Bodies fly through the air, astonishing the audience with feats of athleticism, evocations of romantic longing, and emotional battles expressed by physicality set to music. While Paul Taylor may not be a household name, he’s a giant in the world of dance – hailed as the greatest American choreographer across the 20th and 21st centuries and “One of the most searching and singular imaginations of our time” (The New York Times). Once you’ve witnessed his work, the memory of his muscular, yet fragile artistry, set on a canvas of human bodies moving with nature-defying grace, will stay with you.
In their 2016/17 season, Providence-based arts nonprofit FirstWorks shines a spotlight on Taylor and his creative work through a five-month long residency that offers our community an opportunity to come closer to great art through master classes, in-school workshops, talks, film screenings, performances, and an extraordinary world premiere. What can we expect? If Taylor’s past record of redefining his art form is any indication, something dizzying, irreverent, and sensual that taps into our deepest human instincts and brings modern dance to new audiences and participants alike.
According to FirstWorks Executive Artistic Director and chief curator Kathleen Pletcher, the Paul Taylor Legacy Project realizes FirstWorks’ mission to connect art with audiences. Pletcher, who travels the world building relationships with master artists and bringing them to Rhode Island audiences, says Taylor fits right in with her vision of bringing together the international and the hyperlocal. She says, “Great creative collaborations are at the root of each unforgettable FirstWorks season. It’s been exhilarating to work for over a year with the Paul Taylor Foundation to bring this project to Rhode Island and celebrate a living legacy across art, music, dance, and American history.”
Taylor is now 86, an age when most artists’ signature work is behind them. Having worked with master dancemakers such as Martha Graham and George Balanchine, and won accolades ranging from the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship to the National Medal of Arts, he could justifiably rest on his laurels. So it is with great fanfare that Rhode Island prepares to welcome a towering icon who continues to create remarkable new work and remains committed to community engagement. With the start of the FirstWorks Artistic Icons series in late 2016, Taylor and his namesake company will exchange their New York studio for Providence and collaborate with FirstWorks on a series of performances and interactive community events.
His wildly dexterous young dancers will make Rhode Island their home, at least temporarily, as they put the finishing touches on a brand-new work and perform it on February 3rd at The Vets ahead of the Paul Taylor Dance Company’s performance run at Lincoln Center in New York. On the same evening, the Company will also perform Taylor’s classic, exuberant piece Esplanade accompanied by live music from the Brown University Orchestra, featuring a special guest soloist, internationally renowned violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv. For spectators who thrill to gravity-defying dance, powerful live music, or the chance to see a cultural touchstone in action – or all three – this is an experience not to be missed and a bright spot in the long New England winter.
Taylor is a famously private man – which, naturally, pulls writers, filmmakers, and other curious folk to try and explain the man behind the curtain. From Jamestown to Westport to Providence, local communities have the opportunity to attend documentary screenings that invite viewers behind the scenes. Outside of the theatre, meanwhile, audiences and participants may encounter the trailblazing, Harlem-raised Adams Sisters – Carolyn Adams and Julie Adams Strandberg – who co-founded the American Dance Legacy Initiative (ADLI) in 1993, at Brown. Carolyn was a principal Taylor dancer who created signature roles in major Taylor pieces, including Esplanade, while Julie is the founding director of the Brown dance program and co-founded The Harlem Dance Foundation with her parents and sister. In conjunction with FirstWorks, ADLI has woven the Paul Taylor Legacy Project into their annual program of community events.
FirstWorks continues its groundbreaking tradition of bringing high-profile artists to Rhode Island audiences three weeks later. On February 24th, Rennie Harris Puremovement brings their 25th anniversary tour to The Vets. Harris, often recognized as the best hip-hop dancer on earth, will dazzle audiences with a pure celebration of the essence of hip-hop, breaking down the barriers between street and stage with compelling, original, and wonder-provoking fluidity.
Dance might be the least known or understood of the arts: it’s a dynamic medium that can’t be preserved in a book or museum. But dance is also an ancient way of telling stories, reflective of our multi-cultural heritage and adaptable to varied settings. It should not be underestimated in its power to defy stereotypes and banish misconceptions. This season, FirstWorks connects Rhode Islanders with artists and companies that are interpreting this homegrown American art in brand-new ways.
As our community witnesses Taylor’s breathtaking dancers bring his vision to life, this FirstWorks Artistic Icons series offers a world-class audience experience. It brings Rhode Islanders that rare glimpse of an elusive artist at work and engaging with the world. In Taylor’s words, “I want to lift the audience to the miraculous in human nature. After all, we shouldn’t be here, with all the odds against us in nature. It’s kind of unusual and wonderful!”
Full residency schedule and tickets are available at first-works.org.