Season of Taylor

Sean Mahoney of Paul Taylor in Perpetual Dawn. Photo by Paul B. Goode.
Sean Mahoney of Paul Taylor in Perpetual Dawn. Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Another Paul Taylor season has ended at Lincoln Center. The company is looking fine, and the theater seemed well-filed on all but one of my forays. The dancers put an an impressive twenty-three works over the course of three weeks. But such diversity comes with a down side—not every piece holds up, especially when seen alongside Taylor’s best. It turns out there are a lot of run-of-the-mill Taylor dances. But then, you see something like Black Tuesday or Cloven Kingdom or, in its own bizarre way, Byzantium, and are once again amazed by this man’s imagination. How does Taylor come up with Byzantium, with its archaic priestly figures and orgy scenes? Taylor’s imagination is a mystery, and we like it that way.

I reviewed the season here, for DanceTabs.

And here is a short excerpt: This was “the company’s final New York appearance as a purely Taylor-centered enterprise. As of next year, it will transform itself into a mixed repertory troupe, performing the works of other modern-dance-makers alongside those of Taylor. This is a major transformation, and one that is not easy to envision at this point. Which choreographers will be represented? How will the works be chosen? How will they look on these particular dancers, so practiced in the fluidly athletic, muscular style Taylor has honed over many decades? How will his dancers feel about the change?”

Paul Taylor branches out…

Sunset 3menOn 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.