By Gabrielle Welsh
I had the wonderful privilege of being a fly on the wall during The Paul Taylor Dance Company’s final tech rehearsal before their performance at the Newman Performing Arts Center on March 27th. It’s not every day that you get a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsal process for one of the top modern dance companies in the world, and as I entered the June Sawner Gates concert hall, I resolved to absorb as much as I could. My eyes immediately landed on the stage where the entire company of dancers was spread across an expansive white marley, receiving feedback from the company’s artistic director, Michael Novak. I was catching them at the end of a run-through of a piece they were teaching for a performance later that night.
These dancers demonstrated such graciousness and humility as they accepted corrections from Michael. You could see them nodding, soaking everything in, and then repeating the movement phrase in question multiple times with the corrections to engrain it into their bodies. I loved seeing this willingness to grow and challenge themselves as artists through maintaining the integrity of Paul’s original works. They even took the time to help each other with certain choreograph sections, demonstrating it and then watching and providing personalized corrections to the company member who was learning. In internationally-renowned modern dance companies like this, dancers often remain for many years, so more experienced company members teach choreography to newer members. I enjoyed observing this sense of company community in action. Watching the feedback process also highlighted the physical strength of these artists. You could see the muscles in their arms and legs as they repeated sections of choreography, working through rough spots. The control with which they transitioned between movements or stopped their turns on a dime further highlighted this incredible strength. I couldn’t stop thinking about the level of dedication and training it took every dancer on that stage to get to where they are today.
We also had the privilege of hearing Michael Novak talk to us about the company’s mission, his approach to taking over such an iconic company after its originator passed away, and his hopes for the company’s future. One thing that really stuck out was his focus on education. Michael emphasized how the company’s education department strives to reach people who might not traditionally receive exposure to dance. For example, a lot of Paul’s pieces have historical themes and/or reflect the time period during which he created them. The outreach department uses this to connect with history teachers and have them bring local schools to see the company perform around the world. This is important for increasing awareness of and appreciation for dance, and I loved hearing that a company of this size was using its large platform to address this. I also enjoyed learning about Michael’s collaborations with the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. Usually you’d think of New York as the artistic hub for a company like this, but Michael works very closely with Aisha Ahmad-Post, the executive director of the Newman Center. They are partnering to build a collaboration network with Mexico where the US and Mexico will exchange choreographers and artists, and I am very excited to watch that program develop over the next few years.
The rehearsal viewing concluded with a run through of one last piece, Arden Court, which reminded me of everything I love about Paul Taylor’s works. It was a whirlwind of joy conveyed through non-stop movement that included a melange of classic Taylor shapes and moves. All of the dancers had strong and specific lines that were all identical, their arms swinging into “V”s that all reached their peak at the exact same angle. They continued to demonstrate their strength through the abruptness with which they were able to stop movements and redirect all of their momentum in another direction. But the most magical part of this piece (and a lot of Paul Taylor’s work) was the musicality. William Boyce’s baroque score layered various string and percussion instruments to create a boisterous, energetic atmosphere. Dancers rode on the melodies played by different instruments, visually transferring the music’s complexity onto the stage. Paul’s decision to use the same music at the piece’s beginning and end allowed the audience to introspect slightly as they assessed how they were hearing the music differently after being taken on the journey of the piece.
Overall, I had a wonderful afternoon with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, and I will be forever grateful to the Newman Center for the Performing Arts for continuing to bring world-class companies to Denver. I can’t wait to see what next season brings!
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Gabrielle is a graduate from the University of Maryland- College Park where she earned a BA in dance and a BS in ecology and evolutionary biology. During her four years there, she performed in works by Ping Chong, Leslie Felbain, Alvin Mayes, Orange Grove Dance Theater, and Pearson Widrig Dance Theater. She moved to NYC after graduation where she performed with the 92nd Street Y Musical Theater Development Lab, Mary Seidman, and Nicole Colbert Dance/Theater. She is very excited to continue her dance journey in Denver!