Paul Taylor Dance Company is now presenting its annual season at New York City's Lincoln Center, and while Taylor has been one of the nation's leading choreographers for decades, it got its start like a rock band.
"The original company was six members that could travel in a station wagon and dance anywhere," says Ruth Andrien, a former company dancer and director of Taylor 2. "It was part of Paul's mission to put dance in front of the American public."
Taylor 2 is a six-member company that tours and presents programs of dances spanning Taylor's six-decade career, and it is in residence this week at the Marigny Opera House, where it will host daily workshops open to dancers of all skill levels and present three different programs featuring 11 works spanning Taylor's repertoire.
Taylor assembled his own company and started presenting original works in the 1950s. His approach to dance confused audiences at first.
"He came along in the '50s with his postmodern movement," Andrien says. "He was the father of postmodernism for like five minutes."
Legendary choreographer Martha Graham dubbed Taylor the bad boy of dance. But he went on to incorporate all types of movement and themes ranging from idyllic love to incest, joy to alienation and dysfunction. He has created more than 140 pieces, and his work became known for its romanticism, Andrien says.
Taylor 2 was created in 1993 to put Taylor's work and modern dance before a wide array of audiences. The full Paul Taylor Dance Company is three times its size, and doesn't travel as easily as the smaller company.
"It's like a chamber orchestra," Andrien says. "They do edited versions while maintaining the integrity
of the original work, and they can dance in unexpected spaces."
Taylor 2 often does weeklong residencies at colleges, presenting workshops and programs of three or four works. But to reach audiences, it performs in unconventional spaces.
"We've danced on tilted ramps, in old vaudeville houses that have stage doors instead of offstage wings, churches, in halls of hospitals," Andrien says. "We danced in a church sacristy that was 10 by 6 feet. We're very creative about adapting."
The company is doing daily workshops and master classes at the Marigny Opera House Monday through Saturday. (Sessions cost $15; visit www.marignyoperahouse.org for schedule.) From Thursday through Saturday, the company will present three different programs, including works the primary troupe will perform in its New York season in March.
Thursday's program includes 3 Epitaphs, created in 1956 and based on early New Orleans jazz. The original work featured costumes by Robert Rauschenberg, with dancers draped in gauzelike costumes with small mirrors on their heads. Taylor did not base it on a personal experience from New Orleans, but it works with the slow beat of a funeral dirge and it moves through a spectrum of feelings, from sorrow to joy. Aureole (also Thursday) is a more classically inspired piece that begins with a woman hoisted by dancers in white flowing costumes as if sitting on a cloud. It's one of the company's signature works and Taylor himself used to dance the solo in it.
Friday features Arden Court, Dust and Esplanade. Arden Court is a Shakespearean term referring to idyllic love, and it's an athletic piece featuring many duets, which originally were performed by an all-male group. Esplanade combines pedestrian movement and music by Bach. Its extreme physicality and disjointed movement features dancers hurling themselves at the floor, and it was meant to explore loneliness and family dysfunction. Dust also combines strange rhythms and gnarly movement in what Andrien describes as Taylor's tribute to the quiet courage of people who suffer with disabilities.
Saturday is highlighted by Piazzolla Caldera, Taylor's take on tango.
"It captures the essence of a tango club with sexy duets and the social tensions and energy of people dancing in a club late into the night," Andrien says.
Also Saturday is The Uncommitted, which Taylor debuted in 2011. It's about people struggling with intimacy and trying to connect, and it features nine solos.
The visit by Taylor 2 is a result of Marigny Opera House founders Dave Hurlbert and Scott King's connection to the company. King sits on the board of directors for Paul Taylor Dance Company and both serve on committees for the company. They planned to bring Taylor 2 to New Orleans since they created the Marigny Opera House three years ago. The Paul Taylor Dance Company performed in Hammond in the spring of 2013, and King and Hurlbert hosted a crawfish boil for the company at the Marigny Opera House.