Paul Taylor: Creative Domain
PAUL TAYLOR: CREATIVE DOMAIN, documentary, not rated, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
Over the years, the legendary dancer and choreographer Paul Taylor has gathered a lot of laurels; now in his eighties, he’s not content to rest on them. Kate Geis’ documentary shows the master still conjuring up ideas and distilling them through the bodies of his talented young dancers, who create poetry in motion by executing physically what he now can do only mentally.
It’s a painstaking process. It takes, he tells us, about an hour and a half of rehearsal to produce a finished minute of dance. He watches from the sideline of the studio, looking like Fred Astaire channeling Yoda as he arranges his dancers in position like an animatronics wizard.
“The Thinker,” he instructs James Samson, one of his principal dancers. Samson assumes the pose of the classic Rodin statue. Taylor studies him, then issues instructions, refining the position, sculpting the pose, physically moving and bending Samson’s limbs until they resemble the image in his head.
We are watching the creation of a dance Taylor launched in 2010, the 133rd of his career. It’s called Three Dubious Memories, and it probes the unreliability of memory as three members of a love triangle recall the relationship in different ways. “Ever see Rashomon?” Taylor asks, referring to the classic Japanese movie that explores contradictory eyewitness testimony about a crime. The young dancers look blank.
They will follow anywhere he leads them. They clearly worship him, but it’s a distant love, a love that knows its place. There’s a Chorus Linelike tension as he chooses the principals for this piece, an exhilaration for the chosen, patience among the rest, believing their time will come. Amy Young, who is cast as the girl in the triangle, has waited 12 years for this. “You don’t get a lot of personal time with him,” she says. “These dances are the insights we get to him.”
The dance takes shape, and the last part of the film is the premiere of the finished product. Taylor remains vaguely dissatisfied. A collaborator observes that only once in their decades together, with his classic Esplanade, has Taylor ever said, “Now that’s what I was trying to do!”
Creative Domain does not minimize the drudgery and the pain of creating a dance. It will appeal mostly to dance aficionados; for the less passionate, it would be like someone not interested in tennis watching a documentary about Roger Federer doing stretches, calisthenics, and drills in preparation for Wimbledon. The genius is apparent, but the process is not for everyone. — Jonathan Richards
Moving legend: Paul Taylor (background) and James Samson