Remembering Paul Taylor’s Lower East Side Years

Photo by Whitney Browne, 2014.

Paul Taylor is pictured on the left, working with dancers in his Grand Street studio. Photo by Whitney Browne, 2014.

Throughout the long weekend, there were heartfelt remembrances for Paul Taylor, the brilliant and prolific modern dance choreographer. Taylor, a Lower East Side resident during the past eight years, died on Wednesday at the age of 88. In 2010, the Paul Taylor Dance Studio relocated from the West Village to a newly renovated space at 551 Grand St.

Taylor, reported the New York Times, “brought a lyrical musicality, capacity for joy and wide poetic imagination to modern dance over six decades as one of its greatest choreographers.”  The San Francisco Chronicle called Taylor, “a towering figure in American modern dance who… created a vast body of work that reflected both the giddy highs and the depraved lows of the human condition.” The Washington Post described him as a gifted storyteller, who “could portray distinct personalities, subtle emotional shifts and un­expected plot twists — all through concise, telling movement and an unerring sense of timing.”

 

This past spring, Taylor announced that Michael Novak had been appointed artistic director-designate. In a statement released following Taylor’s death, Novak said, “Paul Taylor was one of the world’s greatest dancemakers, and his passing deeply saddens not only those of us who worked with him, but also people all over the world whose spirits have been touched by his incomparable art. We are grateful for your love and support as we begin to carry on his legacy with the utmost fidelity and devotion.”

Taylor in his office at the new studios on Grand Street in 2011. Photo by Lo-Down.

Taylor in his office at the new studios on Grand Street in 2011. Photo by The Lo-Down.

The Lo-Down’s Traven Rice interviewed Taylor in 2014 in his apartment in the East River Cooperative. Here’s an excerpt from the story we published based on that interview:

Taylor is surrounded by a loyal team, some members of which have been in the company for decades. Whether they’re dancers, behind-the-scenes staff or alumni, dedication to Taylor is a common theme. “Ah, yes,” Taylor said, and the respect “is mutual. … It’s like a big … professional family… and there are dancers of all different generations. I’m like the great-grandfather.” That’s an advantage, he said. “When I was their age … in the beginning, it was harder to get them to do what I wanted them to do. But now,” he said with a chuckle, “I don’t have any trouble. … They don’t give me any lip.”

The city’s artistic scene has changed markedly since the 1950s, he said: “It was very different when I first came to New York to be a dancer. The arts communities were smaller. The poets, the writers, composers, painters — there were fewer of us, and … we knew each other and we’d get together at somebody’s loft or maybe at a bar,” a diverse mix of the arts. “I was one of the younger ones, and I’d listen to them talk about their ideas. It was very educational for me. I met Bob Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns … Ellsworth Kelly, to name a few, but now there are so many dancers and other artists that that doesn’t happen anymore.”

Surviving as an artist in New York, was easier back then, Taylor said. These days, his dancers struggle financially. In the old days, “you could make money and work as a dancer. There were a lot of small companies, like Martha Graham. She had a Broadway season, and I’d dance with her. And Balanchine had one, and I did a dance of his” as a soloist with the New York City Ballet,” and there were a lot of less-well-known choreographers that I worked with. … There were a lot of musical comedies then, and we could get paying jobs that way, instead of waiting tables. So that was an advantage.”

Today, “it’s very hard and very expensive,” said Taylor.  “It wasn’t that bad for me. My first cold-water flat in New York … was $20 a month or something.” It was “really crummy — it was in Hell’s Kitchen — but you could do it.  And you didn’t mind because you were in the place you wanted to be.”

Now Taylor and his company are in another place he wants to be — the Lower East Side. “Oh yeah. Forever!”

The company is sharing photos and remembrances of Taylor on its Instagram page. You can see more here.