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The Latest: Iconic Modern Troupes Move to Preserve Legacy

Paul Taylor re-envisions PTDC; Graham Company archives its work.

 

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.”

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