This wonderful new book by one of the preeminent dancers and choreographers consists of a range of pieces of fact and fiction that run from thoughts on friendliness and country living to animosity and city life. Taylor’s first book since his autobiography (Private Domain, 1995, Alfred A. Knopf) is a romp through his playful mind, with chapter titles such as: Why I Make Dances, The Redheaded Spiritualist, Martha Close Up, Clytemnestra, How to Tell Ballet from Modern, and In the Marcel Proust Suite of L’Hotel Continental.
“No other dancer ever looked like Paul Taylor, that strapping, elastic, goofy hunk of a guy, and no one else’s dance works look like his either—not the deep, dark ones or the zany ones or the uplifting ones. His vocabulary, his tone are unique and unmistakable. The same thing is true, it turns out, about his writing. His style is utterly his own, and like all real style it isn’t a calculated voice but a reflection of the way his quirky mind works.” —From the foreword by Robert Gottlieb
“Taylor has not cultivated one writing persona, but has unleashed a raft of voices in a raft of forms: travesty, comedy, fiction, essay, satire, allegory, poetry, fable, epistle. While many of these selections are humorous, as anyone familiar with Taylor’s choreography knows, even in the sunniest of his dances, there are often threatening clouds on the horizon. And the canny Taylor recognizes when to swap his Janus masks for maximum emotional wallop.” —From the introduction by Suzanne Carbonneau
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Facts and Fancies
Essays Written Mostly for Fun
By Paul Taylor
DELPHINIUM BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Paul Taylor
All rights reserved.
WHY I MAKE DANCES
No one has ever asked me why I make dances. But when flummoxed by the financial difficulties of keeping a dance company afloat, I sometimes ask it of myself. Dance makers are most often quizzed this way: which comes first, the dance or the music? This conundrum was answered most tellingly by the celebrated choreographer George Balanchine, who said: "The money." Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk has often been asked why he writes. The savvy answer in his My Father's Suitcase, that he writes to make himself happy, was so meaningful and struck such a chord of recognition in me – his devotion, his steadfastness, his anger – that it caused me to ponder my own reasons. Motivated by Balanchine's sensible quip and Pamuk's candid perceptiveness, this is how I might reply:
To put it simply, I make dances because I can't help it. Working on dances has become a way of life, an addiction that at times resembles a fatal disease. Even so, I've no intention of kicking the habit. I make dances because I believe in the power of contemporary dance, its immediacy, its potency, its universality. I make dances because that's what I've spent many years teaching myself to do, and it's become what I'm best at. When the dances are good nothing else brings me as much satisfaction. When they aren't I've had the luxury, in the past at least, of being allowed to create others.
From childhood on, I've been a reticent guy who spends a lot of time alone. I make dances in an effort to communicate to people. A visual medium can be more effective than words. I make dances because I don't always trust my own words or, for that matter, those of quite a few others I've known. I make dances because working with my dancers and other cohorts allows me to spend time with trustworthy people I'm very fond of and who seldom give me trouble. Also because I'm not suited to do the jobs that regular folks do. There is no other way I could make a living, especially not at work that involves dealing face-to-face with the public. I make dances because crowds are kept at a safe distance. That's what proscenium stages are good for.
Dance-making appeals to me because, although group projects and democratic systems are okay if they work, when on the job I find that a benevolent dictatorship is best. I don't make dances for the masses, I make them for myself. That is, even though they are meant to be seen in public (otherwise, what's the point?), I make dances I think I'd like to see.
I'm not above filching steps from other dance-makers, but only from the best—ones such as Martha Graham and Antony Tudor—and only when I think I can make an improvement.
Although there are only two or three dances in me—ones based on simple images imprinted at childhood—I've gone to great lengths to have each repeat of them seem different. Because of the various disguises my dances wear, viewers sometimes mistake them for those made by other choreographers. My reaction to this depends on how talented I think that person is. Imitating a chameleon has always come easy. Maybe it's genetic, or a protective artifice. The only identity that bugs me is that of the lauded personage. This is because the responsibilities demanded by fame are nuisances that I could easily do without. Ideally, my work would be anonymous.
Stylized lies (novelistic truths) for the stage are what the medium demands. I love tinkering with natural gesture and pedestrian movement to make them read from a distance and be recognizable as a revealing language that we all have in common. Of particular interest is the amorous coupling of men and women, as well as the other variations on this subject. In short, the remarkable range of our human condition.
Whenever a dance of mine is controversial it brings me much satisfaction. One of my aims is to present questions rather than answers. My passion for dance does not prevent me from being terrified to start each new piece, but I value these fears for the extra energy they bring. Getting to know the music I use is a great pleasure even though toilsome. After making sure that the rights to use it are affordable, each piece needs to be scanned, counted out, and memorized. Since I've not learned to read scores, this can take an awful long time.
I make dances because it briefly frees me from coping with the real world, because it's possible to build a whole new universe with steps, because I want people to know about themselves, and even because it's a thrilling relief to see how fast each of my risk-taking dancers can recover after a pratfall.
I make dances, not to arrange decorative pictures for current dancers to perform, but to build a firm structure that can withstand future changes of cast. Quite possibly I make dances to be useful or to get rid of a chronic itch or to feel less alone. I make them for a bunch of reasons—multiple motives rooted in the driving passion that infected me when I first discovered dance. The novelist Albert Camus said it best:
A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover through the detours of art those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.
AN EARLY INTERVIEW
Hello, this is Bethpage Bulova-Trit calling for the San Bernardino Gazette. Is this Paul Tylor?
Uh, yes, I think so. Only it's Taylor, not Tylor.
Might you speak a little louder, please. Your voice sounds awfully distant. Am I disturbing you?
Uh, no, not at all. I was expecting something sometime.
It is now exactly five o'clock. My publication arranged this interview last week with your press representative. You knew about this, did you not?
Hello, hello, are you there? It is exactly five and I am Bethpage Bulova-Trit calling from San Bernardino. My periodical is featuring an article on modern dance.
Oh, now I get it. This is five o'clock.
Yes indeed, it is exactly five in the morning. Is this the noted choreographer to whom I am speaking?
So it's five on the nose, right? And Friday morning already.
Pardon me but this is Wednesday. Would you prefer me to call back later?
Yes. I mean no. It's fine. I'm awake now.
Then I may proceed with my questions?
First of all, what is your view of the latest trends in the world of creative dance; secondly, what is your evaluation of the golf carts our city manufactures; and thirdly, how do you feel about your company performing here?
No kidding, is it? That's nice. I hear it's really exciting to be in San Luis Obispo. Lots of earthquakes and stuff.
Indeed it is. However, this is San Bernardino. Have you not heard that we have far more earthquakes than in San Luis Obispo?
I heard they can be pretty damaging all over the place.
Oh my yes! It is quite thrilling. You should see how our chandeliers and porcelain quiver. Why sometimes even the typewriters walk themselves right off the desks. I myself write with a genuinely antique Remington, you know. The keyboard was designed for the sight-impaired and has all capital letters. But please, Mr. Tylor, I have a number of interesting questions for you and a deadline to meet.
Call me Paul if you want. Your name is Trip, right? Sounds familiar. I think maybe we've talked before.
How extraordinary of you to remember! Except I am now Mrs. Bulova-Trit, not Trip. I once attended a master class taught by you in 1963 at the Manifest Destiny Day School, where I was enrolled as a girl.
Oh, sure, now I remember. But weren't you a boy in the cast of a kids' dance recital there?
Yes, that is more or less true. I was cast as a boy in the recital but, when in your class, my cast was a plaster one. You expressed concern and wanted to help. You kept saying, "Bend it, bend that leg! Why won't it flex, you poor little guy?" You do remember that, Mr. Tylor, do you not?
I've always wondered why your leg was so white and so much fatter than the other one. I thought you'd be limping for life. Does it bend now?
Yes, thank you. May we return to my prepared questions?
Right, enough chitchat. Let's get on with it.
My next question concerns your artistic efforts, a subject which could be of interest to many of our readers. Please describe your Creative Process in detail.
Your Creative Process, the particular method you employ when forming dances.
Oh that. Well, my creative progress ...
No no, not your creative progress, your creative PROCESS. If you like, we can get to the progress part in a moment, but first to the Creative Process.
Oh, that. Well, what about it?
Precisely to which system of choreographic creativity do you subscribe?
You want me to say how I make up dances?
Please do. I shall quote your each and every word.
Sorry, but I can't say anything about that. They don't let me.
Well, for heaven's sake, why not? Who does not let you?
The choreographers' union. It's very strict about that kind of thing. There'd be a lot of plagiarism if us dance makers went around telling everybody how we make up our dances.
Ask something else. I bet you'd like to know what I eat for breakfast.
Oh, all right. What are you having?
Nothing. I never eat breakfast. What time is it now?
It is exactly four minutes and twenty seconds after five. What will you be having for luncheon?
I don't eat that either.
No time for dinner. I go to bed early.
And what time would that be?
I don't know exactly. Us dance makers refuse to be clock-watchers no matter what the union says.
But then how long do you sleep?
Well, let's see—counting naps, plus the time it takes to be fully alert, and adding both things together, I'd say the total time is usually about as long as I'm actually lying flat-out.
I see. Do you dream much?
And how! That's when I do my best work.
You mean to say that your Creative Process occurs in your sleep?
No, not my creative process, my digestive process.
Forgive me, but did you not say that you refrain from taking meals?
I said breakfast, lunch, and dinner, nothing about snacks. Maybe you'd like to hear about my digestion. I'm kinda proud of it.
Ah, so you have an unusual digestive system?
You said it! Sorry if this sounds like bragging, but I'm practically the world's eighth wonder. My stomach has been written up in several medical journals, and The Guinness Book of World Records is even after me. Just now, in fact, I thought it was them calling.
Really? Just what is it that makes your stomach so special?
It's like this: I used to have a huge beer belly, but now it's the flattest thing you ever saw. It's so flat nobody can figure out how it digests anything.
My goodness, that is an unusually flat stomach. What happened to your old one?
First off, half of it ate itself up, see? And then the other half scrunched down into practically nothing.
No! Not really?
Yep. I used to need suspenders to hold my pants up but now I'm back to belts.
Marvelous! No more out-of-style braces.
Right. And nobody can snap them anymore either. Plus my fly is reachable. But maybe you'd better forget I said that last thing.
Yes, mentioning your fly does seem a bit personal. However, my readers will need to know if you sleep with anyone.
Do you sleep with someone in the nude?
I sleep in my pajamas under a blanket, sometimes two, only the top one sometimes slides off.
Come now, are you not begging the question?
Okay, if you must know, I usually have a lot of cracker crumbs in bed with me. But let's keep that under wraps. Haw haw, what a good pun!
Indeed, I shall not tell. Be assured that it will be our little secret. Well now, I believe that covers everything.
Covers everything- that's a good one too! Thanks for calling, Mr. Trip. It's been swell talking with you. Keep on bending that leg.
Thank you, thank YOU, Mr. Tylor. Should I have any further questions, might I phone again? Hello? Hello?
* * *
A letter to Don York, who wrote the music for seven of my dances and for many years was the Company's orchestra conductor.
4 Apr 94
Here's the telephone interview you asked for. I can't imagine it being set to music, but if you decide to go through with it, you may want to have a mezzo-soprano do the woman's part. Whatever, I was thinking she should sing loud, wavery, and way up high, just out of her range. Jenny Tipton would probably be able to light her so that everybody can see lots of spray shooting out of her mouth and a big Adam's apple that bobs up and down. As a type, she could be sort of a cross between Florence Foster Jenkins and Adolphe Menjou. My part could be done by a whisky-basso. Not Eartha Kitt, more like the movie star Aldo Ray. I liked him very much. You remember him? He did the sergeants, he was big, lovable, clumsy, slow on the trigger, and had the kind of voice you could barely hear. For visual interest we might give him a slippery telephone to drop, one with a cord long enough to get good and tangled up in. The woman's telephone might be a cordless one in the shape of a large sea shell or ear trumpet.
The more I think about this interview as a libretto, the more I think all the words should be replaced with la la las and scubie dos. Anyway, just remember you asked for it.
LETTERS TO SUSIE
Susanne Shackelford, née Butts, is the daughter of R.B. Butts, who farmed and ran a summer camp for boys in Bethesda, Maryland. When I was nine years old, I went to live with the Butts family and eventually Susanne and I became longtime correspondents.
Three letters to my dear friend follow.
THE REDHEADED SPIRITUALIST
27 July, 93 Long Island
Dear Susie –
Hi, it's me again. Or, as the formidable Victorian lady explorer always called out when approaching cannibal villages, "Halloa, it is only I!"
From what you say in your last letter, your boss at the library doesn't quite grasp the value of what your ghosting activities may be accomplishing. Maybe someone should tell her that you deserve a raise, seeing as your overtime efforts to bring public attention to Mrs. Robey's ghost may be turning the library into a big tourist attraction—Purcellville Horror. You know, just like the Amityville Horror. Road signs into town can say, "Danger ahead, watch out for falling rocks and Mrs. Robey." Amityville, incidentally, is not all that far from here where people pay good money to visit its spook house.
Now I'll tell YOU a ghost story. As in tit for tat. It's a true one, or as close to the truth as my resistance to varnishing memories will allow. At this time (Elusive Retirement temporarily forces me to settle for a short vacation), I've become too attached to my hammock to do any serious work, such as thumbing through "The Turn of the Screw" or reading up on witchcraft or whatever I'd have to do to write a convincing ghost story. But am sure you could in a flash, what with your Gift, no matter what your boss says about you being too imaginative. The following has to do with the man who sold me my Long Island place, his "cleansing" of it, and—this part is sure to grab you—your DAD! Yep, the very person who, if the unvarnished truth be known, I still—even in my advanced maturity—fondly think of as being my adopted father:
About five years ago the previous owner of my place knocked at the door. We had met briefly twenty years before and had not been in contact since. Victor "Zak" Zakaine is his name, a metal sculptor, poet, health food proponent, herbal physician given to occasional stabs at acupuncture, advisor to the lovelorn (when answering poetic missiles), obliging astrologer, volunteer tarot reader, and goodness knows what else. When we first met, after sizing me up with a penetrating glance, he greeted me with the kindest of words and warmest of welcomes—from a curious position down on the floor, legs folded haphazardly and hinting of free-form yoga. I also detected a leaning towards the simple life, seeing as the house had no furniture. What was clearly the man's trump card, his most endearing trait, was his ever-buoyant enthusiasm.
Excerpted from Facts and Fancies by Paul Taylor. Copyright © 2013 Paul Taylor. Excerpted by permission of DELPHINIUM BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- Title Page
- Foreword by Robert Gottlieb
- Introduction by Suzanne Carbonneau
- Why I Make Dances
- An Early Interview
- Letters to Susie:
- The Redheaded Spiritualist
- A Perplexing Situation
- Boat Trip
- Martha Close Up
- Two Bozos Seen Through Glass: An Epiphany
- The Strange Story of How I Chased and Caught the Guy Who Burgled My House
- Foreword to Private Domain, by George H. Tacet, Ph.D.
- Reapplication to O.H.E.C.
- How to Tell Ballet from Modern
- In the Marcel Proust Suite of L'Hotel Continental
- Fantasy About Joining the CIA
- Death Wish
- Tricks of the Trade
- There Is a Time
- Limerick for Jennifer Tipton
- The Last Thump
- Love Is a Dog from Hell
- Poggie in the Quiet, by Cleave Yarns
- The Shirley Temple Murders (first two chapters)
- Michael, the Medium-Sized Bee
- My Dear Dogmatist