I did a piece for the New Yorker Culture Desk on Paul Taylor’s newest adventure: turning his company into a repository of modern dance. You can read it here.
On Thursday, it was announced that as of next year the Paul Taylor Dance Company will be functioning on a new model, one that takes into account Mr. Taylor’s advancing age and the ephemeral nature of dance. In other words, to ensure the company to survive, Taylor has decided to diversify its repertory, opening itself to the works of other modern-dance choreographers. The plans are still very vague—choreography by whom? Performed with the blessing of whom? But the idea is that Taylor should become a kind of repertory company for modern dance, with a strong base in Taylor’s works. The most similar model I can think of is Alvin Ailey, but even there, the focus is on the new. (Or, as the commenter below points out, perhaps the model is the Limón Company, which presents “programs that balance classic works of American modern dance with commissions and acquisitions from contemporary choreographers.”) The company’s name, too, will change, to Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance—rather clumsy, but there it is.
The good news is that the troupe is doing well. According to the Wall Street Journal, sales are up 27 percent since 2010. Another positive note is that live music, something which has been missing for years, will be part of the equation. (Though to what extent is still unknown. According to a press conference, musicians will be used “where intended by the choreographer,” whatever that means.) Money for the transformation will be provided by the sale of several works of art by Rauschenberg from Taylor’s personal collection—the two artists have known each other for over fifty years and have collaborated on several occasions—with a matching grant from the board.
The details will become clearer over time. What’s sure is that Taylor is entering a new era, and thinking about the future, something that modern dance companies are facing with increasing frequency. The issue as always is whether to close up shop or to continue. And if the latter, how to make a company viable without its founding choreographer. Merce Cunningham decided that the only solution was to shut down the company but keep the school and a licensing arm. Trisha Brown’s company announced last year that Brown would be stepping aside due to health problems, while her dancers would undertake a three-year “farewell tour” under the tutelage of two company veterans. The troupe’s ultimate fate, however, was not fully spelled out (though the signs point toward something along the lines of Merce Cunningham. Martha Graham is soldiering on, conserving (and modifying) its Graham rep and commissioning new works. Tanztheater Wuppertal recently announced that it would begin acquiring new works and auditioning new dancers as of 2015.
One can’t help but feel a certain sense of loss as one of the great modern-dance choreographers contemplates the end of his own creative life, and a future beyond the horizon line.
For more information on the announcement, check out Susan Yung’s blog, The Ephemeralist.
Eighteen months ago, Hurricane Sandy sent water gushing into the Martha Graham Dance Company’s new storage areas at the Westbeth center in the Village. Thousands of costumes and sets were damaged, some irreparably. I wrote about the destruction at the time, for the New Yorker’s culture blog.
Now I’ve updated the story for the New York Times, chronicling the company’s recovery efforts and its constant efforts to reinvent itself and remain relevant. As a bonus, there’s a great video by Gabe Johnson, with images of costumes, archival films, and interviews with the dancers.
Once again, Works and Process is putting on Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. This year’s show is more elaborate than previous incarnations, with a full staging by Isaac Mizrahi, and choreography by John Heginbotham (formerly of the Mark Morris Dance Group). Mizrahi has put together quite a cast, including his friends Maira Kalman as the duck, and Gus Solomons, Jr. as the Grandfather.
Here’s my review, for DaneTabs.
And a short excerpt:
“But – and here lies its lasting power – it doesn’t talk down to its audience, musically or dramatically. The harsh realities of life are not papered over with saccharine melodies or unrealistically happy endings. The duck dies as a result of her foolishness. Near the end, we are reminded of her plight as we hear her unhappy quacking in the wolf’s belly. And Peter is told, rightly, that he, too, could have died.”
…In which the Mark Morris Dance Group steals the show…
The company performed two programs, separated by a concert for toy piano (at dusk). It was an exciting evening of dance. Here’s a link to my review, for DanceTabs.
And here is a short excerpt:
“As always, Morris’s ability to shape the sounds coming from the pit through a combined language of gesture and seemingly simple movement is a constant source of surprise and almost primal satisfaction. Why does the swishing of a hand set to a two-note figure in the strings or a carving of the air to a line of melody feel so right? Who knows.”
Here’s my review of the Martha Graham Fall and Recovery Gala, which included the restored version of Imperial Gesture, an intriguing excerpt from Canticle for Innocent Comedians, a new work by Luca Veggetti, and an excerpt of a work-in-progress by Duato.
And a short excerpt:
“Even more than with other choreographers, the costumes and sets are essential elements of Graham’s dance imagination. Think of Martha’s stretchy sack-dress in Lamentation, or the prickly metal tree-dress by Noguchi in Cave of the Heart. They are extensions of the dancers’ bodies, and of Graham’s Jungian world-view. Even more, they color our perception of the movement. A contraction of the pelvis looks quite different in a leotard than it does in a floor-length cape-dress.”
Any thoughts on the current Graham season?
As you may have read, the Martha Graham Dance Company’s storage areas at Westbeth were flooded during the storm. They are only now beginning to understand the full extent of the damage to the company’s treasure of sets, costumes, and paper archives. I wrote a piece about the situation for the New Yorker blog, which you can read here.
And here’s a short excerpt:
“As the waters receded, the amount of damage became shockingly apparent. A recent visit revealed a scene of chaos and incipient decay: Crates flung around every which way and cracked open, spilling out their muddy contents. Dissolving cardboard boxes on buckled shelves. Trunks and unidentifiable stuff piled high, like the detritus from a shipwreck. The stench—of filth and wet paper, swollen wood and soggy wool, and, especially, of mold—was worryingly pungent.”