he's listening."
Willkommen to the night of your dreams: First you're transfixed by a performance at Lincoln Center's opulent Koch Theater. Then you're sipping wine with the ridiculously famous Alan Cumming. Later, he whisks you away to his exclusive East Village club, where you party late into the night.
While these scenarios sound like the makings of a wild dream, they're very real. This Thursday, March 15, you and up to 19 others could join Cumming for the ultimate night out, framed around Paul Taylor American Modern Dance's spring season. (Yes, your host is actually the Tony, Olivier and Emmy award-winning performer, Alan Cumming, who starred in a little show called Cabaret. Perhaps you've heard of it?)
One of New York City Ballet's most adventurous ballerinas will be a special guest of Paul Taylor American Modern Dance for its annual season at the Koch Theater. Sara Mearns is performing solos created by early modern dance icon Isadora Duncan as staged by Lori Belilove. Also on the menu: Paul Taylor Dance Company members in 13 classic Taylor works and world premieres from Doug Varone, Bryan Arias and Mr. Taylor himself (his 147th!), plus the resurgent Trisha Brown Dance Company in her iconic Set and Reset. March 7–25. ptamd.org.
I was 22, fresh out of school. Wet behind the ears, I was using a light boom backstage as a warm-up barre before my debut performance with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. I noticed Paul Taylor walking toward me, wagging his index finger like a disciplining father, and I shrank with fear.
"Don't touch the booms. Someone has worked very hard to focus those lights," he admonished. And just before he turned to go, he paused and added, "And listen to your seniors." But he wasn't done. As he strode away, he turned back and said, "Oh, and always say thank you to the crew."
What struck me about Paul's notes—and what has stayed with me ever since—is what was at the heart of those three directives: respect, gratitude and the importance of family. They are values that are embedded in his dances and in his company.
When Paul Taylor created Beloved Renegade on Laura Halzack in 2008, he gave unequivocal instructions. She was the figure, sometimes referred to as the angel of death, who circles dancer Michael Trusnovec in a compassionate, yet emphatic way.
"He choreographed every single step for me," she says. "He showed it to me—do this développé, reach here, turn here, a very specific idea," she says. His guidance was that she be cool and sweet. Then, she says, "he just let me become her. That's where I really earned Paul's trust."
If you're like us, your Instagram feed is probably oversaturated with gorgeous dance shots of your favorite performers. (Not complaining!) But search for "#CamerasandDancers," and you'll find dance photography that stands out from the crowd.
#CamerasandDancers in Washington Square Park, PC Dave Krugman (@davekrugman)
It's well known that Robert Rauschenberg, one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century, made costumes and sets for Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown. What you may not know is that he also choreographed and danced in many performances of his own devising. You can see evidence of them among the vast amount of paintings, sculptures and collages at the exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art called Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends.
In her many years of shooting top dancers and choreographers, photographer Rose Eichenbaum has not only captured their movement, but collected their stories and the guidance they have to offer other artists.
Now, Eichenbaum is releasing a coffee table book, Inside the Dancer's Art, filled with these artists' words of wisdom alongside their portraits. Here are a few of our favorites.
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.
Paul Taylor in rehearsal with his PTDC. Photo by Whitney Browne.
The last time a modern dance visionary announced plans for the future of his company, it was Merce Cunningham. The strategy: to let his troupe go out with a bang—and then disband—when he died.
Paul Taylor is taking a different approach. In March, he and his board announced a major restructuring of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, which has solely danced his work for 60 years. Beginning in 2015, the newly named Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance will have a three-pronged mission: to dance new and old Taylor repertoire; to restage classics by pioneers like Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey; and to present new work by current choreographers.
“I think Paul Taylor is looking to become more engaged in the entire art form of American modern dance,” says executive director John Tomlinson. “Rather than just putting his head down and creating the best work he can, he wants to take on some of the responsibility of curating and preserving the art form across all of its many differences.”
Tomlinson could not confirm which new choreographers would be working with the company, though he did mention that it has found a potential creative ally in New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins. At a press conference at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater, home to PTDC’s New York seasons since 2012, the 83-year-old Taylor stated, “I like movement and dance steps. I’m not wild about a lot of talking and high-tech effects. I like dancing. That’s my taste. And I want to push that.” A through-line of the initiative, Tomlinson added, will be the use of live music when possible, a “mark of excellence” that Taylor has insisted on.
While broader in scope and perhaps better funded (with a projected $10 million funding it as of March), Taylor’s new structure resembles what has emerged at Martha Graham Dance Company, which has reimagined itself since Graham’s death. MGDC repertoire includes Graham masterpieces, seminal mid-century works by choreographers like Jane Dudley and Mary Wigman, and commissions. “We have these masterpieces, which we see as our core collection,” said executive director LaRue Allen, “just as the Picasso Museum in Paris has its core of Picasso works.” In February, the company announced that it received $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to digitize archival materials, from videos to programs to stage maps. When complete, online “toolkits” will be available for educational and research purposes.
Tomlinson said that while he values preservation, Taylor’s priority is to ensure the continued life—onstage—of great modern dance: “Whether it be a new or old work or his work, he wants them seen.”
Choreographer Paul Taylor may never have imagined any life other than dance. But he didn’t foresee his company celebrating its 60th anniversary. “I didn’t think about it,” he tells writer Joseph Carman in “Taylor Made.” “I live from day to day. I didn’t care about the future. You hope for the best.” Yet it’s clear that Taylor can’t help but see dance everywhere around him: in the insects he played with as a kid, in the gestures of someone’s conversation, in the windows of a New York apartment building. On the cusp of his company’s diamond anniversary, both Taylor and his star performer Michael Trusnovec sat down with Dance Magazine to candidly discuss the company and its future. Taylor may be 84 this year, but, as Carman notes, “he hasn’t lost his prickliness, drive or sardonic sense of humor.”
His success shows just how far a passion for movement can take you. Check out our annual auditions guide to search for the jobs and training opportunities that inspire you. And you’ll find tips on audition outfits, etiquette advice and a few surprising strategies that can make the difference between booking a Broadway gig and getting a polite “Thank you for coming.” Our education editor Jenny Dalzell also goes behind the scenes at a tryout for up-and-coming contemporary ballet troupe Whim W’Him, with an insider’s perspective straight from artistic director Olivier Wevers.
Whether or not you nail the next callback, it helps to remember what you’re doing it all for. As American Ballet Theatre soloist Sarah Lane writes in this month’s Why I Dance, “What dancers experience goes beyond what words can express. To put it feebly, it is the ability to set your soul free in a moment that can’t be captured or replicated. It’s being real and vulnerable enough to share who you are as a human being. It’s believing that imperfection can still create something beautiful.”
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