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It’s best to approach Kate Geis‘ documentary about Paul Taylor knowing what you’re not going to get. This is not a comprehensive biographical portrait of the legendary choreographer, nor is it an examination of his work and its place in the history of modern dance. Rather, Paul Taylor: Creative Domain is a fly-on-the-wall depiction of the 2010 creation of “Three Dubious Memories,” his 133rd modern-dance piece for the eponymous company that he founded 61 years ago. While the film may prove unsatisfying to the uninitiated, for longtime fans it provides an enlightening and invaluable look into his creative process.
Other than a brief clip of the now octogenarian choreographer performing back in 1966, there is no archival footage in the documentary which was largely shot in Taylor’s downtown New York studio. There he’s seen working with his corps of dancers on the new piece (still prolific, he routinely creates two new works a year) about a romantic love triangle. Related through the differing perspectives of the three characters, it was inspired, he explains, by the classic film Rashomon.
The first step is the casting, not an easy process since, as one dancer comments, they “all want to be in a new piece.” Taylor’s insight into his performers is made evident when he casts two of them as lovers, only to learn that they’ve actually been secretly involved in real life.
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Although still obviously spry and physically agile for his age, Taylor is seen relying on his dancers to create their movements as he offers simple physical demonstrations and verbal comments. Unlike the typical clichéd image of a brutal dance taskmaster, he’s consistently relaxed and gentle, with his joy in the process manifestly evident.
The film includes interviews with several of the dancers, but not surprisingly it’s Taylor’s comments that prove more interesting. He notes that he finds inspiration from, of all things, football halftime shows. And referring to one piece of choreography, he says, “I stole that from Anthony Tudor, one of my favorite choreographers.”
“They say that amateurs borrow, but professionals steal,” he adds with a smile.
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The film’s final section features lengthy excerpts from the finished piece at its premiere performance in Texas. While it’s safe to say that it doesn’t rank among his finest works, it inevitably gains interest here due to the sneak peek of its creation.
And then it’s back to the studio as we see Taylor preparing to start on yet another new piece.
“OK…working time!” he says brightly. It’s an inspiring example of how doing what you love keeps you young.
Production: Resident Artist Films
Director/producer/editor: Kate Geis
Executive producer: Robert Abrerlin
Director of photography: Tom Hurwitz
Not rated, 82 min.
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