News

Published:

October 12, 2012
 

Honoring Paul Taylor: Dancemaker


By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University


Introduction

Madame President, Ms. Neuwirth, dais party, fellow followers of Paul Taylor, Paul. Good Evening.

Close your eyes.

Imagine you are standing erect, arms outstretched. Put your right foot behind your left; twist to the right, just as you saw the outfielder do at the sound of ball on bat, or that stranger upon turning to wave for a taxi.

From such a scene, you have the first sentence of a Paul Taylor dance, the first moment in an essay written by the body. A writer once asked, “Where do sentences come from?” One might also ask, where do brush strokes, melodies, or steps come from? Each is brought from the inside and articulated through the body to affect the emotions of others through verbal, aural, and physical expression.

A book, an opera, a dance: each has the power to illuminate, to challenge, to entertain, to extend one’s horizons. But dance cannot easily be taken from the shelf or a rack; it must be experienced. Dance’s companion, music, may prompt the memory of a twirl, a stroll, or a head resting on another’s shoulder, which is why some ask, which comes first, the music or the motion.

Asking this, though, is beside the point. Music is in the ear and heart; dance is in the muscles and memory: the mind brings music and moves together in a synchronous, non-verbal expression of theories and stories, and the exploration of myth.

Paul, the dancemaker, seems to know music from all eras and genres, creating a repertoire from which to draw inspiration and to frame themes drawn from observations of love, hate, fear, and flies, frogs, and flocks. The dancemaker must be observant of all things, whether seen or imagined, for the uplifted arm, the gaze, the pounding fist, the skip or leap become movements in a bodily composition which builds on the sounds composed for the ear and creates illusions for the eyes.

Tonight, you honor the Master Dancemaker, Paul Taylor, who has come a long way from early years sleeping in an unheated studio with no running water. This condition forced him to visit a café for coffee, breakfast, and the sink, which helped forge a clarity of purpose, foster his powers of observation, and fasten his attention on communication without words. He read body language and pondered relationships. The first work created here was “Circus Polka”, a solo, which later became a group work, “Little Circus”, an early exploration into the differences between light and dark types of humor.

A current dancer says, “Everything you do in life contributes to you as a dancer.” With Paul, everything he sees contributes. He has called himself a reporter, a “spy,” watching everyday moves of living things on two legs, four legs, or millipedes. He sees, and we then see what he has seen, balancing passion and pose, connecting the world he imagines with the one he inhabits.

Another dancer called Paul a “benevolent dictator,” which is of interest because Paul describes himself as shy, reticent, at ease with being alone with his band-saw and beach.

I like a third dancer’s description of Paul as a General whose troops are well-prepared to act on their own. In either case, he is gracious and inspires intense loyalty, which makes it possible for new dancers to learn steps mastered by earlier generations. This memory of dances and who danced them before, and who is here and who is gone, is integral to the notion of “company”, derived from “companion,” meaning “one who eats bread with you.”

As an educator committed to an undergraduate curriculum which liberates students from their provincial origins, no matter what their age, gender, ethnicity, or status, I love the Paul Taylor general education: the poetry of expression; the optics of sight; the physics of motion – – all called upon to find the universal in the minute in order to examine the human condition in relation to others and to nature; to interpret history and illuminate politics; to expose hypocrisy, as in “Speaking in Tongues”; to celebrate the everyday hero, as in “Aureole”; to contrast high spirits at home with human sacrifice in a far-away war, as in “Company B.” At Adelphi last semester, we used “Beloved Renegade,” inspired by Walt Whitman, in collaboration with the Company in a course called “Human Condition.” With Paul Taylor, dancing stands for life itself.

Paul’s is the quintessential American story: overcoming early obstacles, following a passion, and finding success. In his case, he married moment, movement, and music to illuminate life, drawing on the ordinary to illustrate universal themes. Dances need a dancemaker; the dancemaker needs dance. Paul, you have defined your art as a dancer in work designed for you by Martha Graham as well as in your own creations, and as a choreographer willing to challenge convention with masks, silence, stillness, and more. You truly are the consummate Dancemaker.

So, Madame President, members of the Lotos Club, and guests, please be alert: the “spy” is watching. Your twist or turn or wave of hand this evening might appear in next season’s Taylor premier.

Paul, thank you. To the Lotos Club, Congratulations.

 
 
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