In our seemingly never ending quest to bone up on American cultural icons that never featured in our British upbringing, we saw ‘Dancemaker’ a portrait of the subliminal Paul Taylor the celebrated choreographer who is possibly the greatest creator of modern dance in this country
In the 1950’s even though he was dancing with the famed Martha Graham Company (Ms. Graham called him ‘the naughty boy of dance’) and he danced for Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, he still focused on starting up his own Company. It was highly unusual for one so young to break loose at the start of his career, but Taylor was anything but conventional in everything he ever did. The early dances he composed and starred in often-covered very dark topics such as sending men to war, to very sensual works that covered love and sexuality in all gender combinations, and they all made him and the Paul Taylor Company very famous comparatively quickly.
In the early 70’s he retired from dancing to focus on creating new works always pushing the boundaries as far as he could. His subject matters were nearly always controversial and he set dances to an eclectic mix of music that included Rock, Tango, Tin Pan Alley and Barbershop Quartets, Medieval masses, baroque concertos, classical symphonies, and avant garde scores by Cage, and even telephone time announcements and loon calls.
Mathew Diamond’s documentary (made in 1998) opens with Taylor about to create a new work for the Company’s upcoming New York Season, always the most important two weeks in their year. He comes to the studio with some music in his head but very little else, but somehow with his trusting troupe of dancers involved in the process, a complete and sensational dance is eventually created. It’s an exhilarating event for us the viewers to witness as it unfolds in front of our very eyes. One can only guess what a high it must be for the dancers themselves.
Taylor’s ambivalent attitude to his troupe ‘my family’ is fascinating to witness. Generous to a fault in his praise and giving credit to all the major players that keep the Company the success that it is, he can also suddenly turn and fire people who seemed to be his favorite only the day before. In one instant he returned from a Tour of India and immediately sacked one of the dancers, and when his motives were questioned he simply replied ‘it’s just not interesting working with her anymore’.
Now aged 79, rather than sitting on his laurels and letting people assume that he has already done his best work, he’s still creating brand new work that is still met with both commercial and critical acclaim. And even to my uncultured (dance) eye, its all stunning and breathtakingly beautiful.
What also was impressive was how his peers in the Arts consider this man’s work. He has collaborated with artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly and William Ivey Long etc, and on another level, he has also encouraged dozens of young man and women to break out and start choreographing their own works.
Whilst Diamond’s Oscar nominated profile showed us glimpses of the real man behind the Dancemaster mask, we never learnt anything at all about his life at outside of he Studio apart from a hint of failed love affair in Denmark many years ago. And maybe he assumed we would know too that Taylor has received every important honor given to artists in the United States. A Kennedy Center Honor.the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton,Doctorates galore and was elected one of ten honorary American members of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters,the French capped it all with the Legion D’Honneur which is the highest accolade that they give out. But most of all there is ‘the work’! Out on DVD , if you missed it the first time around , or if like me us want to discover what real genius is, then don’t miss this one. The trailer is below as usual OR you can watch the whole movie on Youtube at Click for Dancemaker movie