Juxtaposing modern dance with minimal and avant-garde movements, Paul Taylor's choreography certainly cannot be described in one word, or even a few. Known for instigating both contradiction and collaboration between music and movement, his dance works are imbued with his distinctive sensibility, which incorporates drama, comedy and themes about the human condition. While exploring the complexities of modern dance and Paul Taylor's choreography, I became intrigued with the intricacies of this type of movement. Having danced for 13 years, I've been exposed to jazz, ballet, tap, lyrical, kick and hip-hop. I hadn't, however, experienced modern dance. To explore this uncharted territory, I took a modern dance class and discovered the technique embodied by Taylor.
At first, it's hard not to revert back to the ballet basics when beginning modern. With its poise and structure, ballet overflows with rigorous technique and continual attempts to appear weightless, as if defying gravity. Modern dance, however, explores the way the body moves through space in free and expressive ways. Your body is up, down, grounded and lifted all at the same time. It feels awkward at first, a deviation from such meticulous dance forms as ballet. Once you succumb to the movements, however, modern is a liberating experience.
Modern can best be described as moving through a force, an energy that combines music and space. The body is free to push and pull through this space, uninhibited by technical restraints that other dance forms may impose on the body. After the dance class, I watched some clips of Taylor's choreography and then tried out his movements. Many of Taylor's moves don't feel cute or pretty; then again, they aren't necessarily supposed to. Instead, the moves create a sensation of openness as you let all barriers down: a deliverance from rules and structure. The movements feel earthy and naturalistic as your bare feet sprawl out against the bare floor, unrestrained by pointe toes or dance shoes. Modern dance is a very natural expression of the body's kinesiology.
Taylor's choreography embodies this force, creating a phenomenon which Francisco Graciano, a dancer in the Paul Taylor Dance Company, described during a Skype interview as an "activity where nothing else exists, a peak experience where eternity is understood for one moment." Taylor plays with naturalist expressions as well, presenting humans as animalistic creators. While holding up a mirror to our society, Taylor allows his audiences to reflect on the triumphs and faults we all have as humans, creating a timeless message relevant to any generation. Though Taylor tackles social issues, he isn't trying to prove anything or emulate other styles, but instead has an honest approach. Taylor continuously creates ageless and innovative work, which is why he is still worthy of our attention after all these years.
Caitlin Jagodzinski is a senior in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. She wrote this piece as part of the class "Covering the Arts: New Media, New Paradigms from Criticism to Communications."