Modern dance, like modern painting, or architecture or any of the other arts afflicted with the prefacing descriptive, is only as modern as its times.
History places the origin of this genre of choreography at the turn of the last century. Those origins were reactive in nature, as an antidote as it were to “classical ballet.” The style is meant to be expressive of the inner feelings of the dancer; the expressions are free from the restrictions of structured steps. The modern dancer uses movement to reveal his/her inner soul. Today, modern dance is some 100 years old, and yet it is still expected to emote and move with all the flexibility of a youngster.
The style represented by the pioneers of the form has come to be codified. Its spontaneity is no longer its main vision or purpose. Dance may be a step in time, a fleeting movement, quick and quickly forgotten, but we keep records of its progress nonetheless.
Many of those pioneers are no longer with us; some have left behind active companies to carry on their legacy. Their companies carry their name as a banner; it is a reminder that the master who founded the troupe set the style for it. Just as we recall the steps of the waltz or the cha cha or the fox trot, the choreography that underpins Martha Graham‘s or Merce Cunningham‘s endowment can be notated and remembered. Dancers who know the steps pass on this knowledge f or future generations; there are videotapes of works by Paul Taylor, Jose Limon. even Isadora Duncan extant. The Balanchine style of ballet is preserved and inherited in much the same way.
Then what happens to the dancers who worked under the founding modern dance choreographer after s/he is gone? Their careers will change. Some will be absorbed into other groups. Others will band together to form new dance ensembles. They will turn to choreography themselves, or find star turns in other modern companies.
Paul Taylor foresaw a succession for his company, as Alvin Ailey had before him. He started presenting the works of emerging artists alongside his own several years before his death last August. He had gone so far as to rename his company Paul Taylor American Modern Dance to allow for the collaborations he incorporated into the troupe. Like Ailey, he appointed a successor, Michael Novak, from within the ranks of the company. For 3 weeks this fall, October 17 through November 20, the company will honor Taylor in its Lincoln Center Season; the dancers, who can’t seem to settle on PTDC or the more inclusive moniker of PTAMD, will present 10 of Taylor’s masterpieces alongside commissioned works by Kyle Abraham and L.C. premieres by guest resident choreographers Pam Tanowitz and Margie Gillis.
His alumni remain loyal to the company. Some also have seen fit to test their wings with other projects. Two PTDC alumni, Laura Halzack and Michael Trusnovec join current PTDC dancer Michelle Fleet and film exec VJ Carbone in bringing the Asbury Park Dance Festival to inaugurate on September 14th. Another Paul Taylor dancer’s Parisa Khobdeh Dance Company, for instance, has just completed its premiere outing with a piece called Nevertheless, which will also be at the Dumbo Dance Festival on the 12-13 of October. Khobdeh will be dancing in the upcomng PTAMD season, but she is forging a place for women-centric dance works with her own company.
In a way, we can consider this kind of after-life of dance company members to be part of the legacy of the masters who founded the great modern dance movement.