Paul Taylor Dance Firm Enters a New Period

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The previous a number of years have introduced momentous change to the Paul Taylor Dance Firm: a brand new director, a wave of latest hires, a pandemic, the naming of a choreographer in residence, all since 2018. Evidently the corporate has emerged from the pandemic with a brand new sense of mission, although with its core of basic values intact.

It began in Could 2018, with the shock announcement of a younger director-in-waiting, Michael Novak, chosen to take the reins after the eventual dying of the corporate’s founder and artistic drive, Paul Taylor. Novak was solely 35, and nonetheless on the top of his dancing profession. 

The choice, made by Paul Taylor himself, turned out to be judiciously timed: That August, Taylor handed away on the age of 88. Six dancers, lots of whom had been dancing for Taylor for over a decade,­ introduced their departures inside the 12 months. “There was a way that Paul would dwell ceaselessly,” says Eran Bugge, who had joined the corporate in 2005 and opted to remain. With Taylor’s passing, one period ended and a brand new one commenced. For a number of of the dancers, this appeared like a pure second to retire.

However simply as a gaggle of dancers chosen by the brand new director—one which included the quietly engrossing Devon Louis and the targeted and incisive Maria Ambrose—was discovering its place within the firm’s ranks, the pandemic hit. Novak, a considerate, measured particular person usually, was nonetheless within the technique of shaping his management and planning. The query now was not simply how you can lead the corporate into the longer term, however how you can preserve it alive within the current. There was no precedent, no mannequin to observe. “I used to be reaching out to older associates and mentors within the subject, and asking for recommendation,” he says, “and these folks, in all their knowledge, didn’t know what to do. Nobody had navigated something like this earlier than.”

At the front of a line of paired dancers, Jake Vincent offers his arm with a smile to Kristin Draucker, her hair and skirt flying as she spins toward him. The dancers all wear smiles and bright colors reminiscent of a sunrise—sleeveless short dresses for the women, belted pants with well-fitted t-shirts for the men.
Jake Vincent and Kristin Draucker in Esplanade. Photograph by Steven Pisano, courtesy PTDC.

This second of reality turned his crucible. “I felt a right away accountability for the survival of the artists within the firm,” Novak says. The immensity of the duty sharpened his sense of function and focus, and led to a collection of initiatives designed to maintain the dancers in contact with one another and engaged­ with the work. The outcomes had been obvious on the firm’s spring season at New York Metropolis Heart this March: a reinvigorated firm, full of latest faces, buoyed by a youthful power and a freshness of method. “It’s an entire new group of personalities,” says Andy LeBeau, certainly one of three rehearsal administrators on the firm, together with Bettie de Jong and Cathy McCann. “They’re passionate and open, not tied to doing issues a sure approach. And so they actually get alongside nicely.”

The method of forming bonds in an organization like Taylor normally occurs throughout rehearsal intervals and, particularly, over the course of lengthy excursions, when understudies get to check out new roles and watch their colleagues evening after evening from the wings. Newer dancers be taught from extra senior artists, who assist to transmit choreographic particulars and subtleties of favor. It’s, Bugge says, one of many causes she determined to remain. “I needed to be sure that the issues that make the work and the corporate particular, like the best way the dancers have a look at one another or take one another’s arms onstage, bought handed on.”

When performing and touring turned unimaginable due to the pandemic, Novak got here up with new methods to maintain the dancers engaged. There have been homework assignments by way of Zoom, wherein dancers realized solos at dwelling after which obtained digital teaching from LeBeau, McCann and Taylor’s longtime right-hand-woman de Jong, who joined the corporate in 1962. Further dancers from the Taylor alumni community had been additionally introduced in to teach and provides digital recommendation. At instances, “We’d Zoom with the one that originated a selected function, and listen to their tales,” says Bugge.

The web classes proved essential to newer firm members like Louis, who was in a position to check out Taylor’s fluid, muscular solo from his 1962 dance Aureole. Studying it, Louis says, gave him a brand new perception into the coordination and circulation that undergirds a lot of Taylor’s choreography. “It’s such as you’re studying from the grasp himself,” he says. 

Different Zoom workshops targeted on the very best approaches to educating Taylor fashion and repertory, and in weekly discussions with alumni, the dancers would delve right into a sure work from the repertoire, teasing out what made it tick. Whereas the Taylor firm has all the time had a very sturdy relationship with former dancers, know-how took it to a brand new stage—a big display screen is now completely out there within the rehearsal studio to facilitate distant teaching classes as wanted.

Simply as importantly, Novak was decided to get the dancers again within the studio as quickly because it was possible and secure. To this finish, he created rehearsal and choreographic bubbles as early as fall of 2020. In-person participation was voluntary, and the classes took under consideration the contingencies of life throughout lockdown. “We had dancers who wanted to be dwelling taking good care of members of the family,” remembers Novak, “however we additionally had dancers who wanted to be within the studio.” The dancers who had been in a position to participate had been put in teams of six, rehearsing in alternating classes all through the day. It was on this setting that the choreographer Lauren Lovette first started working with them.

Lauren Lovette smiles as she gestures excitedly towards the pair of dancers she is working with, an arm extended toward them. One dancer is almost upside-down, clutching the thigh of her partner as he wraps his arms around her legs, extended toward the ceiling. All wear rehearsal clothes. In the background, an empty auditorium.
As the corporate’s first-ever choreographer in residence, Lauren Lovette above is creating new work that may share the stage with Taylor classics. Photograph by Whitney Browne, courtesy PTDC.

Novak had had his eye on Lovette since seeing Not Our Destiny, a chunk she created in 2017 for New York Metropolis Ballet, then her dwelling firm. (Lovette retired from her principal dancer place there in 2021.) “I noticed musicality, I noticed craft, and I felt there was a insurgent in there that was attempting to push the artform ahead,” says Novak. “I bear in mind questioning what she would do with fashionable dancers.”

It turned out that Lovette clicked, each with Novak and with the corporate. “It’s a pleasure to have her within the studio,” says Louis. “She is available in very contemporary and excited to strive issues.” The sensation, Lovette says, is mutual: “The Taylor firm is sort of a targeted playground. Each time I depart that studio, I really feel lighter and extra impressed and alive.” She is amazed by the dancers’ individuality, the best way every shapes the motion in line with their physicality, phrasing and character. This, in flip, shapes what she choreographs for every of the dancers. (Taylor was well-known for doing this as nicely.)

The connection flourished to such an extent that in mid-March, Lovette turned the primary choreographer in residence within the firm’s 68-year historical past, a place that commits her to creating no less than one work per 12 months for the following 5 years. Each she and the dancers have a lot to realize: For the dancers, it means having a steady presence within the studio, somebody who understands the best way they transfer. For Lovette, it’s a laboratory wherein to hone her voice and discover motion far past the ballet vocabulary wherein she was educated.

However she is hardly the one choreographer the dancers can be working with. Creation performs a central function within the firm’s new mission, and the pandemic, with fewer excursions and performances, provided a very fertile interval wherein to usher in choreographers. “I needed to return out of the pandemic exhibiting audiences and patrons that it is a new period of the Taylor firm,” says Novak. In 2022, the corporate is premiering works by Michelle Manzanales, a Mexican American choreographer and instructor related to Ballet Hispánico; Peter­ Chu, who heads his personal modern firm in Las Vegas; Amy Corridor Garner, a Juilliard graduate who has made work for Ailey II and the ABT Studio Firm; and  Puerto Rican choreographer Omar Román de Jesús. The range is intentional. “Paul Taylor introduced many aspects of humanity to the stage,” says Novak, “however I don’t suppose he introduced all of them to the stage.” 

This want to open the corporate to a wider vary of expertise can be mirrored within the choice of new dancers. The world of American fashionable dance has traditionally been extra white than many care to confess, and although the Taylor firm has all the time included dancers of various backgrounds and ethnicities, Novak is actively placing variety on the forefront. “I need to create an organization that provides alternatives for college kids and patrons to see their very own tales on the stage,” he says. There are at the moment extra dancers of shade on the firm than ever earlier than. 

The dancers’ backgrounds are additionally various, and in lots of instances don’t embrace passage by means of the normal Taylor II pipeline. Shawn Lesniak danced for quite a lot of choreographers and corporations, together with Trey McIntyre and Parsons Dance, earlier than becoming a member of. John Harnage was a member of Jessica Lang Dance. Louis, who studied at The Ailey Faculty and was a member of Ballet Hispánico’s junior firm, had taken a single summer season intensive in Taylor method earlier than becoming a member of; in hiring him, Novak was much less concerned with Louis’ Taylor bona fides than in his character and a selected high quality he noticed in his dancing: “I employed Devon due to his heat spirit, quiet confidence, beautiful ballon and noteworthy fluidity,” Novak says. Along with his refined depth and silken approach of transferring, Louis made a powerful impression in Kyle Abraham’s 2019 work for the corporate, Solely the Lonely

Two male dancers stand onstage in a casual first position, arms raised to rib height and bent in front of them as though resting on a table. Their heads roll back and to their right. One wears head-to-toe pink, the other yellow, shadowed in the stage lighting.
Devon Louis and John Harnage in Kyle Abraham’s Solely the Lonely. Photograph by Christopher Duggan, courtesy PTDC.

The upshot of all this modification is the emergence of an organization that’s extra various, and extra versatile, than ever earlier than. Taylor dancers are able to tackle the motion fashion of any creator, and to deal with works from completely different eras and traditions. In April, for instance, the corporate carried out Kurt Jooss’ expressionist work The Inexperienced Desk, an impor­tant antiwar ballet created in Germany in 1932, the 12 months earlier than Hitler was appointed­ chancellor. The elegant Lesniak was riveting within the function of Demise. (Sadly, this ballet has turn out to be newly related.) And in June, the corporate revived a few of Taylor’s very earliest dances, together with Occasions II, from his first-ever full night of dances in 1957, and an excerpt from Photos­ and Reflections, from the next 12 months. These youthful experiments in motion, theatricality and response to music require a really completely different method than that concerned in dancing Aureole or Esplanade, or in Lovette’s creations, for that matter.

All this modification represents an necessary evolution for the corporate because it navigates a brand new period, with out the comforting presence of Paul Taylor. And, it appears, the corporate is prepared. The basics haven’t modified, Novak assures. However “what feels completely different for me,” he says, “is that there’s a way of possession of the truth that we’re the post-pandemic firm. That is the dancers’ firm now. They’re prepared to point out up and welcome folks into their world.” 


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