The following are recollections on the making of some of the dances in the 2016 repertoire by current Taylor dancers and alumni on whom the dances were made.
Dancing Also Playing feels like what I imagine being in a Vaudeville show would have been like. Never in one dance have I had so many costume and accessory changes – and all of them bordering on unachievable speed. Paul made it very clear that good comedy required us to play it perfectly straight. He created my role of an overly confident and, as it turned out, accident-prone ballerina. At the premiere, to my shock and horror, in the first duet my huge ballroom skirt suddenly dropped to my ankles and I had to improvise through what felt like an eternity with many failed attempts to keep it on. As with other mishaps in Also Playing, Paul decided he liked it and insisted that it stay in the dance just as it had happened. The trick was then to replicate in each performance what had been purely accidental. It’s probably the closest to Vaudeville I’ll ever get.
– Jamie Rae Walker
You have to stay true to your character and your relationship to the people around you. I come on stage for a tarantella flanked by two guys. Paul wanted me to slap my thigh with a tambourine, then slap my butt, then slap the boys. On the first day, I broke right through the tambourine. My thighs were black and blue, and the boys were black and blue as well because I hit them with as much fervor as I hit myself. Paul emphasized the character’s absolute belief in what she’s doing; ultimately that’s what’s funny. Julie danced the Dying Swan to the hilt. Since she had short hair, Santo made her crown with a long bun attached. In the tech rehearsal for the premiere, the crown fell off, so she grabbed it and put it back on with authority – backwards. But she never came out of character, and that became a great part of the dance.
– Parisa Khobdeh
“Belongs to that rich genre in which theater is about theater itself.”
– Alastair Macaulay, New York Times
There was a glint in Paul’s eye when he asked if I’d read “Leaves of Grass.” I bought a copy and was swept up by its pace, colors, emotion and gravity. I could feel it was special for Paul; the dance seemed to be coming from a deep, personal place. It’s the only choreographic experience I’ve had where he was visibly moved on several occasions. There was also a magic between Laura and me. The minimal choreography helped amplify the tender, wordless conversation happening between us. When Patrick Corbin came to me in tears after the premiere, calling it a masterpiece, I was utterly confused. How did I not know this? Strange, when you’re in a work, how difficult it is to sense if it’s powerful. Audiences have had forceful responses to my character: “You’re Walt Whitman.” “You’re Paul Taylor.” I’ve always thought of my role as “everyman” – one blade of grass in an infinite field of green.
– Michael Trusnovec
The studio took on the aura of another world when Paul began Beloved Renegade. Watching him create a transcendent place where negative space and subtle gesture were as grand as anything virtuosic was to observe a master at work. I’ll never forget the sensation that something magical was transpiring. Out of this dance came one of my most cherished characters – the Dark Angel – and the beginning of a dear relationship with my dance partner and friend, Michael Trusnovec. “I need you to be cool, but sweet,” Paul said. This opened my imagination and enabled me to go in search of this gentle “deliveress” – a gift and a journey I cherish every time I perform Renegade. Concerning Michael, you learn a lot about somebody when you have to stare into their eyes for a long time without giggling. I’ll forever be humbled and grateful for being a part of this masterpiece, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of performing it.
– Laura Halzack
“A work of philosophic as well as dramatic power.”
– Alastair Macaulay, New York Times
We knew it would be a dance like no other. Thrilling to rehearse. Counts, counts, counts! And ever changing directions. Mystery and ambiguity. Bettie sobbing while we crawled. Speeding feet and managing the curves with apparent ease. Tenderness and love in the duets. Daring falls and slides. Bruises, floor burns and body make-up to cover them so we can dance each night in “Nureyev and Friends” on Broadway. (Pride that Nicholas got more applause than Rudolf!) Walking all over Nicholas – my favorite part. Like a love bite, but forgiven while being scooped up into his arms. And leaping into the boys’ arms with abandon. Trying to not look like a trained dancer yet being one. Teaching Esplanade to other companies and to Juilliard students extended the joy. And now, when hearing that glorious music and seeing the dance by memory – smiling tearfully. Thank you Paul.
– Eileen Cropley
We started working on the last section during the 1974 World Series. Paul wanted us to try “sliding into home plate” and asked some of us to come in early to try some different ways of falling. As the newbie, it was exciting to work directly with Paul and I became engrossed in listening to him…“Fall forward, now fall back like the wind is blowing you… Now twist and fall, okay… Rollover, good… Get up and run over there, that’s right… Fall back on the diagonal, but look up this time.” He paused and took a long drag on his cigarette… “Well, kid, looks like you got yourself a solo.” I heard clapping and realized I was standing there alone while the others were sheepishly peeking out from behind the piano… “Better you than me!” Nicholas shouted. Paul could find strengths we didn’t know we had when he made his dances, and even our limitations seemed to interest him.
– Ruth Andrien
“A classic of American dance.”
– Arlene Croce, The New Yorker
Paul was asked to choreograph a piece for American Ballet Theatre. He decided to make it on us, as he was most comfortable working things out on his own troupe. He started making a comedy to Schubert but canned it after a week and began again, this time with Debussy’s “Children’s Corner.” The dance poured out of him, full of mystical images stemming from his interest in the ancient Minoan civilization. He told us of the women who rode bare-breasted on bulls, the visions of the Oracle of Delphi, and the society’s adoration of animals. He made a wonderful duet called “Totem Birds” for Vicki Uris and me and asked us to teach it to stars from ABT. After 20 minutes of hacking through the choreography they declared it a no-go – too many counts and too many strange shapes! They sat down and smoked a peace pipe after that (Marlboro Lights, I remember) and the project was put to rest.
– Ruth Andrien
Gene Moore designed Minoan costumes with bare breasts. We petitioned for some sheer netting to hold ourselves up, and got it.
– Lila York
Opening night, spring season at City Center, 1978: On the first spirited head toss in my Cassandra solo, my wig went flying and landed with a soft “phuh!” center stage. There it lay, not adding anything good or welcome to Elie and Ruth’s quiet, beautiful duet that followed. At long, long last, the next section began and Chris Gillis did a surprise turn, prancing out to fetch the hairy lump, his heroism rewarded by applause from the relieved audience (and me). My abject apologies to Paul were met with an amused smirk and a little pat on the rear.
– Victoria Uris
“Carries the feel of pottery shards, the dust of the British Museum…”
– Allison Tracy, Berkshire Eagle
Paul played the Schubert for us; the opening was seductively slow but it soon was off to the races. We giggled nervously
because we knew we were in for it, and Paul had that Cheshire Cat look. He began with a lovely tableau and dissolved it until the stage was empty. After a pause Linda Kent was first out of the gate, embroidering the floor with her quick-footed run, followed by the rest of us crisscrossing like shooting stars. Paul invited us to use our choreographic prowess, oy vey. Monica Morris’s idea was to hold a pose for three eights and move our arms up and down for an eight, but I insisted that we tear across the studio with wild, exhausting jumps. Paul was cagey letting us cook our own goose – he took those phrases and double-timed them. Monica has not forgiven me to this day. How the current Company can point their feet and maintain dignity dancing that first section, I’ll never know.
– Ruth Andrien
Mercuric had lots of challenges, mostly because you had to be with your group of dancers – you couldn’t do a movement at your own speed – and you were on stage practically the whole dance. Paul is so brilliant at traffic patterns: this group reveals this group and this group… and this was one of his most intricate pieces. My favorite moment was when three of us would run to three men coming out of the wings, and they’d lift us up over head. One night there was no one there – my partner forgot to come on – so I made something up. I was thinking, Where are you?! My last Mercuric was unplanned. Denise Roberts had taken over my part and I was in the dressing room while they were rehearsing on stage. Somebody came up and said Denise hurt her knee; she actually tore a ligament. “I guess I’m back in.”
– Linda Kent
“Young people cavorting with the kinetic propensities of young godlets.”
– Clive Barnes, New York Post
I liked performing Offenbach even though it was a “shoe” dance, and I had to work so much harder for traction and propulsion against the floor. It evolved, as all good Taylor dances do, into a real physical dialogue among the dancers on stage, with room for personal artistry. Paul was adamant about not “acting” or faking emotion. He’d see what was happening with the relationships during the creation of a work, and expertly craft movement and gesture to produce the emotion or story he meant to convey. And he’d notice things while we improvised and work those into a tapestry uniquely his own. Paul’s choreographic structures are so well crafted that they support a freedom of artistic expression that’s quite rare in dance. That structure supported the reality of who I was in a particular role, and I was able to live it anew – and nuance it in relation to a particular audience – each time I danced it.
– Caryn Heilman
I always reflect on Offenbach Overtures with a smile. I remember having such a good time during the creation process – the music is so engaging, and Paul really got us right into the “fast lane” with it, matching the intensity/density of the material so nicely to the score, and as a group we seemed quite good at working out the details as we went. I especially recall us all laughing a lot when we started making the Duel section, as (again) the music seemed to beg for such silliness. Partnering in that part with Andrew Asnes was great fun, and, directly after that, I so used to love looking into Caryn Heilman’s eyes during the romantic barcarolle.
– Thomas Patrick
“Taylor-ed to keep you in stitches.”
– Terry Teachout, New York Daily News
When we started Orbs, I had been dancing with Paul for about six years. Orbs was a magnificent experience, I think primarily because I had been dancing with Paul long enough to not only accomplish the fiendish technique, but could begin to kinesthetically inhabit the structure of the dance. To live inside of the movement. And the movement was grand. Broad, expansive and evocative of all the grand themes – guilt, forgiveness and redemption. When I think about Orbs I feel fulfillment.
– Dan Wagoner
Orbs was the first piece Paul made after I joined the Company. I was so excited to begin. Disaster struck almost immediately. Danny Grossman and I collided and there was my little toe at right angles to my foot! I was out for the first six weeks of rehearsal. Carolyn Adams kindly stood in for me and danced my part as well as her own so that Paul would have a dancer to work with. Instead of learning my part in the first half on my feet, I learned it sitting down and watching it in mirror image. Orbs rehearsals were long and intense. I just couldn’t take another step. When I got home I crawled up to my apartment on the third floor; I was just 23! At one point Paul threw out an entire week’s worth of work and replaced it with the exquisite, quiet quartet toward the end of the dance. What courage he had.
– Jane Kosminsky
“A kind of astronaughty tour of love and life on the planets.”
In the summer of 1976 Paul was making Polaris in Lake Placid, New York, where we were going to show the dance as a work-in-progress before the world premiere in Newport, Rhode Island. My husband Don had been commissioned to write the score, and sometimes he was late finishing music for Paul. One morning at 5 Don and I were fast asleep and I opened my eyes to see Paul standing over our bed. He had started work early, as usual, and he said, “I need my music!” Don, who had stayed up all night to finish the score, answered groggily, “It’s in the studio on the table.” It was pretty funny to wake up and see Paul Taylor standing over me.
– Lila York
It was a beautiful summer in Lake Placid, and Paul’s especially positive spirits infected us all. “Vicki, dear girl, you have no sense of style! Why don’t you try making the steps I give you look good?” he quipped, eliciting giggles. Donald York fed us the music as he wrote it. Exploring the dynamic of lightness in part one of the two-part piece was a great challenge, as was projecting energy outward while constraining the action to the confines of the cube. Dancing a duet with expansively generous Elie Chaib was a pleasure. On one fateful domestic tour, the Iowa corn flu made its way through our ranks, so in D.C. I was afforded the rare opportunity of dancing both halves – the dark following the light. I also just have to say, those 20-something leaps toward the end, holding the arms curved up from the shoulders, were killer.
– Victoria Uris
“An interesting aesthetic exercise…that is one of Mr. Taylor’s most beautiful [works].”
– Jennifer Dunning, New York Times
Promethean flowed out of Paul. It’s as if he were in direct contact with something greater. We finished half of the duet and then I threw my back out. I missed a few days of work and Michael Trusnovec completed the duet. The switch came when Lisa and I have a confrontational “conversation.” The first time I saw Lisa fly through the air at Michael I gasped; then I was filled with dread when I realized that would be me. It was a bittersweet moment because I knew I was passing the mantle to Michael – my years as a Taylor dancer were coming to an end. People say Promethean is Paul’s response to 9/11. For me it was about Stephanie Reinhart. Stephanie was dying, leaving Charlie and Ariane behind. I really loved Stephanie. Promethean will always be for Charlie, Ariane and Stephanie. Every time I danced it, it was for them.
– Patrick Corbin
Paul chose to use the entire company of 16 dancers for this latest work. Unheard of, since there are always understudies left out to cover parts. It felt like just what we needed. With the timing of its creation, Promethean Fire became what most say is a comment to what occurred on 9/11. I remember Paul saying the work was just about passion. I think it’s about trust. Trusting that you are in good hands, which we have with Paul. Trust in your colleagues, that we are there for each other. Paul’s trust in us. And trusting that under any circumstances, the human spirit, in time, can rise above it all. I loved being a part of Promethean Fire. I’m lucky to say I never missed a performance. Though something I did miss: getting to my partner. On the catch. Twice.
– Lisa Viola
“It has grandeur, majesty and a spiritual dimension.”
– Anna Kisselgoff, New York Times
A gift and punishment at the same time. Paul said, “The challenge for you and me in this dance is I am going to keep you onstage the entire time.” Then, after two movements I was off-stage thinking, What did I do wrong? The dance is about being a loner and going your own way. Sometimes Paul had me stand onstage while everyone danced around me. Challenging me to fill stillness with movement. At one point he said, “Go over there and turn.” So every day I did a different set of turns until after one run-through he said, “Do that one,” and that’s the one we kept. The solo he gave me was very hard. It was long, the turns were slow, I had to lean forward, touch my head to my shin in attitude and then promenade (turn) slowly. Ughhh. Making a dance with Paul, however, is truly a gift from the art gods.
– Andrew Asnes
Spindrift illustrated the interior process of Paul Taylor – fragments of thoughts, images, ideas, intuitively linked but unable to be articulated to the cast enlisted to complete the transformation to stage. To counter this, Paul came in with a notepad of counts and a set of rules that provided a framework that would enable us to meet the inevitable deadlines that were a very real part of his world. These rules would at some mystical moment in the rehearsal process be relinquished in exchange for inspired new work. The muse had entered the room and the catalytic moment that would propel Paul to complete the piece had begun. Paul shifted from a director of work to a willing participant in a chase to the end.
– David Grenke
“Suffused with the very lyricism… which had always marked him out
like some special child of the gods.”
– Clive Barnes, New York Post
Three Dubious Memories
While Paul was choreographing, a camera crew was capturing the process, and doing their best to film amid the dancers without getting a toe in the eye. Paul was on fire! He was rolling out the dance phrases and it was all I could do to keep up. At the end of one of the rehearsal days, I jokingly asked if I could see the film footage just so I could make sure I remembered all the steps. Besides needing to have every ounce of “grey matter” working to the best of its ability, I also had to call upon some emotional demons. This was the first time in my dance career that I was asked to portray a dark, sinister character. Not easy. I did my best. And I choose to remember it as the dance that helped me widen my spectrum of ability.
– Sean Mahoney
It’s an honor to originate any role in one of Paul’s creations, and who wouldn’t want to be The Woman in Red? On the third day, he choreographed a duet for Rob and me – our first and only love duet in all the 12 years we had been working together. Sean entered next as an aggressor and we were more than ready to help create some violent movement. We love to be that physical. Each progressive scene had a different style, which I began to see was a unique manner in which Paul chose to tell this story. In our third scenario, I became the aggressor and at the premiere performance in Richardson, Texas, a woman yelled out, “You go girl!” She obviously identified with my character. I particularly enjoyed the day he choreographed my character’s final statement. Without hesitation he gave me clear, strong yet desperate movements to work with. It was a truly memorable experience.
– Amy Young
“Searching for beauty and significance in even the tawdriest aspects of the human condition.”
– Robert Johnson, Star Ledger