The Lasting Reign of Paul Taylor

Nov 30, 2010

When Paul Taylor makes a dance, it opens up a million new avenues for discussion. Plenty of choreographers are inspirational, but the magnetic eccentricity of Taylor's signature sensibility instills awe among his fans.

Take Cloven Kingdom (1976), for example, a dance that plays with notions of modern humanity's sophisticated personas and primal undersides. The setting for this piece is a cotillion ball, where the dancing is initially festive. The women leap and spin while the men spring into the air with postures like birds of prey, as the dance morphs into something more mysterious.

The dancers, particularly the men, abandon their elegance for impulsive, animalistic movement. With knees and elbows bent outward, and their hands clenched into fists, the men move ape-like around the stage. Meanwhile, women revert to the most basic of female roles-sowing seeds for food and bearing children. Taylor's juxtaposition of human composure versus animal instinct mirrors the complexity of the human psyche. As Francisco Graciano, a dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company since 2004, said of Taylor's choreography during a Skype interview, "(His) choices serve to remind us that we are all animals."

Taylor choreographed Cloven Kingdom 34 years ago, but the work's subject matter is timeless. One need not belong to a particular generation, or be of any certain age, to connect with his commentary about the inherent qualities of humankind. Graciano agrees. He told a personal story that encapsulates how young or new audience members might be skeptical of Taylor's work, but then grow to enjoy it.

Graciano talked of dating someone who claimed not to like Taylor's dances, but over time began to understand and appreciate Taylor's choreography, the meanings embedded in the dances and the variety (in tone and style) of Taylor's work. As Graciano sees it, "When you go to a performance, you may love one piece but hate another. He understands that people are different so he tries to reach everyone through different pieces."

Such variety exists in the Northrop program on November 30. In contrast to the bold message of Cloven Kingdom, Esplanade (1975) is about searching for beauty in everyday motions. Taylor, said to have been inspired by the action of a girl trying to catch a bus, uses everyday movements (walking, running, falling) to explore relationships-both romantic and familial. Brief Encounters (2009) focuses on the preference for passing flings rather than long-term relationships in modern culture.

Graciano provided insight into the biggest secret of Taylor's accomplishments when he noted that "(Taylor's) honest approach is key. Many choreographers are trying to prove something to the press and the audience, but (Taylor) is just working with the dancers, being himself."

"He doesn't try to emulate anyone's style," Graciano continued, commenting on Taylor's trademark aesthetic. Regardless of when Taylor made the work, or who is viewing it, if audience members "open themselves up to (Taylor's work), it still resonates and connects."

-Maddy Hughes is a junior in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She wrote this piece as a student in "Covering the Arts: New Media, New Paradigms from Criticism to Communications."



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