Acclaimed as one of America’s foremost dancemakers, Paul Taylor (1930-2018) created a remarkable repertoire of 147 works, many recognized as contemporary classics and culminating with Concertiana. He performed with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, but focused his energies on his own company for over sixty years. He first came to Jacob’s Pillow as a dancer in Pearl Lang’s company in 1954, and brought a group of his own dancers (including Twyla Tharp) for the first time ten years later. The Paul Taylor Dance Company has since appeared at the Pillow many times, including a 1982 performance with an early cast of Airs, and a 2000 performance of Company B. Taylor’s visual artwork was the subject of Pillow exhibitions in 2000 and 2019, and the Pillow commissioned new Taylor dances in 2000 and 2007. His second company, Taylor 2, had its genesis at the Pillow in 1993. Acknowledged as one of Taylor’s masterworks, Esplanade is composed entirely of pedestrian movement.
An esplanade is an outdoor place to walk; in 1975 Paul Taylor, inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus, created a masterwork based on pedestrian movement. If contemporaries Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg could use ordinary “found objects” like Coke bottles and American flags in their art, Taylor would use such “found movements” as standing, walking, running, sliding and falling. The first of five sections that are set to two Bach violin concertos introduces a team of eight dancers brimming with Taylor’s signature youthful exuberance. An adagio for a family whose members never touch reflects life’s somber side. When three couples engage in romantic interplay, a woman standing tenderly atop her lover’s prone body suggests that love can hurt as well as soothe. The final section has dancers careening fearlessly across the stage like Kamikazes. The littlest of them – the daughter who had not been acknowledged by her family – is left alone on stage, triumphant: the meek inheriting the earth.
When I left the theater… I was thinking that I’d seen a classic of American dance. It confers a mythic dimension on ordinary aspects of our daily lives – it’s unfaked folk art. The dancers, crashing wave upon wave into those falls, have a happy insane spirit that recalls a unique moment in American life – the time we did the school play or we were ready to drown at a swimming meet. The last time most of us were happy in that way.Arlene Croce, The New Yorker
Recorded at Jacob’s Pillow July 14, 2017