Taylor Made

It’s been 15 years since Paul Taylor’s legendary dance company performed in Charlotte, but the iconic troupe returns for Sensoria.

True legends are rare. And living legends are even rarer. But modern dance master Paul Taylor, 86, is exactly that.

His famed dance company, founded in 1954, has been to 524 cities in 64 countries. The company hasn’t been to Charlotte, though, in 15 years.

But thanks to a partnership including UNC Charlotte, Central Piedmont Community College, and Charlotte Ballet, the company makes its return April 7-8. It’s part of Sensoria, CPCC’s annual celebration of the literature and arts.

Taylor, a former student of Martha Graham, is a decorated dance veteran, with a Kennedy Center Honor (1992) and the National Medal of Arts (1993) to his name. This quote from Laura Shapiro in Newsweek helps explain Taylor’s significance: “[I]n the beginning, there was Martha Graham, who changed the face of an art form…Then there was Merce Cunningham, who stripped away the externals and showed us the heart of movement. And then there was Paul Taylor, who let the sun shine in.”

If the modern dance world had a Mount Rushmore, it would contain the visages of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, and Taylor. He helped humanize modern dance. He brought what UNCC’s Meg Freeman Whalen calls “pedestrian movement” to an often abstract, hard-to-decipher art form. Whalen, the College of Arts + Architecture’s communications director, says, “Paul Taylor took the movements we all do—walking, skipping, lunging— and incorporated them into modern dance. And the idea was radical at the time.”

Sensoria’s Paul Taylor Dance Company performances will feature “Brandenburgs” (1988); “Lost, Found and Lost” (1982); and “Le Sacre du Printemps” (1980), danced to Stravinsky’s two-piano arrangement performed live. But as exciting as the return of the Paul Taylor Dance Company is for Charlotte, it’s not all CPCC has in store with Sensoria.

Although set in Chicago, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (March 31-April 9) is part of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Pittsburgh Cycle” of plays chronicling, decade by decade, the African-American experience in the 20th century. Wilson has been recently introduced to a new audience, thanks to the Denzel Washington-directed “Fences”.

Set during a recording session in Chicago’s South Side, “Ma Rainey” (winner of the 1985 Tony for best play) depicts the exploitation of African-American musicians.

Part of Sensoria’s mission is to educate as well as to entertain. So, along with the performances of Ma Rainey, two panel discussions are planned to provide context for the play. “We’ll take the thematic concepts and draw them into reality,” said Maestro Alan Yamamoto, CPCC’s division director for the arts. “That was August Wilson’s point, after all.”

One will be moderated by Brenda Tindal, the Levine Museum of the New South’s historian, and the other by Tom Hanchett, who held the position before Tindal. Both are two of Charlotte’s most treasured culture keepers.

Puccini’s “Tosca” is another showcase event. “It’s unusual for a community college to put on an opera,” says Yamamoto. But CPCC has long been crucial component of Charlotte culture. “‘Tosca’ dramatizes Napoleon’s invasion of Italy,” Yamamoto says. “It has torture, murder, love, and lust—the best and worst of human character.”

And there’s even more drama. Actor/director/theater professor Christian Caspar will direct pop-up Shakespeare on every CPCC campus. The 10-minute scenes are designed to “get people involved, to mesmerize them,” Yamamoto says.

Author George Saunders, a 2006 MacArthur Genius grant recipient, is this year’s Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lecturer. He’s written four short-story collections, a novella, a book of essays, an award-winning children’s book, and the newly released acclaimed novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

If Saunders isn’t a legend yet, he may become one. CPCC and UNCC have a way of bringing them to town.

 

CPCC’s Sensoria (March 31 – April 9) is a celebration of literature and the arts. Tickets for the Paul Taylor Dance Company performances (April 7-8 at 7:30 p.m.) and other events are on sale at www.tix.cpcc.edu. Many Sensoria events are offered to the public at no charge.