Obituary

Taylor one of last modern dance giants

American choreographer Paul Taylor (above) brought technical prowess and physicality to the dance art form, often coupled with chirpy, colourful movements, scores and costumes, as seen in a performance of Public Domain (left) by his dance company in
American choreographer Paul Taylor brought technical prowess and physicality to the dance art form, often coupled with chirpy, colourful movements, scores and costumes, as seen in a performance of Public Domain (above) by his dance company in New York in 2010.PHOTO: NYTIMES
American choreographer Paul Taylor (above) brought technical prowess and physicality to the dance art form, often coupled with chirpy, colourful movements, scores and costumes, as seen in a performance of Public Domain (left) by his dance company in
American choreographer Paul Taylor (above) brought technical prowess and physicality to the dance art form, often coupled with chirpy, colourful movements, scores and costumes, as seen in a performance of Public Domain by his dance company in New York in 2010.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Paul Taylor, a towering figure of American modern dance who imbued his choreography with joyful, poetic exuberance, has died, his eponymous company said on Thursday. He was 88.

Taylor, who died on Wednesday, brought a radical new approach to the art form in the 1950s, creating a bridge between early modern masters like Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan and experimental contemporary dance.

He is one of the last giants of modern dance to die, after Graham, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch. His dance company was one of the first from the United States to tour the world.

"Paul Taylor was one of the world's greatest dancemakers and his passing deeply saddens not only those of us who worked with him, but also people all over the world whose spirits have been touched by his incomparable art," said Paul Taylor Dance Foundation artistic director Michael Novak.

"We are grateful for your love and support as we begin to carry on his legacy with the utmost fidelity and devotion," added the dance company member, who Taylor picked earlier this year to serve as his successor.

In a particularly provocative 1957 concert of seven works, Taylor's Duet had him standing motionless while his partner reclined looking "calm in an exciting way" before the curtain closed.

Most of the audience left, Graham dubbed him a "naughty boy" and Dance Observer published a review featuring 26 sq cm of blank paper.

That daring, convention-breaking spirit paved the way for the postmodern dance greats who emerged out of the Judson Dance Theatre in the early 1960s, such as Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer.

Taylor collaborated closely with artists both avant-garde and established, including on multiple pieces with designs by Robert Rauschenberg, others with music composed by John Cage and a decades-long collaboration with painter Alex Katz.

Through it all, he kept a sense of humour with a twinkle in his eye.

Among his roster of illustrious company designers was one named George Tacit.

It was only recently that Taylor admitted - somewhat tacitly - that he was in fact Tacit, having shied from making it known that he had designed costumes for a company that already bears his name.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 29, 1930 in the wake of the Great Depression, Taylor grew up in the US capital and surrounding region.

While attending Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship, he discovered dance in books he read at the library and transferred to the Juilliard School in New York.

He assembled a small group of dancers in 1954, performing himself until focusing more exclusively on choreography 20 years later.

Taylor, who danced in his early years for Graham, Cunningham and George Balanchine - considered the father of American ballet - brought technical prowess and physicality to the art form, often coupled with chirpy, colourful movements, scores and costumes.

He gained national and international renown with pieces such as Aureole (1962), initially intended to upset modern dance purists, but ultimately celebrated by modern ballet companies with its accessible, upbeat Handel score and lightly swaying costumes.

Showing his versatility, a year later he created the bleak Scudorama, where eight dancers shrouded beneath multicoloured beach towels crawled across the floor - set to a score that he commissioned, asking that it have the same tempo as Igor Stravinsky's The Rite Of Spring.

Matthew Bourne, the British choreographer known for his all-male take on the Russian ballet classic Swan Lake, mourned "a great loss", adding that Taylor's "influence and sense of pure joy in movement continue to be an inspiration to dancers worldwide".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2018, with the headline 'Taylor one of last modern dance giants'. Print Edition | Subscribe