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Five Decades of Dance in Just Three Weeks

Date: Mar 13, 2014


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It's almost an embarrassment of riches---the generous collection of 23 dances the Paul Taylor Dance Company is performing during its season at the David H, Koch Theater. Created by Taylor over a span of 53 years, they include the world premiere Marathon Cadenzas, as well as as Fibers, a 1961 work that has not been performed for half a century.

For the audience convening at Lincoln Center through March 30, this extensive array of Taylor pieces demands careful scheduling. For the company's dancers, it means three weeks of quick costume changes, shifts between celestial loveliness and maniacal ferocity, and intensely physical performing that they can't get enough of.

"He's got such a great sense of musicality," says Robert Kleinendorst, who's been with the company for 14 years. "What I really appreciate about Paul is that he's not a slave to the music. He lets the movement do a duet with it. You're dancing with the music; the music and the choreography are partners in the best sense. Not one or the other is in control. It's so freeing to dance that way."

Majoring in musical theatre, Kleinendorst initially took dance classes with that in mind, but his focus quickly shifted. As a graduation gift, his parents paid for a Paul Taylor summer intensive, after his dance professor suggested he had the right build for the company. "After the first day, I knew that was all I wanted to do. I'd only seen his choreography on video, but once I felt it on my body, I knew," he says.

He made his way to New York, took classes at the Taylor School, danced with Taylor 2, and then joined the main company. His robust energy, invigorating spontaneity, and natural comic skills will be on view in the numerous works he dances this season.

Heather McGinley came to five company auditions before she was hired in 2011. She wanted to dance Taylor's choreography from the first time she saw it performed, as a high-school senior studying ballet in St. Louis. "I felt completely transported into the world that Paul made," she says. "What always kept me coming back to the next audition was how I felt doing Taylor's movement. It's very full-bodied and satisfying. I always feel like there's something to really sink your teeth into."

Both dancers use the term "character" in discussing Taylor's choreography. They find this a vital aspect of performing his work, whether the dance is Black Tuesday---set to a resonant series of songs from the 1930s, in which the dancers portray street urchins, pimps, and prostitutes---or a pure outpouring of gorgeously phrased and patterned movement like Mercuric Tidings, set to a Schubert symphony.

"Who you are in a particular dance, and what you're trying to say, will inform how you move," says McGinley. "It gives meaning to all the steps. So definitely, your character's really important all the time, even if it's more of an idea than an actual personality."

Taylor's dances fall into certain categories or families. The spectrum ranges from lyrical works set to Baroque scores to personal pieces using suites of popular songs, and from explorations of the depraved sides of humanity to satirical jabs at human foibles. However, he's just as likely to step outside these lines and deliver a huge surprise, like his sensual spin on the music of Astor Piazzolla in 1997's Piazzolla Caldera.

"The reason everybody sticks around here so long is because you have that wide variety of dances and movement that you get to explore," says Kleinendorst. "You get to practically act in some of them, and then you get to dance full, huge movement."

Speaking of range, there were already 22 dances on this year's schedule when Taylor slipped in one more. To celebrate the company's 60th anniversary, a special March 23 performance of From Sea to Shining Sea, his sardonic 1965 panorama of American history, will feature dozens of company alumni representing nearly the entire six decades of its history.

That performance alone should live up to Kleinendorst's description of this particularly rich and celebratory Taylor season: "It's going to be epic this year!"


Susan Reiter is a freelance arts journalist who contributes to the Los Angeles Times, Playbill, Dance Magazine and other publications

Photo by Paul B. Goode