Erotic mentorship. That’s 85-year-old choreographer Paul Taylor in the documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain, gently instructing his troupe of dancers. Taylor’s unhurried movements and decelerated speech are factors of both age and caring, especially evident in the way his young charges look at him, responding to his sensuous, artistic instruction.
Director Kate Geis’ clear observation at Taylor’s bright Grand Street Studio in New York makes Creative Domain more than a dance doc. Taylor’s creation of a new piece titled Three Dubious Memories virtually diagrams how one generation passes on its wisdom about the body, the mind, relationships and imagination. The film could be titled Senior Action in a Gay Environment in tribute to the activist/social group Taylor’s mentorship evokes.
Not to stereotype dance as a gay art form, but Geis and dance provocateur Taylor allow sensitive, tasteful appreciation for the sensuality of gender interplay. The balding eminence’s consideration of his dancers’ physical capacity (and their own artistic aspiration) produces a stimulating age/youth contrast. “Their dance lives are limited. Their bodies give out. It’s not a natural activity,” Taylor says. His memory of physical prowess transfers sagacity and taste—as with what one learns from an older lover.
Two male dancers Robert Kleinendorst and Sean Mahoney, cast in a pas de deux, discuss Taylor’s artistic discretion: “It came as sort of a shock. I was expecting something to happen….Whenever he has homosexual relationships thrown into a dance, he always leaves a level of ambiguity. Not only with the audience but also with the people involved. It’s not gonna be physically obvious. But then he turned it into craziness.”
Taylor explains: “I also wanted to leave [the situation] open, just like, What kind of bosom buddies are these guys? Are they like just pals, or is it more? That’s another question in this dance.” His openness to physical, emotional possibility suggests a lifetime’s experience.
“It’s a very powerful moment for me,” Taylor admits. “[The characters] are desperate. They’ll grab on to anything that happens to be standing around.” Taylor’s mischievous, complicit grin protects him from seeming overly conscious—or guilt-ridden. (Remember, his 1987 autobiography was titled Private Domain.)
During workshop, Taylor asks “Do you know Rashomon?” The troupe doesn’t respond. They’re distant from Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 landmark film about Truth and Sexuality; that’s the gift Taylor wants to impart. Even when using heterosexual paradigms (like Kurosawa, like most choreographers), Taylor wants dance to preserve cultural continuity (he also salutes Antony Tudor and George Balanchine) while addressing the essence of human awareness.
When Three Dubious Memories, from an original score by Peter Elyakim Taussig, is finally performed, it’s a breathtaking coincidence that its gender interplay resembles that audacious, extended omnisexual orgy at the center of Julian Hernandez’ recent film, I Am Happiness on Earth. But Taylor teaches his troupe and his audience more than a sexual repertoire. While he muses “It’s like life, we don’t know each other,” and his studio motto boasts “In Order We Trust,” the dance piece is vivid and expressive like the numbers in Robert Altman’s ballet film The Company.
And when it looks like the entangled, undulating dancers are playing Twister for real, Taylor’s deep insight exposes something like Bob Fosse’s “Air Erotica” number in All That Jazz for the soft-core trash it is. “We have to see things as we can,” Taylor advises, teaching his pupil/partners how to live, how to be human, how to dance.
Creative Domain is in select theaters Sept. 11. Watch the trailer below: