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Repertory Archive

Paul Taylor


Few artists of our time have had the profound impact on their art form that Paul Taylor has had on dance over six decades. People in cities and towns throughout the world have seen and enjoyed live modern dance performances due largely to the far-reaching tours he pioneered as a virtuoso dancer in the 1950s. Fifty-four years after he made his first avant garde works, he has a collection of 128 dances performed by his own celebrated company (now numbering 16 dancers) and the six-member Taylor 2, as well as renowned ballet and modern dance companies here and abroad. He has set movement to music so memorably that for legions it is impossible to hear certain orchestral works and popular songs and not think of his dances. He has influenced dozens of men and women who have gone on to create their own dances or establish their own troupes. As the subject of the widely seen documentary, Dancemaker, and author of a critically acclaimed autobiography, Private Domain, he has generously shed light on the mystery of the creative process. At 77, he is among the most sought-after choreographers working today, commissioned by leading companies, theaters and presenting organizations the world over. Paul Taylor grew up near Washington, DC. He was a swimmer and a student of art at Syracuse University in the late 1940s until he discovered dance, which he began studying at Juilliard. By 1954 he had assembled a small company of dancers and was making his own dances. A commanding performer despite his late start, he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1955 for the first of seven seasons as a soloist while continuing to choreograph on his own troupe. In 1959 he danced with New York City Ballet as guest artist in George Balanchine’s Episodes. Having created the slyly funny 3 Epitaphs in 1956, he captivated dancegoers in 1962 with his virile grace in the landmark Aureole, set rather cheekily not to modern music but to a baroque score, as Junction was the year before. After retiring as a performer, Taylor devoted himself fully to choreography in 1975, and masterworks poured forth: Esplanade, Cloven Kingdom, Airs, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal), Arden Court, Lost, Found and Lost, Last Look, Roses, Musical Offering, Company B, Eventide, Piazzolla Caldera, Promethean Fire, and dozens more. Celebrated for uncommon musicality, he has set dances to Ragtime and reggae, tango and Tin Pan Alley, telephone time announcements and loon calls; turned supermarket music and novelty tunes into high art; and continually found inspiration in works of Bach, Handel and their baroque brethren. During the 1950s Taylor began to bring modern dance to America’s college campuses and small towns as well as larger cultural centers, and in 1960 his company made its first international tour. It has since performed in some 520 cities in 62 countries. In 1966 the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation was established to help bring Taylor’s works to the largest possible audience, facilitate his ability to make new dances, and preserve his growing repertoire. Taylor has received every important honor given to artists in the United States and France. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in 1993. In 1992 he was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors and received an Emmy Award for Speaking in Tongues, produced by
WNET/New York the previous year. In 1995 he received the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts and was named one of 50 prominent Americans honored in recognition of their outstanding achievement by the Library of Congress’s Office of Scholarly Programs. He was elected to knighthood by the French government as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1969 and was elevated to the ranks of Officier in 1984 and Commandeur in 1990. In January 2000 he was awarded France’s highest honor, the Légion d’Honneur, for exceptional contributions to French culture. Taylor is the recipient of three Guggenheim Fellowships and has received honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from California Institute of the Arts, Connecticut College, Duke University,
The Juilliard School, Skidmore College, the State University of New York at Purchase, and Syracuse University. Awards for lifetime achievement include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship – often called the “genius award” – and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. Other awards include the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and the New York City Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture. In 1989 he was elected one of ten honorary American members of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Since 1968, when Aureole first entered the repertory of the Royal Danish Ballet, Taylor’s works have been licensed for performance by more than 75 companies worldwide. In 1993, Taylor formed Taylor 2, which brings many of the choreographer’s masterworks to smaller venues around the world. Taylor 2 also teaches Taylor style in schools and workplaces and at community gatherings. Taylor’s autobiography, originally published by Alfred A. Knopf and re-released by North Point Press and later by the University of Pittsburgh Press, was nominated by the National Book Critics Circle as the most distinguished biography of 1987. Taylor and his Company are the subject of Dancemaker, Matthew Diamond’s award-winning, Oscar-nominated film, hailed by Time as “perhaps the best dance documentary ever.”