Paul Taylor


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Photo: Jack Mitchell

Profile: He has been called a genius; a legend; a cultural icon. Time calls him “the reigning master of modern dance,” and the San Francisco Examiner declares him “without question the greatest living American choreographer.” But Paul Taylor considers himself, above all, a reporter, whose job is to observe us and record his impressions.

The Early Years: Paul Taylor grew up near Washington, DC. He was a swimmer and a student of art at Syracuse University in the late 1940s until he discovered dance, which he then studied at Juilliard. By 1954 he had assembled a small company of dancers and presented his own choreography. A commanding performer, he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 1955 for the first of seven seasons as a soloist while continuing to make dances on his own troupe. In 1959 he danced with New York City Ballet as guest artist in George Balanchine’s Episodes. Having created the masterful 3 Epitaphs in 1956, he captivated dancegoers in 1962 with his virile grace in the landmark Aureole. After retiring as a performer in 1975, Mr. Taylor devoted himself fully to choreography.

Famous Works: Classics poured forth: Esplanade… Cloven Kingdom… Airs… Arden Court… Lost, Found and Lost… Last Look… Roses… Musical Offering… Company B… Piazzolla Caldera… and dozens more. Celebrated for uncommon musicality, he has set dances to Ragtime and reggae, tango and Tin Pan Alley, time recordings and loon calls; turned elevator music and novelty tunes into high art; and found particularly cooperative collaborators in J.S. Bach and his Baroque brethren.

In 1960, Mr. Taylor’s Company made its first international tour, to Spoleto, Italy; it has since performed in more than 450 cities in over 60 countries. In 1966 the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation was established to help bring Mr. Taylor’s works to the largest possible audience, facilitate his ability to make new dances and preserve his growing repertoire.

Awards: Mr. Taylor is the recipient of dozens of awards and honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in 1993. In 1992 he received an Emmy Award for Speaking in Tongues, produced by WNET/New York the previous year. He was a recipient of the 1992 Kennedy Center Honors ‘for enhancing the lives of people around the world and enriching the culture of our nation.’ In 1995 he received the Algur H. Meadows Award for Excellence in the Arts for work that ‘endures as some of the most innovative and important the world has ever seen.’ In 1995 he was named one of 50 prominent Americans honored in recognition of their outstanding achievement by the Library of Congress’s Office of Scholarly Programs.

Mr. Taylor was elected to knighthood by the French government as Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1969 and has since been elevated to the ranks of Officier (1984) and Commandeur (1990). In January 2000 he was awarded France’s highest honor, the Légion d’Honneur, for exceptional contributions to French culture. He is the recipient of three Guggenheim Fellowships and has received honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from California Institute of the Arts, Connecticut College, Duke University, Juilliard, Skidmore College, the State University of New York at Purchase, and Syracuse University. Awards for lifetime achievement include a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship – often called the “genius award” – and the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. Other awards include the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and the New York City Mayor’s Award of Honor for Art and Culture. In 1989 Mr. Taylor was elected one of ten honorary American members of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Education: In 1993 Mr. Taylor formed Taylor 2, a company of six dancers who bring many of the choreographer’s masterworks to smaller venues around the world. Taylor 2 also teaches the Taylor style in schools and workplaces and at community gatherings.

Biography: Paul Taylor’s autobiography, Private Domain, originally published by Alfred A. Knopf and re-released by the University of Pittsburgh Press, was nominated by the National Book Critics Circle as the most distinguished biography of 1987. Mr. Taylor and his Company are the subject of Dancemaker, Matthew Diamond’s award-winning, Oscar-nominated film, hailed by Time Magazine as ‘perhaps the best dance documentary ever.’