Last week, Robert Kleinendorst, dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, taught a master class at NYU.
This was part of my Modern Technique & Pedagogy class taught by the incredible Deborah Damast. In this class, we are learning both the conceptual, experiential, and pedagogic knowledge of five dance education traditions: Graham, Hawkins, Dunham, Horton (yay, my favorite!), and Taylor.
I studied Taylor at Butler University with Susan McGuire, former Taylor and Graham dancer, my faculty advisor, and a great friend and influence as seen on my ‘circles of influence’ doodle and in this oh-so-accurate drawing of her.
As was discussed in Rob’s masterclass, Taylor did not create a codified technique, or series of exercises to be done in ‘his style’. There are however, certain concepts that are usually incorporated in classes that prepare dancers to do his work. Some of these include spiral, unnatural use of physics applied to direction of the body, or moving off-center to then quickly re-find balance. I remember thinking of Taylor warm-ups as ballet on the bottom (rond de jambe, tedus, fondus, degages) with a spiraling, contracting upper body on top, and finding the combination of these seemingly separate aspects particularly difficult in college.
One of Susan’s exercises that we often did was:
a degage en Croix to a lung off-center, using either contraction or high release, to push back to a balanced degage, finishing with a plie in 1rst or 5th. (kind of like this video, but to the front and back as well.)
I always loved that first initial push to the degage, reaching far out with the leg and curving the spine in the lung, and HATED the moment of return to a balanced position on one leg. It would give me so much anxiety if I couldn’t hold it, and would then make me want to restrict the freedom or push of the ‘fun parts’ so that I could be ‘correct’ in the balanced part. I’m afraid that if I release something, I might not be able to get it back. This might be a theme of my life, as well as hindrance in my dancing.
There were a lot of great things about Rob’s class that I could bring up; the teaching method of scaffolding within class, the emotional and physical encouragement of risk. For now, I want to share one bit of imagery he used that I found particularly helpful.
When approaching a difficult balanced movement (plie, sousou, extend one leg a la second with flexed foot, pull back in to passe while on releve, add batterie, close behind in plie 5th) Rob suggested we imagine ourselves as one of those old G.I.O. dolls where you could stretch the top half and bottom half apart to reveal the inner wire holding them together. He then joked that most kids don’t understand that reference, but hey, I’m old enough that this image makes perfect sense.
I think as dancers, we consider opposition a lot. Down to go up, think lift when approaching low-level movement. Even in balance, we know a held pose isn’t static and has continual movement. I at least, have not really considered that the body can expand energy in both directions at the same time in something other than an arabesque where the limbs are obviously reaching both front and back.
And guess what, it actually worked for me. As it turns out, balance and freedom can be found through the separating of the upper and lower half that I so hated in college. IT doesn’t help my balance to try to hold on for dear life, or to only send all of my energy along one course or path. At least in dance, moving in a lot of directions at once keeps it all together.
In considering Taylor’s work, we examined his ability to showcase humanity in its most terrifying and contrasting joyful, wonderful dimensions.
He says, “From the beginning my dances have been both dark and light-positive and negative- with grays in between” (from Masters of Movement which I’ve mentioned in ‘the Fallen Idol’, ‘Shouting with a Bullhorn’, and even here when I lived in New York in 2010, p. 174).
As I am discovering, even in approach to the technique of dance, a little more gray helps me find the fullest of physical and non-physical capabilities.
Many thanks to Rob, Deborah, and my classmates for a fantastic Taylor experience. (That’s a lie, but I printed it- watch to 0:45. Haha, Paul…)