Paul Taylor (1930-2018) was a major figure in the dance world with a career that spanned more than six decades. He was prolific, producing a large body of work, often inspired by people doing everyday things, including doing nothing at all, witty works that reflected the human experience in exquisite simplicity. Like many great artists, his approach took awhile to become appreciated, but he eventually won fans, and with his own company, reached a level of international renown unmatched by few other single-choreographer companies.
Taylor worked well into his 80s, choreographing at least two new pieces a year, 147 in all.
“The works that satisfy me the most? They’re the ones I’m working on. It’s the work process that I like. Once it’s done, I want to put everything out of my mind. I’d rather forget it.”
His Paul Taylor Dance Company is one of the world’s most successful modern dance companies, touring our pretty planet, and with a three-week season each year at Lincoln Center. Taylor dancer Michael Novak, named by Taylor to succeed him earlier this year, becomes only the second artistic director in the company’s 64-year history.
His signature work is Esplanade (1975), a joyful, athletic piece, with dancers running, skipping, hurling themselves into each other’s arms and tumbling to the floor with abandon to a pair of Bach concertos. The pairing of Baroque music with a very modern style of dance was one of Taylor’s trademarks. Yet, he used other classical music, ragtime, tango, and popular songs to set his dances.
My favorite of his works is Company B a set of dances to the music of the Andrews Sisters. It is jaunty and celebratory, but with dark moments, including young men as soldiers, shot and crumpling to the ground.
Taylor was born during the Great Depression. He studied Art at Syracuse University, and was on the swim team; at 6-foot tall and with a huge arm span, he was perfect for the sport. He transferred to The Juilliard School in Manhattan, after taking a summer dance class where he met the great modern choreographer Martha Graham. His name is now forever linked with hers and Merce Cunningham, the great trio of modern dance choreographers. Graham died in 1991, Cunningham in 2009.
In 1953, Taylor started his own company. He was 24-years-old, and his first collaboration was with artist Robert Rauschenberg. A year later he joined Graham’s company as a soloist, dancing with her for seven years, while continuing to build his own company.
In 1959, Taylor collaborated with another giant of dance, George Balanchine, in his Episodes. Balanchine offered Taylor a permanent job with New York City Ballet, but he turned it down, put off by the formality of ballet.
“I just wanted to be a modern dancer. I picked what I wanted to do, and I’ve stuck to that.”
Taylor’s career as a dancer ended in 1974, after he collapsed onstage from illness and exhaustion during a performance. But as a choreographer, he was kept on going. Taylor:
“Working on dances has become a way of life, an addiction that at times resembles a fatal disease. Even so, I’ve no intention of kicking the habit.”
Taylor was 88-years-old when he took his final bow on Wednesday.
Dancer and choreographer Lindsay Kemp (1938- 2018) left this world on Sunday at 80-years-old. He married the subversive essence of gay icons Jean Cocteau and Jean Genet with the British punk and glam-rock sceneof the 1970s. He was a mentor to both David Bowie and Kate Bush, staging Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust concerts. He was also a popular performer with his own company, and Sadler’s Wells and other dance companies.
Like Paul Taylor, he faced critical hostility, but unlike Taylor, Kemp never grew to be loved by dance critics. His work was more embraced by theatre critics. He left Britain for good in the late 1970s, living and working in Spain and Italy, although he did return to Sadler’s Wells in 1983, dancing as Vaslav Nijinsky, shown as a white-faced doll in the last stages of insanity.
Kemp took classes at Bradford College of Art, where he became friends with David Hockney, before training at the Ballet Rambert school in London and studying with the great mime Marcel Marceau in Paris.
He formed the Lindsay Kemp Company in 1962 and built a considerable repertory of work over the next 10 years. He created dance versions of Georg Büchner‘s Woyzeck and Oscar Wilde‘s Salomé, with Kemp as Salomé.
Bowie signed up for dance classes with him in the mid-1960s and, after a brief affair, they formed a lasting creative friendship, with Kemp serving as Bowie’s muse.
Kemp’s signature piece is Flowers, ”a pantomime for Jean Genet”. Kate Bush saw Flowers and enrolled in classes with Kemp. She claims he taught her how to express emotions using her body. Kemp offered her a job doing wardrobe for his company. She later wrote a song, Moving, for him and often turned to him for choreography for her concerts.
Kemp’s work was more performance art than dance, and he operated with a defiant, heroic queerness. Critics called him self-indulgent trash and bizarre. He successfully played a glam-rock queen in Todd Haynes‘s Velvet Goldmine (1998) with Ewan McGregor and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Kemp, who lived in Tuscany, was still performing at the start of this summer, and on the day before his passing, he was rehearsing for a upcoming tour of Italy with his company.