When dancers audition for Paul Taylor Dance Company, they’re often thrown by one particular request: to walk across the studio by themselves. “Paul can see a lot about a
Michelle Fleet (center) and Company in Paul Taylor's Also Playing (photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy PTAMD)
person by the way they walk,” says Michelle Fleet, a veteran Taylor dancer. “But many people get cut at that point, because they’re terrified—a walk can be so revealing.”
What is it about walking and running that makes even the most talented dancers clam up? These pedestrian actions seem so simple (we do them every day!), but they’re tough to get right in front of an audience. And they’re important, too: Whether you’re strutting through
the commercial scene, running in pointe shoes or stepping out on Broadway, how you walk and run can say a lot about you and the character you’re portraying. Here are the experts’ tricks for keeping these “natural” movements looking, well, natural.
Don’t Overdo It
Walking and running are such basic movements, it’s easy for dancers to overdo them, adding dance-world mannerisms—overly pointed feet, exaggerated arm swings—that end up looking affected. “Don’t be tempted to make a walk or run too dance-y,” says Ryan Ramirez, a commercial dancer and “So You Think You Can Dance” alum. “Choreographers often put runs and walks into dances because they want to show humanness or vulnerability. A simple run is powerful because everyone, not just dancers, can connect to it.”
Ballet dancers in particular tend to have a hard time with simple walks and runs, since they’re trained to stay super–turned-out and maintain a high demi-pointe. But those restrictions can make you look stiff. Make a conscious effort to let them go. “I have to remind myself to bend my knees a little bit, and to take bigger, easier steps,” says San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André.
Use Intention and Imagery
Pedestrian steps are valuable tools because they can speak volumes about the kind of character you’re trying to portray, or quickly communicate a particular attitude onstage. Big, slow struts, for example, show a sense of command; tiny, fast runs demonstrate a sense of urgency, or a spritely personality.
San Francisco Ballet in Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces (photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)
Think about why you’re walking or running. Are you running away from someone? Walking onstage to start a variation? The right intention will help guide your movements and make them feel more natural. “If you have no purpose, that’s when the steps start to look flat and stop saying anything,” says David Bushman, dance captain for Chicago on Broadway. “Clarify your intention so you have the correct energy.”
If it’s a joyous run, for example, think about everyday situations in which you might actually run joyfully. “Remember what it feels like to run on the playground,” Fleet suggests. “Your chest is open and free, like you’re feeling the light of the sun shining on you.” Or maybe the mood of the piece is darker, and you want to look like you’re slogging through mud, hunched over and curving your back. Real-world metaphors will help you capture the feel of real-world movements.
Find Your Own Style
Remember that there’s no “textbook” way to walk or run onstage. These movements should look different on everyone, and finding a signature way of doing them will help you establish your identity as a dancer. “When you see someone walk on the street, you see their personality,” André says. “It should be like that onstage, too.”
Watch other people—not necessarily dancers!—who have an interesting or singular way of running and walking, and study the components that make up the whole. Film yourself walking or running around the studio, so you can identify your own natural movement patterns. Figure out what it is about your gait that makes you look like you. Above all, don’t neglect your walks and runs, however worried you may be about the difficult turn sequence that follows them. They’re not “filler”—they deserve as much scrutiny as any other step. “Nowadays, everyone is caught up in technique and tricks,” Fleet says, “but it’s just as important to have the basics, like walking and running, and to be able to do them well.”
Top Troubleshooting Tips!
- Be aware of your entire body.
“Maybe you have an arm that’s dangling instead of being still. Don’t let one component betray the whole picture,” says David Bushman, dance captain of Chicago on Broadway.
- Never mark a run or walk.
“If you don’t do it full-out in rehearsal, it’ll show onstage,” says San Francisco Ballet principal Dores André. “It’s not a break from the dancing—it’s part of the dancing!”
- Be thoughtful, but don’t overanalyze.
“Know what you’re trying to accomplish and work on it, then let it go,” says Paul Taylor dancer Michelle Fleet. “Sometimes we get into trouble when we overthink things.”
Heads up, guys: Paul Taylor Dance Company is going to be selling $5 tickets to its March 6 Lincoln Center performance, which honors the 25th birthdays of Taylor's Brandenburgs and Speaking in Tongues.
Great, right? But there's a (cute) catch.
Last year, the company tried something similar, selling $7.50 tickets to a performance celebrating Aureole's 75th anniversary. The problem? They sold out in 45 minutes.
So this time around, the company has decided to offer the discounted tickets at little pop-up locations around Manhattan on four different days, giving Taylor fans all over the city a better shot at scoring them. Here's a rundown of the dates/locations:
Tuesday, January 22, Noon - 2 p.m.
Chacott by Freed of London
20 East 20th Street
Between Park Avenue and Broadway
Friday, January 25, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
19 Cleveland Place
Between Spring and Kenmare Streets
Sunday, January 27, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m.
Paul Taylor Dance Company Studios
551 Grand Street
Between Jackson and Lewis Streets
Monday, January 28, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Dancers Responding to AIDS’ Dance from the Heart
Cedar Lake Theater
547 West 26thStreet
Between 10th and 11th Streets
Happy ticket tracking!
The vision for Paul Taylor’s reimagined company, Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, becomes fully realized this month with its spring season, opening March 16 and running through April 3. Rather than its usual all-Taylor programming, the group will perform commissioned premieres by choreographers Larry Keigwin and Doug Elkins, as well as Diversion of Angels by Martha Graham and two new Taylor works, Sullivaniana and Dilly Dilly. Dancer Heather McGinley, a Paul Taylor company member since 2011, takes us behind the scenes.
Heather McGinley rehearsing Martha Graham's Diversion of Angels. (Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Paul Taylor Dance Company)
Dance Spirit: What’s it been like working with new choreographers?
Heather McGinley: Larry Keigwin and Doug Elkins are very different—it’s been thrilling to work with them. Larry’s style is a little bit closer to what we’re used to. Doug’s is more of a departure. His choreography involves a lot of break dancing, voguing and house dancing, so we had workshops to get the feel.
DS: Has Paul Taylor been involved in rehearsals?
HM: So far, Taylor’s let the choreographers have us to themselves. He hasn’t seen the final product yet. He’s been letting Larry and Doug do their thing!
DS: As a former Martha Graham Dance Company member, what does it mean to be able to perform a Graham piece again?
HM: It’s very exciting. We’ve been taking some Graham classes to get into the style, and I’m hoping it’ll be like riding a bike! Diversion of Angels is going to be really beautiful on the Taylor Company.
DS: Are Keigwin and Elkins letting Taylor’s style influence their choreography?
HM: Absolutely. It’s not like they came in and said, “Forget everything you know, I want you to move like this.” They’re very interested in seeing what we do with the movement they’re giving us.
DS: What will audiences take away from this new season?
HM: I think they’ll feel an excitement for the future of the company. It’s only been Paul Taylor for over 60 years, so it’s a pretty big departure and a big deal.
Ross Katen auditioned for the Limón Dance Company on his 21st birthday, just after graduating from the BFA dance program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Limón, he knew, was an unusual choice for a recent NYU alum. “I’d been focused on creating new work in a pretty progressive conservatory program,” he remembers, “and this was a company performing dances that had been in repertory since the 1940s.” But after the audition and a weeklong workshop, he felt excited about the challenges of the dramatic Limón style—and he earned a contract with LDC.
For many young dancers, the performance dream centers on contemporary companies. And for good reason: Getting to perform new works and be involved in the creative process is pretty darn exciting. But dancers are also finding fulfillment in time-honored repertory groups like LDC, Paul Taylor Dance Company and the Martha Graham Dance Company—companies that were established long before they (and, in some cases, their parents) were born.
Why join a company grounded in the past? For one, Katen says, the work still resonates. Though LDC was established in 1946, “there are so many intricacies to explore within the repertory,” he says. “You can still find new ideas to play off of in historical pieces.” That quality, he says, is what’s allowed those works to stick around.
(From left) Ho, Katen and O'Donnell strike a pose (photo by Jayme Thornton)
Today, LDC primarily presents pieces by Limón himself—just as the MGDC repertory is mostly Graham, and the PTDC rep is nearly 100 percent Taylor. That means dancers get
a chance to dig deep into a single vocabulary, exploring the nuances of its technique through a wide variety of rep. “I love the diversity of Paul Taylor’s work,” says Madelyn Ho, who recently joined PTDC after spending four years in the company’s apprentice/
touring group, Taylor 2. “There are some really dark, ugly pieces that let me draw on my intense side, and there are happier dances, too. Having the opportunity to experience that range—and all by one choreographer—really pulls me in.”
Anne O’Donnell, who joined the 90-year-old MGDC as an apprentice
in 2014, agrees. “Working in one style so intensely is gratifying,” she says. Classic techniques like Graham are also a great foundation to build a career on, because “so many choreographers have come out of the traditions of these modern dance pioneers,” O’Donnell says.
Because their names are well known throughout the world, classic modern companies tend to tour frequently, too. MGDC tours internationally several months out of the year; PTDC travels 16 weeks each year. O’Donnell loves that her job lets her see the world. “Touring has been one of the biggest blessings,” she says. “One of my proudest career moments was going to Sweden with MGDC to learn a new work by Mats Ek. It was surreal.”
Now is an especially good time for younger dancers to look into older companies. In the past, heritage modern groups have struggled with funding, which has sometimes meant limited seasons. But recently, there’s been an exciting wave of revitalization. Last October, to celebrate Limón’s 70th anniversary, companies from around the globe gathered at The Joyce Theater in NYC to perform a wide variety of Limón’s work. MGDC has commissioned work from contemporary choreographers, including Kyle Abraham, Sonya Tayeh, Nacho Duato and Andonis Foniadakis. And last year, Paul Taylor—who continues to create new pieces—broadened his troupe’s scope by creating Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance, a presenting organization that showcases guest companies and outside choreographers. (PTDC also presents a jam-packed month-long season at Lincoln Center each year.)
Above all, joining a classic modern company offers young dancers a chance to participate in a revered, time-honored tradition. “You feel like you’re part of a bigger history,” Ho says. “When you put on a Taylor costume, you know there have been all these dancers who’ve worn the same one before you. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”
(photo by Jayme Thornton)
Madelyn Ho, Paul Taylor Dance Company
What she loves about Paul Taylor's work: "Connecting with people onstage. You get to make eye contact and be a human instead of a 'performer.' "
Advice for DS readers: "Think about how to dance with others. When I was younger, I lacked spatial awareness and was too focused on technique."
Number-one PTDC audition tip: "Taylor's auditions start out with just walking across the floor alone. It's terrifying. But don't let it psych you out. They just want to see you being yourself."
(photo by Jayme Thornton)
Ross Katen, Limón Dance Company
What he loves about Limón's work: "Limón was a master of theatricality, but he has such a huge range. For example, The Winged is totally abstract. There's also a certain morbidity to much of his work that I find fascinating."
Advice for DS readers: "Remember that dance is subjective. It's dependent on who's viewing it, and on which day, and where. That's good, though: As a dancer, it's important to be open to different opinions."
Number-one Limón audition tip: "Rhythm is one of the most important elements of Limón technique and choreography. You have to be a musical dancer."
(photo by Jayme Thornton)
Anne O'Donnell, Martha Graham Dance Company
What she loves about Martha Graham's work: "It's so honest, so true. It shows off the body and makes you a powerful performer."
Advice for DS readers: "Know that hard work does pay off. Dance isn't an easy career; at some point you'll question why you're doing what you're doing. But believe in yourself—and be kind."
Number-one Graham audition tip: "Know the foundation of the technique, and look the part. Wear skin-tight clothing that shows off your body and your contraction. Show your knowledge of the company."
We LOVE summer in NYC. Granted, the sweaty subway stations are borderline unbearable, but it's all worth it when you consider the plethora of glorious opportunities the season presents. From ferry rides to food festivals, from lounging in Central Park to frolicking at Coney Island—the options are practically limitless.
But our absolute favorite way to spend a summer evening in the Big Apple is to take advantage of the long list of outdoor (and, more often than not, free!) performances. Earlier this week, we told you about Broadway in Bryant Park. But there's also Central Park SummerStage, Prospect Park's Celebrate Brooklyn! and Lincoln Center Out of Doors.
Kind of an amazing performance venue, no? (Photo ©Stephanie Berger)
This Friday, August 1, none other than Paul Taylor Dance Company will perform at Damrosch Park as a part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors. PTDC is celebrating its 60th anniversary, so you know this is gonna be good. Featured pieces include Fibers (1961) and Aureole. The final piece on the program will be a special treat: the world premiere of Piazzolla Caldera, originally choreographed in 1997, set to the live music and arrangements of Pablo Ziegler's New Tango Ensemble. How we're getting all this for free, I'm not really sure—but I'm not complaining!
The performance kicks off at 7:30 pm, but be sure to arrive early to stake out your seats and to grab a little Street Food BBQ around the park. And to give you a little taste of what you're in for, here's a clip of the company performing Piazzolla Caldera at the 2010 Vail International Dance Festival:
Craving more Taylor? The company will host a master series each Friday from August 8–September 12. Not only will you get a chance to learn the movement, but students are invited to watch PTDC rehearse for an hour after each class. Way cool! Click here to register.
It's time for yet another installment of Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild Are Awesome! And this round involves the great Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Recently, Paul Taylor announced that PTDC—which until now has performed exclusively Taylor-made (see what we did there?) works—will be transitioning to a repertory model. What does that mean? It means that in addition to performing Taylor's dances, the company will bring back older, non-Taylor masterpieces, as well as works by contemporary choreographers. Basically, the PTDC doors will be open to an even wider range of talented artists.
And here's the good news for those of us who love both ballet and Taylor: That new open-door policy starts next month, when brilliant New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild will perform parts of Taylor's Airs at the PTDC NYC gala.
Here's the dynamic duo in Christopher Wheeldon’s "A Place for Us" (photo by Paul Kolnik).
Normally we feel a little weird about ballet dancers tackling Taylor. Though plenty of ballet companies dance Taylor works, ballet peeps tend to look dainty doing his choreography. But seeing as Peck and Fairchild can dance pretty much anything, this performance promises to be fun for dance fans of all stripes.
Catch the Taylor gala at NYC's Koch Theater on March 13—it's part of the PTDC Lincoln Center season that runs March 11-30.
Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzac in "Beloved Renegade" (photo by Tom Caravaglia)
You already know how much we're inspired by Paul Taylor. But if you couldn't catch the Paul Taylor Dance Company's NYC season this year, never fear: You didn't miss your chance to enter inspiration station. In fact, PTDC is about to come right to your living room.
Tonight at 9 pm EST, PBS will broadcast a recording of one of the company's performances at the Theatre National de Chaillot in Paris. It's a great program, too: We kick things off with Brandenburgs, an elegant pure-dance piece set to excerpts from Bach's famous Brandenburg concertos, and then conclude on a thoughtful note with Beloved Renegade, set to Francis Poulenc's Gloria and inspired by the life and work of poet Walt Whitman. Beloved Renegade is one of my all-time favorite Taylor works—not least because it features the mysterious, magnetic duo Michael Trusnovec and Laura Halzack in its leading roles.
Take a peek at the two works in the trailer below—then click here to find out more about the program.