Paul Taylor: Creative Domain (self-released, NR)

Paul Taylor MainIf you don’t already have an interest in dance, the experience of watching this film may be a similar to watching the grass grow or the paint dry.





Paul Taylor 500

Paul Taylor, one of America’s greatest living choreographers, got his big break as a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company in the 1950s. Despite a rather scant background in dance (he was a swimmer and artist in his younger years, and only discovered dance while in college), he also became a guest artist with the New York City Ballet. Taylor is better known, however, for his innovative work as a choreographer (Graham called him the “naughty boy” of dance), and it is his choreographic process that is the focus of Kate Geis’ documentary Paul Taylor: Creative Domain.

Although the film opens with an intriguing early clip of Taylor performing in 1966, for the most part Geis remains tightly focused on Taylor’s working process while creating a single new dance, “Three Dubious Memories.” If you’re interested in modern dance, it’s fascinating, because Taylor regularly provides commentary not only on his general approach to choreography, but also what this specific work is about and why he wants a particular look for each moment. Interviews with dancers involved in the new works are also included in the film, although they tend to focus on their own development as dancers and their working relationship with Taylor.

I have no idea if Taylor’s working method is unique to him, or if it is common to other choreographers. He appears to be working out his ideas right in front of the camera, an approach quite different from that taken in, say, classical music (where in my experience it is more typical for the composer to write the score working alone, after which it is presented to the musicians as a finished product which they will learn and perform). In any case, this film offers viewers the rare privilege of seeing a work being created, rough patches and all, rather than focusing only on the finished product. For students of dance in particular, the chance to see how real dancers and choreographers work together is invaluable.

Having said that, if you don’t already have an interest in dance, the experience of watching this film may be a similar to watching the grass grow or the paint dry. It’s not primarily a performance film (you do get to see the completed work, but with lots of camera cutting so it’s not the same experience as seeing it in the theatre), nor is it an overview of Taylor’s career (the latter is covered more thoroughly in Matthew Diamond’s 1998 documentary Dancemaker). | Sarah Boslaugh

Paul Taylor: Creative Domain will be screened as part of the Webster Film Series, in the Winifred Moore Auditorium, 470 E. Lockwood Ave. in Webster Groves, on October 13 at 7:30 pm. Admission is $6 for the general public, $5 for seniors, Webster alumni and students from other schools, $4 for Webster University faculty and staff, and free for Webster students with proper ID. Advanced tickets and discount admission passes are available. For more information, including directions and the complete Film Series calendar, visit or call 314-968-7487.

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