Reel to Real: Dancemaker


In memory of American dance legend, Paul Taylor

For more than fifty years, the Paul Taylor Dance Company has been one of the pre-eminent modern dance companies in America, or indeed, in the world. With a repertory of works that have been performed around the globe, adopted by various other dance companies, the lasting influence of the late Paul Taylor’s vision of dance is assured. Much like the twin titans of the New York City Ballet - George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins - Taylor’s choreography is precise, recognizable and yet subtly different in every piece he creates.

In Dancemaker, former dancer turned filmmaker Matthew Diamond trains his eye on the man and his company. Tracing the long months of rehearsal that culminated in the New York world premiere of one of Mr Taylor’s most acclaimed works, the tango-inspired ‘Piazolla Caldera’, Mr Diamond’s film takes many enjoyable meanderings into the individual lives of the dancers that worship and fear Mr Taylor, and also offers a peek - albeit a sanitized, ‘authorized’ one - into his personal life. As a documentary about dance and dancers, this film comes perilously close to perfection. The hard work, the rigorous training, the threat of injury that always looms ahead of every dancer, the crippling pain inflicted upon their feet and bodies as they relentlessly strive to please their taskmaster and themselves - all these are presented here in vivid detail to silence anyone who ever thought that dancing was an easy job. Indeed, ‘Dancemaker’ chronicles the lives of dancers far better than it offers a portrait of Paul Taylor himself.

Of course, that is not to say the film is lacking in details. In two particularly insightful moments, Mr Diamond manages to convey the power and the dedication required of all that aspire to dance. In the first, an imperiously cheeky Mr Taylor says that his dancers would probably jump out a window if he asked them to, thereby highlighting his awareness of the tremendous amount of authority and respect he wields over their lives. In another, we are shown a series of vignettes of a younger Mr Taylor performing his signature work, ‘Aureole’, intercut with the same dance being performed by Patrick Corbin - the touching blend of melancholy, reminiscence and admiration that flicker across Mr Taylor’s face succinctly explains his life’s work.

Apart from the man himself, the film also offers a generous portrait of the dancers in his company. Standing head and shoulders above the rest is Mr Corbin, who was once one of the most featured dancers in Mr Taylor’s repertory; he speaks eloquently and emotionally about his feelings for Mr Taylor and his personal dedication to dance as an art form. Francie Huber, one of Mr Taylor’s muses, is also given prominent screen time as she discusses how, after almost fifteen years of collaboration with him, she still feels inadequate and uncertain whenever they begin a new dance.

However, the star of the show remains Mr Taylor’s choreography, and the stunning process from first steps to fruition of his masterpiece - presented almost in full, expertly filmed by Mr Diamond - is an apt finale to this fascinating and wildly entertaining Oscar-nominated documentary feature. Even if you have no desire whatsoever to go near a dance performance, the magnetism of Paul Taylor’s work and the humorous behind-the-scenes look at this demanding art form make for a wonderfully enjoyable film.