Photo courtesy of butlerartscenter.org.
JULIA BLUHM | ASST. CULTURE EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
This Friday, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, one of the country’s most famous modern dance troupes, will perform at Clowes Hall.
The company will also be teaching a master class as well as rehearsing with some Butler dance students. These students will perform a piece of Paul Taylor’s choreography for their Midwinter performance the following week.
Paul Taylor, the company’s choreographer and artistic director, established the company in 1954. Since then, he has choreographed 146 dances over a span of 60 years, and is widely considered to be one of the main influences of American modern dance.
Susan McGuire, a Butler dance professor who danced professionally with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, said she had countless memorable experiences during a time when Taylor was making some of his best known works.
One of the most memorable experiences was the story of how she ended up at the company in the first place: Taylor spotted her in class and asked her to work with him on a new piece.
Three months later, they had made an entire dance that was 20 minutes long. He had given her a six-minute solo and had hired her as a part of the company. This was a highly unusual way to join a company, but McGuire was overjoyed.
“I thought, ‘oh my god,’ because Paul at that point was the new one to watch,” McGuire said. “This was 1977, and he was just on the verge of making some real masterpieces.”
McGuire’s best memories of the Paul Taylor Dance Company involve making lifelong friends, performing all over the world and working in the studio with Taylor.
“The moments in the studio when things were going really, really well — that was good,” she said. “Sometimes it could be really bumpy and awful and he was in a bad mood. But the times when he felt good about what he was doing were absolutely magical. He created some of his best work when I was in the company.”
Now, McGuire works to pass on the knowledge she’s gained throughout her career, including from her time in the Taylor company, to the next generation. She has been working with a select group of Butler dancers since the fall to rehearse Piazzolla Caldera, a tango-influenced dance that Paul Taylor choreographed. It will be performed during the Midwinter Dance Festival, from Feb. 14 to Feb. 18.
On Thursday, the students rehearsing Piazzolla Caldera will have an opportunity to be coached by more Paul Taylor experts: some Paul Taylor Dance Company members themselves.
Tatum Farlow, a junior dance performance major, said that being coached by company members who have likely performed Piazzolla Caldera themselves will be an invaluable opportunity.
“[The company] obviously knows Paul Taylor’s work really, really well and they’ve probably at some point done the piece,” Farlow said. “So, they have their own experiences to take from. Susan didn’t do this piece because she was already out of the company by the time it was performed. So being coached by someone who has done it will be a great new opportunity.”
First-year dance arts administration major Daniel Scofield expects that being coached by the company members will help students see details of the choreography in a new light, considering they have been rehearsing it since the fall.
“There are so many subtle details that we still have yet to think about,” he said. “They’ll probably say something and we’ll be like ‘woah! I never thought about it that way.’ And I think it’ll really elevate the piece to a whole new level.”
Piazzolla Carera, while McGuire said that it’s very aerobically difficult and has some challenging duets, is also high energy and fun and the students have done well with it.
“The movement is fun to do, it’s kind of sexy, and I think the dancers are really having a good time with it,” McGuire said. “They’ve been terrific. They were really, really quick to pick it up.”
Audrey Lukacz, a sophomore dance-pedagogy major, said the dance has a really interesting story and that she’s been working to come up with her own unique character within it.
“It’s a tango, to start, and the way [McGuire] likes to describe it is that we’re all mature, worldly people who have gone through life, basically have gone through hell and back,” Lukacz said. “It takes place in a brothel, or bar, kind of setting. And as for the character, she wants us all to be unique. I’m the youngest girl so I’ve been trying to embrace that as part of my character: being young, but still being able to keep up with the older women.”
Farlow agrees learning Piazzolla has been a great experience, especially since it is such a well-known work by a renowned choreographer.
“[Paul Taylor] is a genius, and to do something this creative and smart has really been a joy,” she said.
McGuire also hopes that, in addition to the coaching session for students in Piazzolla Caldera, all dance students will be able to learn something from seeing the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s performance.
“The stuff that I teach, although there’s no Taylor technique… is really informed by the way Paul puts movement together,” McGuire said. “It’s not Paul’s movement, it’s mine, but it really moves through space, it covers space, it’s grounded, it’s aerobic. And I think the dancers will probably be able to recognize and identify with that when they see the performance.”
McGuire said that the company will perform three very different pieces from three different decades: one from 1976, before McGuire had joined the company; one very romantic, soft piece from the 80s; and Promethean Fire, which was created around the time the twin towers fell in 2001.
“I’m hoping the dancers will get something out of each one and see how different they are,” McGuire said about the company’s performance.
Before the show on Friday, there will also be a “pre-performance conversation”’ with McGuire, as well as the rehearsal director for the Taylor company, Bettie deJong, and director of Dance Kaleidoscope, David Hochoy. This will begin at 7:15 p.m. in the Krannert Room of Clowes Hall.
The performance itself will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase at the Clowes Hall box office, or at the Butler Arts Center website.