Reviewed by Steve Sucato
When Matthew Diamond’s Academy Award-nominated documentary Dancemaker, about choreographer Paul Taylor and his company premiered in 1998, the amount of dance films vying for viewer’s eyes was but a shadow of what it is today. From recent documentaries like Jody Lee Lipes’ Ballet 422 and Joseph East’s I Will Dance, to the many dance-on-camera and YouTube offerings as well as live movie theater simulcasts, dance on screen is enjoying a boon.
Now entering the fray is the new dance documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain (2014) by Emmy-award-winning documentary producer Kate Geis.
Like the aforementioned Dancemaker, but with a lot less interpersonal drama, the 82-minute Creative Domain centers around the next chapter in dance icon Paul Taylor’s creative life with his company, placing the viewer inside the studio, theater and conversationally opposite Taylor, his staff and dancers as they create “Three Dubious Memories,” the 133rd work of Taylor’s for his company.
Shot in 2010, we seeming stand right next to the gum chewing Taylor as works in the NYC company studios with his dancers. The wheels appear to turn behind Taylor’s blue eyes and wrinkled brow as we watch him quietly move and move with the dancers.
“I talk as little as possible in the rehearsal, says the now 85-year-old Taylor. “It eats up time. And I remember some rehearsals from other choreographers I have had where a lot of time was spent listening to this gab, this poetic flow, which I found basically not helpful. Balanchine didn’t waste a second.”
Creative Domain is all about the flow of time, from day one of “Three Dubious Memories’” creation to its premiere. We see it informing the way Taylor and his dancers work, the creation of costuming, lighting and the choice by Taylor to invite into the studio and finally meet composer Peter Elyakim Taussig, who created the original music for the work, only after his choreography for the dance work was complete.
“I don’t think of myself as a collaborator,” says Taylor. “I do what I do and then I let them do what they do more or less. The dancemaker really relies on a variety of people who do different things.”
The soft-spoken Taylor is shown as affable, charming, deliberate and calculated. He never wants to show all his cards, even to the dancers he is working work with that by film’s end are as mystified as to the meaning behind some of Taylor’s choreographic choices and as audiences might be.
“Poetry doesn’t always spell everything out, you know. They leave room between the lines,” says Taylor. “A dance can be like that too.”
In many areas, Creative Domain employs a typical usual insider’s view of things like having the choreographer discuss his process with Taylor talking about his outside influences such as watching football halftime shows and stealing ideas from the works of Antony Tudor, how picky he is about what he wants and what he is aiming for in the new work. We also hear from staff, most notably longtime rehearsal director Bettie de Jong (who reveals that the only work of Taylor’s he vocalized satisfaction with after its premiere was “Esplanade”), costume and set designer Santo Laquasto, lighting designer Jennifer Tipton and of course the dancers, who are humbled in working with Taylor on the new piece, torn up about not doing so, and continue to perpetuate Taylor’s reputation about being stingy in doling out praise and being guarded about letting the dancers into his confidence.
Geis gets it right by choosing an unusual work of Taylor’s to focus on. One that is as close to a literal story ballet as any of his past works. The character’s relationships, their sometimes cartoonish actions, the music, and its idea of reliving the same events of a love triangle from three different emotionally-biased perspectives, is fascinating. She also gets it right by showing virtually the entire finished “Three Dubious Memories” onstage and in costume. So many other dance documentaries fall short by only showing snippets of the work(s) they just spent their entire film scrutinizing.
Creative Domain is wonderfully shot by award-winning cinematographer Tom Hurwitz), nicely paced, and insightfully put together. It is as good a window into dance creation as any made for the screen.
Paul Taylor: Creative Domain will be shown at 7 p.m., Fri., Oct. 16 and 1:30 p.m., Sun., Oct. 17. Cleveland Museum of Art’s Morley Lecture Hall, 11150 East Blvd., Cleveland, Ohio. $7-9. (216) 421-7340 or clevelandart.org. For more information and show dates nationwide visit paultaylorcreativedomain.com.