Paul Taylor Dance Company
Forget the labels, enjoy the dance
The origin of modern dance is usually attributed to the barefoot dance-makers who rebelled against ballet from the 1930s to the early 1960s. After that, the Judson Church movement (which included Austin's own Deborah Hay) ushered in the new avant-garde, further unraveling dance. Now we are in the era of contemporary dance, an overarching phrase synonymous with "postmodern dance" and rooted in New York City's downtown art scene of the 1980s. It owed much to the explorations of Judson Church but with renewed technique and inventive formalism.
As history is not always neat and linear, labels don't always apply. For more than 50 years, choreographer Paul Taylor has been making masterful dances, and when his company performs next Wednesday at Bass Concert Hall, distinctions between modern and contemporary dance will blur. What makes Taylor interesting is that he is both behind and ahead of the times simultaneously.
In 1957, Taylor presented his radical 7 New Dances, predating the Judson Church revolution. During one section, Taylor stood silently on stage for several minutes without moving his body or even blinking his eyes. (Keep in mind that John Cage's infamous 4'33" debuted only five years earlier.) Responding in kind, Louis Horst's review consisted of 4 inches of blank white space, mentioning only Taylor and the theatre's name. Touché.
Taylor was, like Merce Cunningham, a Martha Graham dancer who went on to establish his own company. Cunningham veered to the edges and became known as the intelligent, arty one. With the exception of works like 7 New Dances that broke form, Taylor more often than not chose the middle of the road, trying to please audiences along the way. He struck gold with great, influential works such as "Esplanade," "Cloven Kingdom," "Company B," and "Promethean Fire."
Taylor once said he "had no idea what modern dance was anymore." Over the years, audiences have witnessed the range of Taylor possibilities: serious, traditional, humorous, human – all with a grand sophistication. To really understand all the styles of Paul Taylor, one need only to look at former Taylor dancers who have become respected choreographers themselves: Laura Dean, Twyla Tharp, Dan Wagoner, Senta Driver, David Parsons. It's as if each extrapolated a particular Taylorism and singularly built upon it.
In Austin, Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform three new works featuring the choreographer's contemplative side. "De Sueños (Of Dreams)" and "De Sueños Que Se Repiten (Of Recurring Dreams)" are companion pieces intertwining Mexican culture and Jung's collective unconscious. With lighting designer extraordinaire Jennifer Tipton, Santo Loquasto's fantastic costumes and sets, and the music of Kronos Quartet, Taylor creates an extravagant hallucinogenic world. "Beloved Renegade," inspired by Walt Whitman and set to choral music by Francis Poulenc, was hailed by The New York Times as "one of the great achievements of Mr. Taylor's long career and one of the most eloquently textured feats of his singular imagination."
Opportunities to see large touring dance companies in Austin are few. Taylor is one of the last remaining titans of a bygone era of dance that is still extremely fresh and relevant. It is worth a night out to the theatre.
Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform Wednesday, April 1, 8pm, at Bass Concert Hall, East 23rd & Robert Dedman Drive, on the UT campus. For more information, call 477-6060 or visit www.utpac.org.