with Paul Taylor" (panel discussion)
They arrived onstage in groups of about six or seven, their names called out in order of the year they entered the company. A couple of them were pregnant, some had gray hair, but they all made their entrances beaming and with a spring in their step. Broad smiles, hugs, enthusiasm and deserved pride abounded as the City Center stage filled up with Paul Taylor Dance Company alumni. Andrew Asnes stepped to the side to snap a photo. David Parsons could barely contain his enthusiasm, waving his arms at the rows of dancers as though he wanted to embrace them all.
An amazing large number - 53 - had made it to the "alumni weekend" that coincided with the closing performances of the troupe's exhilarating 50th-anniversary season. They were brought onstage at the conclusion of Sunday's matinee, the final performance. PTDC general manager John Tomlinson could not hide his emotions as he emceed the extended curtain call festivities.
His first announcement was a bittersweet one. Once the cast of "Esplanade" had finished acknowledging the whoops and cheers of the packed house, and the rest of the current company had joined them onstage, Tomlinson officially inducted Patrick Corbin into the ranks of Taylor alumni. This exemplary mainstay of the company, who joined in 1989, had just given his final two performances at the matinee, dancing in "Black Tuesday" and "Esplanade." When Tomlinson called him forward, he modestly acknowledged the wave of appreciation from the audience. Lisa Viola, his frequent partner, presented him with a huge bouquet and the two embraced with heartfelt intensity. Moments earlier, during the "Esplanade" bows—according to Taylor tradition, the dancers appearing in order of seniority, from newbie to veteran—Corbin's arrival as the last to enter had been greeted with a hearty flower toss, and three hefty bouquets had been hurled onstage when he took his bow for "Black Tuesday."
Corbin's day of transition also saw him joining ten of the Taylor alumni for a two-hour panel, "Working with Paul Taylor," held in the theater earlier in the day and moderated by Maura Keefe. An impressive turnout filled a good portion of the orchestra seats for the 11 a.m. event—demonstrating how loyal and devoted the company's fans are. In the course of the discussion, it became clear how it had been Corbin's destiny to dance for Taylor. He joined the Joffrey Ballet in 1985, and his first day of rehearsal he was called to be in the cast of Taylor's "Arden Court," which Linda Kent was staging. "Oh my god, I'm home," is the reaction he recalled having to that first rehearsal.
Kent, speaking on the panel, recalled the 20-year-old Corbin as a "giant sponge" who was so adept she included him in both casts, in two different roles. A few years later, she related, when their paths crossed at City Center, he indicated he wanted to audition for Taylor, and asked her advice on what to wear so as not to come across as a "ballet geek."
Corbin obviously made the cut, and he recalled that four others from that audition also joined the company: Asnes, Rachel Berman, Caryn Heilman and Tom Patrick. One can now view that major turnover as essentially marking the transition from the Taylor company of the 1980s—the one dominated by Kate Johnson, Christopher Gillis, Cathy McCann and David Parsons—to the company of the 1990s, which truly crystallized with the creation of "Company B" in 1991. Corbin's departure, as the last remaining member of that "class of 89," has particular resonance.
Gillis' name came up frequently as the panelists discussed their memories and experiences. One strongly feels his presence in "Le Sacre du Printemps," "A Musical Offering" or "Syzygy", and the mention of his influential role within the company was a reminder of how much he is missed.
The dancers recalled the creation of both "A Musical Offering" (1986) and "Speaking in Tongues" (1988) as particularly memorable. Speaking of the former, Johnson recalled, "it was a wonderful time. Paul had a very firm idea of what he wanted. He crafted it form very few steps. I remember the piece coming together fully formed. It seemed miraculous." The making of "Tongues" was described by Cochran as "a special time. It was so relevant politically and socially at the time. Kent recalled how, when the work was already 45 minutes long, Taylor decided to add a solo for her. This was late in her Taylor career—it became the last of many roles he created for her—and the two had reached a point of being completely in sync. She marveled at the memory of their productive time in the studio creating the solo: "the shorthand all worked; the trust was there. "
As generous as the anniversary season repertory was, references to several wonderful Taylor works not being performed right now reminded us of the riches of his canon. Cochran mentioned having staged "Lost Found and Lost" last year for the University of Minnesota. Several dancers described how Taylor fashioned the fascinating "Profiles" by synthesizing some of the essential material from "Sacre" when it became clear that major work would not be ready for a 1979 American Dance Festival premiere. It was amusing to hear York, responding to Keefe's question about which Taylor works they particularly liked, whether they were considered successes or not, express a fondness for "Aphrodisiamania"—a comedia dell'arte-inspired work created in between two enduring works, "Dust" and "Airs."
The resonance of the intelligent and sensitive panelists' conversation, plus the sensational, no-holds-barred dancing the company delivered at the matinee, made the two-pronged conclusion of this landmark season a truly memorable occasion. As one saw past Taylor dancers chatting in the aisles during intermission and embracing in the lobby, and enjoyed the robust, strongly individualized performances of the current generation on stage, and then watched those waves of alumni fill the stage, one truly felt the full impact of the company's history and ongoing legacy. As Corbin said during the panel, "We're all always part of the Taylor continuum, always connected in some way."
Front page photo, of the company in "Esplanade," by Lois Greenfield.