Film Society of Lincoln Center: Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center
September 24, 2015
Paul Taylor, one of the great modern masters of dance, is in his eighties and still hard at work. This documentary takes us inside the artist’s creative process. It’s a fascinating journey even though I couldn’t explain it (and neither, it seems, can Taylor.)
We watch Taylor making Three Dubious Memories, his 133rd work. He starts, as he tells us, “with a blank canvas.” Working with his dancers, he teases out snippets of movement and explains postures, basing some actions on what the glorious dancers can—and once in a while can’t—do. Taylor wants a particular nuance at the end of a lift by Robert Kleinendorst whose body just can’t end up that way so a slightly different pose is adopted. Ideas are tried and discarded or revamped and enfolded. It’s almost mystical.
Taylor tells us that Memories takes a Rashomon-like viewpoint in that the three principals (Amy Young, James Samson and Robert Kleinendorst) each remember an experience differently. Taylor demonstrates steps and gestures, lowering himself to the floor with a little difficulty or showing how an arm should come to rest in an awkward hug. Sometimes he throws out a word like “run” and steps back to see what the dancers make of it.
The dancers admire Taylor and seem willing to take on any challenge he poses.
“Can you leap over him?” he asks Amy Young who says “sure,” does so and then asks what kind of leap the choreographer wants. At another point, several dancers are tightly entwined; Taylor parts a pair of legs and makes a hole for another body to slide through.
Kate Geis puts her camera mostly in Taylor’s New York City rehearsal studio and keeps it there so that viewers get an intimate, behind-the-scenes look. When composer Peter Elyakin Taussig comes to a run-through, we revel in his exhilaration. Throughout, the creative process appears haphazard but ultimately the work gels and we see the opening at an auditorium in Texas. However, Taylor isn’t entirely sure he fully realized his intention. Bette deJong, Taylor’s rehearsal director and former dance partner, says he almost never ends up with a dance just as he envisioned it.
During the film, Taylor smokes, chews gum and makes coffee. He is soft spoken and enigmatic; even his dancers who see him daily say they know him best through his works. He admits to a distaste for “choreographic babble,” meaning dance-speak, and confesses to a fondness for football halftime formations because the patterns interest him. He can’t always articulate what he wants but, in a meeting with costume designer Sandro Loquasto, he’s clear. More of the time his ideas seem to simply emerge.
After the premiere we return to the rehearsal studio with a different piece of music on a tape machine. Taylor is off on a new quest.