Paul Taylor at the Center of American Modern Dance?

Recently, I read an article titled A Critic’s Conversation: Modern Dance Madness on the artsbeat blog.  Alastair Macaulay, a NYTimes critic, introduced a critical dialogue with his peers about the state of Modern Dance today.  In his introduction, he writes:

“The recent season has prompted me to propose that Taylor stands at the center of the American modern-dance tradition.”

For reference, Paul Taylor (b. 1930) is an American modern choreographer who has been creating work since the 50’s.  Recently, Taylor’s company had a three week engagement at Lincoln Center (home to the American Ballet Theatre), which, in a way, is a feat for the modern dance world at large.   This article, written by Mr. Macaulay, is a review of that event.

I felt a bit uneasy when I read Mr. Macaulay’s statement.  Personally, I am not a huge fan of Taylor’s work, but regardless of my opinions on his choreography, how can any one person be at the center point of modern dance?

I feel passionately that Taylor and his works cannot exist as the center point because there is no center.  Dance is an art form!  It’s always shifting and changing and responding to the moment.  Some choreography is stuck in the past and Taylor’s work, I might argue, has qualities that lend itself to being “dated.”  How then , in that case, can something of the past be at the center point of the present?  I wonder if it is the popularity and longevity of his work that makes it seem as though it could hold such authority.  The Taylor aesthetic is distinct, and although there are many companies who imitate his style, it is certainly not the only one out there.  Trisha Brown, who is also a highly reputable modern choreographer, has a style that is nothing like Taylor’s.  I just don’t understand how one can measure dance in such a way.

Many of the critics in this article had similar opinions.  Claudia La Rocco wrote, “I wouldn’t say there is a single tradition in modern dance, or a single center — and this, I think, is a great strength of contemporary dance today, that there is no one ruling orthodoxy,” and I whole-heartedly agree.

What is most rewarding about this article, however, is the list of this year’s choreographers mentioned who are keeping Modern unorthodox.  Many of the names I had never encountered before seeing this article.  Keely Garfield, for example, is making such exciting work that really blurs the line between dance and theatre.

I met this article as a dramaturg and researched all the artists I didn’t know.  I’m elated that the NYTimes is recognizing these brilliant artisans!  They all have something unique to offer to the American dance tradition and give me hope for its future.  I say that because recently, I’ve felt that the only way to do the work that I’m interested in is to go to Europe.  Although I still have a great desire to travel abroad to make art, I feel as though there is a possibility for me to make alliances with working artists in America who feel similarly about theatre and dance.

It also brings me joy to know that these artists are being recognized.  I love that although they’re on the fringe, the virtuosity of their work is finding a voice through popular arts and entertainment news.   These are the artists, I believe and I think some NYTimes believe, that are keeping the modern tradition alive and well.

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