In YDT project, students will re-make a dance that’s been ‘lost from view’

Dancers in last year's Yale Dance Theater project.
Dancers in last year's Yale Dance Theater project with Urban Bush Women. This year, the dancers will work alongside members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

In the spring semester, Yale students will reconstruct a dance created by renowned choreographer Paul Taylor that has not been performed in four decades.

They will be guided in this effort by guest artists closest to the source — members of the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

The dance, “Party Mix,” was created by Taylor in 1963. Taylor, now nearing 90, has been a leading force in the development of American modern dance since the mid-20th century. He continues to create new work and lead his internationally renowned company, which is based in New York City and hosts its home season at Lincoln Center.

The reconstruction of “Party Mix” is the eighth project of Yale Dance Theater (YDT), which was founded in 2011 as a faculty-directed, co-curricular initiative that enables students to work with professional artists on the reconstruction of existing choreography or the development of new work. The initiative, which combines both dance practice and research, is led by professional dancer Emily Coates ’06, ’11 GRD, an assistant professor adjunct appointed in Theater Studies and the School of Drama, who has directed the Dance Studies at Yale curriculum since its inception in 2006.

For the past several years, YDT has focused on the creation of new work. Changing the focus, the 2018 project will allow YDT to look back on mid-20th century American modern dance through one of its great pioneers, according to Coates. She adds that dance at Yale also has a fortuitous connection to Taylor:  Michael Apuzzo ’05 currently dances with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, serving as a meaningful link between the organizations.

When Coates approached the Paul Taylor Dance Company about collaborating with Yale students for YDT 2018, the troupe was eager to partner, and suggested that Yale serve as “laboratory” for the reconstruction of one of Taylor’s early works that had, essentially, been “lost from view,” according to Coates.

Today, we know Paul Taylor as a behemoth of the dance world who sells out a theater at Lincoln Center,” she says. “But he had a lesser-known period in his career, when he made dances that were not necessarily pleasing to audiences, but were experimenting with choreographic form. ‘Party Mix’ sits on the cusp of his transition between this experimental period and the work that he is known for today, which is widely accessible to broad audiences.”

Ruth Andrien, rehearsal director of the Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company (Taylor 2) will lead the reconstruction of “Party Mix” by Yale student dancers. Taylor 2, created by Paul Taylor and Linda Hodes in 1993, is a six-member professional ensemble that mimics the earliest version of Paul Taylor Dance Company, and focuses specifically on early Taylor works, educational residencies, and unconventional performance opportunities that the main company cannot fulfill. Andrien danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1973 to 1983. During the reconstruction and rehearsal process, Yale students will be joined by members of Taylor 2, who will also take part in the public performance later in the semester.

YDT performances have never before involved the professional dancers from the partnering company in the final program, so this is pretty exciting for us,” says Coates. “The audience will be able to compare ‘Party Mix’ with other early work on the program, performed by Taylor 2.”

Making better dancers: Coates describes “Party Mix” as a work that is “beautifully crafted, readily accessible, and technically challenging.”

Having the opportunity to explore the dance, and rehearse and perform with the Taylor 2 dancers will be an especially exciting aspect of the project, she says, noting, “Dancing alongside strong dancers pushes you to get better fast.”

Apuzzo reiterates the value of the dancing he did during his undergraduate years. “My education at Yale gave me the skills to do anything, but it was my experience dancing at Yale that developed my passion for the arts professionally,” Apuzzo says. “I saw the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform live in New York City during my freshman year, and I've been inspired by modern dance since. It is an honor to bring back a piece of history to campus by introducing Yale students to American modern dance through Taylor choreography. I feel like I've returned to my home.”

YDT participants will also contribute to the historical dance archive through their work. Throughout the semester, YDT dancers will regularly post blog entries about their experience, and their writings will be collected in the annual Yale Dance Journal, edited by members of the group.

 “Because YDT is a research initiative, our students will be actively involved in the questions that are inherent to dance reconstruction,” Coates explains. “How do we bridge the gap of 50 years [since the creation of ‘Party Mix’] with our bodies and our imaginations? What information do the Yale dancers — through Ruth Andrien — have available about that choreography? What were Taylor’s choreographic intentions and how can we do them justice?”

One facet of their research will be to explore Taylor’s underappreciated connection to the artist Robert Rauschenberg, which was highlighted recently in a Museum of Modern Art exhibition titled “Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends.” YDT dancers and the general public will hear a talk by Rauschenberg scholar Robert Mattison at the Yale University Art Gallery, and will also see a live performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company at Fairfield University in late January.

A film of “Party Mix” exists that students will be able to draw on while working with Andrien and the Taylor 2 dancers on the reconstruction. However, seeing the film will be just one facet of students’ inquiry about the piece.

It’s a common misconception that once we had the technology to videotape a dance, we’re able to reconstruct verbatim dances from the past,” Coates says. “In fact, there are many details you can’t get from a video or film. YDT dancers will explore how the Taylor technique has evolved over time. They will also get to see firsthand how Ruth Andrien processes the information and makes choices about the staging, in the studio with them.”

Paul Taylor and Elizabeth Walton dancing in "Tracer" in 1963.
Paul Taylor and Elizabeth Walton dancing in "Tracer" in 1963. (Alix Jeffry, Paul Taylor Dance Company Archives)

A December start: The audition for YDT’s Paul Taylor project will take place on Monday, Dec. 4, 6-7:30 p.m. in the Broadway Loft Studios, Rm. 303 of 294 Elm St. Adrien and Apuzzo will lead the audition. Participants will be chosen by the Taylor guests in coordination with Coates and YDT student coordinators Brittany Stollar GRD ’18 and Elayna Garner ’20. Current members of Yale Dance Theater will continue on and do not need to audition to take part.

For newcomers to the YDT, the criteria is not only technical strength, though prior dance training is important. The group also considers the broad set of interests that a student will bring to a project and to the study of dance.

Rehearsals will begin on Jan. 15, and the final public showing will take place on Saturday April 14 in the Crescent Theater. In addition to the performance of “Party Mix” by YDT dancers, members of Taylor 2 will perform “Tracer,” another of Taylor’s earliest dances (which featured sets and costumes by Rauschenberg). This event is free and open to the public.

YDT’s 2018 project differs significantly from projects of the past several years. In 2016, YDT dancers worked with artists Saar Harari and Lee Sher to create a new dance using the movement language Gaga, and last year they learned methods of improvisation and community building as they explored with Urban Bush Women how dance can be a means for social engagement.

In looking back at the mid-20th century foundations of American modern dance, this year’s project will be a real switching of gears for the group,” Coates says. “In my own career, it’s been in those moments of switching gears — when I was confronted with learning dances from very different styles and different decades — that I have grown the most. YDT offers student dancers the opportunity to blaze their own pathways through dance history. There is no better guide than Paul Taylor.”