NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Rachel Berman. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
Legendary modern dancemaker Paul Taylor, one of the seminal artists of the last two centuries, passed away on August 29th, exactly one month after his 88th birthday. What can I add to the list of accolades already bestowed upon my old boss? He was an icon of the dance world, a giant, a ground-breaking pioneer of American modern dance, a naughty boy, a mischievous spy, a brooding introvert, an internationally-decorated choreographer, a genius. He was once deemed the “greatest choreographer alive” by The New York Times. Many others have weighed in the months since his passing: critics, collaborators, current company members, and former dancers. I am one of the later. We all have our personal stories, our individual Paul relationships and interactions, and yet we are all connected. Lucky enough to have lived “in the time of Paul Taylor,” he - the ultimate loner - brought us together as a cohesive family unit.
I spent a decade dancing for him. Dancing in and collaborating on the creation of his masterworks around the world with my “Taylor family,” was a dream come true. I dedicated ten years to this one choreographic voice, and if I could, I’d give him 10 more. Those years were everything.
I fell in love with Paul’s work while earning my BFA at Purchase College. After having the chance to dance his Cloven Kingdom in our school concert, I was bitten by the Taylor bug. I will forever be honored and grateful that my wish to dance in his company came to fruition, as I know, from sitting on the other side of the audition table, that it takes luck to be noticed by Paul. As the saying goes, “Once a dancer always a dancer;” once a “Taylor Dancer” even more so. That moniker is forever imprinted on me. The umbilical cord is still there, though he is not.
I speak about him every day and probably will the rest of my life. All of my teaching is influenced by Mr. Taylor. I teach his style of modern dance, and I have been honored to stage many of his works. His movement vocabulary is in my DNA; I couldn’t get away from it if I tried. I teach my students the iconic “Taylor” arm shapes (such as the V, S, and scoop), specific exercises from Paul (such as the “Taylor Back Exercise”), and others that are rooted in the Graham technique in which he trained. His movement evolved, as most styles or techniques do, from wanting his dancers to move in a certain way. The movement in his style is initiated from the back and torso, and consists of steps which are found in his different dances. There are Aureole runs (from his 1962 work), a specific Taylor waltz, Taylor “chugs”, and many, many jumps that are prevalent in his work. He was not an educator, so we (his dancers) took movements from his dances and made our own exercises to pass on to our students. These exercises are also influenced by our specific backgrounds; my ballet training, for instance, and the Graham, Horton, Cunningham and Limon styles I studied in college.
As a teacher, I feel that my responsibility has always been to do right by him, now more than ever. No matter what path they choose, I want my students to understand his shapes, his grounded athleticism, his ethereal lyricism (the dark and the light), and his history dancing with Graham before starting his own company, which will soon celebrate its 65th anniversary. My students at both Orange Coast Community College and the American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School are lucky to be able to add his style to their tool box of dance “tricks.” I make sure my students at Gillespie know Taylor’s long history with ABT. Several of his masterworks have rotated through their repertoire, and he made one of his most lovely lyrical works, Airs, specifically for the company in 1979. Though he was a rebel like most modern dance innovators, his work translates well to classical dancers: There are shapes. There are lines. He loved Baroque music.
Opening a young dancer’s mind to possibilities is what a teacher lives for. Paul did that for me. Not in so many nurturing words, but simply allowing me to do his work and inhabit his world. He pushed me in ways I didn’t know I could be pushed and gave me opportunities to find things inside me I didn’t know existed. As a member of his company, I saw the world, I danced for kings and queens, and for people who had never seen modern dance before. He gave me a family and a career. As his legacy lives on, I am a part of it, and in turn so are my students.
Originally from Hawaii, Rachel Berman has had a diverse career in the field of dance, the bulk of which was a decade spent performing principal roles with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She has also performed with Ballet Hispanico, May O’Donnell, The American Repertory Dance Company, The Joyce Trisler Danscompany, and the hula companies of Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu and Pua Aliʻi ʻIlima O Nuioka. Ms. Berman appeared in numerous television productions with the Taylor Company and was featured in the Academy Award nominated documentary DANCEMAKER. She served as Associate Producer for Dancers Responding to AIDS, Company Manager for Company C Contemporary Ballet, Development Officer for the Taylor Company and Programs Manager at Dance/NYC. She is also a freelance dance writer. Ms. Berman stages Mr. Taylorʻs works throughout the United States and has been on faculty at the Joffrey Ballet/ New School BFA program, Mid-Pacific School of the Arts High School, LASALLE-SIA Singapore College of the Arts, the American Dance Festival, University of the Arts, the Colburn Dance Academy, California Institute of the Arts, Mills College, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Taylor School. She currently teaches at Orange Coast College and at the William J. Gillespie/ American Ballet Theatre school, both in Southern California. Ms. Berman holds a BFA from Purchase College and an MFA from Hollins University/American Dance Festival and is certified in Pre-Primary through Level 3 of the ABT ® National Training Curriculum.
Dance Photo by Lois Greenfield