No topic off limits for Paul Taylor’s dance troupe

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Saturday, February 19, 2011

NEW DELHI - He has been called the naughty boy of dance, is credited for scripting the new language of American modern dance, and now Paul Taylor’s dance troupe Taylor 2 is surfing Indian shores, staging its “rule defying dance”. And no topic is off limits.

“Taylor often remarks that he is a reporter bringing to stage the many things he sees in the world around him. He explores universal themes of humanity that resonate across the cultural, linguistic and political divides,” executive director of the Paul Taylor Dance Company John Tomlinson told IANS in an interview.

The 81-year-old maestro could not make it to India as he was in a “creative mode” - working on a new choreography.

“Paul Taylor created a style of American modern dance that was glorious, free, expansive and inclusive, matching the lexicon of America. His work explored all facets of humanity from the beautiful to the romantic to the mundane to the dark underbelly of our existence. No topic seems to be off limits to him,” Tomlinson said.

Taylor is considered one of the last living legends who played a big role in the evolution of contemporary modern Western dance. Anything and everything around Taylor becomes fodder for his work, Tomlinson said.

“Many of the dances took very real ideas or situations and he turned them into moments of dance on stage. Other times, Taylor drew from his dreams to create a world of mystery and fantasy on stage that had no basis in reality. Paul Taylor is a maverick,” Tomlinson told IANS.

In the 1950s, Taylor’s work lampooning the American icons sent audiences scurrying out of theatres in consternation.

American contemporary dance diva Martha Graham, who was also his one-time teacher, dubbed him “the naughty boy of American contemporary dance”. In the 1960s, he choreographed contrasting compositions setting modern dance to music created 200 years ago.

According to Tomlinson, “modern dance is about the exploration of the new - it is constantly evolving. One of the few consistencies in this art form was the consistent defiance of being defined”.

Tomlinson said modern dance as a genre got its language from various sources.

“Some modern dances draw from dance forms across cultures throughout the world. Others draw from as you call it a ‘free-flowing body language’. The rule is ‘there is no rule’. Martha Graham uses much of her dance to tell stories and to explore the sub-text and physiologic themes within the story that was being narrated.

“But Paul Taylor, in contrast pondered aloud, ‘does everything have to be a Greek tragedy?’…and began to make dances that explored and illuminated the broad range of the human condition,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson said the entire performance that Taylor 2, the “chosen band of six men” of the Paul Taylor Dance Company, performs around the world is choreographed.

“The three dance acts, ‘Arden Court’, ‘Runes’, and ‘Esplanade’, that the company performs in India are three very famous works of Taylor’s repertory,” Tomlinson said.

A student of Syracuse University and later Juilliard School in the US, Taylor was initially a part of the Martha Graham dance company. Later, he joined the New York City Ballet.

His first choreographic triumph was the slyly funny ‘3 Epitaphs’ in 1956. He captivated the audience with his landmark production ‘Aureole’, set to a baroque music.

“In ‘3 Epitaphs’, the costumes used were black fabric that covered the dancer, including faces. Martha Graham thought this to be offensive and said, ‘We do not cover their faces’. But Taylor continued to create work that was irreverent to Martha Graham’s ‘rules’ which led her to call him the naughty boy of dance,” Tomlinson said, recalling the warm vibes between two of the world’s greatest exponents of contemporary American dance.

“Taylor started his company in May 1954. He himself had begun to dance a few years earlier while a student at Syracuse University. Taylor did not begin to dance until he was over 20,” the executive director of the company said.

Taylor 2 performed at the Shreyasi International Dance Festival, hosted by the Raja-Radha Reddy Institute of Kuchipudi Dance, in Delhi Friday. It will perform in Hyderabad Feb 20.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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