Paul Taylor’s new vision for American modern dance

On Tuesday, Paul Taylor kicked off his company’s three-week 60th anniversary season, presenting a wide spectrum from decades of work, among them several masterpieces. The octogenarian keeps churning them out, with no apparent interest in slowing down. But on Thursday, he acknowledged mortality and gave thought to legacy, unveiling a bold new vision for the future of his company – and for modern dance.

This time next year, we’ll be introduced to Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance. The entity hasn’t been entirely fleshed out yet and few specifics have been provided. But based on a press conference on Thursday and a public announcement at the company’s gala at Lincoln Center that night, the new organization will have a three-fold mission:

–       The continued presentation, and creation, of works by Taylor, performed by his company (currently on fine display on the Koch stage).

–       The commissioning of new works by emerging (American?) choreographers, to be set on, and performed by, Taylor’s company.

–       The presentation of American modern dance classics by Taylor’s contemporaries.

The prospect is exciting, if vague at the moment, and raises a number of questions yet to be answered. Among them, who’s curating the new work and what’s the artistic vision? What kind of dance will “American Modern Dance” champion?

In presenting classics from other choreographers – a worthy effort to preserve historic and foundational pieces of art – are these works to be reconstructed on the Taylor dancers? Performed by guest companies already specializing in some of that work (i.e., the Graham and Limon companies), or perhaps some other alternative?

In addition to these lofty intentions, another grand, and welcome, development: a commitment to live music “when intended by the choreographer,” according to the announcement. Indeed, live music is a noticeable no-show at the Koch right now. If you attend the New York City Ballet regularly, you get used to a lively presence in the orchestra pit and a full-bodied sound in the theater. An empty pit creates a buffer to the audience; it absorbs energy. Filling it back up will make many of Taylor’s best works feel whole again.

Legacy is a tricky beast in dance – both because of the slippery nature of handing down dances in general and because of the single-choreographer company model that defined (and to a large degree, still does) the structure of modern dance presentation. We’ve seen the problems of ownership that arise (à la Graham), the dispersal of a valued repertory (Cunningham) as well as a successful re-birth (Ailey).

Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance proposes a new idea that has the potential to be an important and sustainable home for Taylor’s works, other classics, and serve as a springboard for the next generation of visionaries. We eagerly await details.

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