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U-M among three U.S. sites for Paul Taylor dance training

See a slideshow of the Paul Taylor Summer Intensive >

In the vocabulary of dance, a gesture is never quite what it seems to be. Rather, a gesture is a subtle sign that invariably leads to a movement, which becomes, ultimately, an emotional and aesthetic statement.
Students make significant progress in a few days, learning the nuances of Taylor's style of dance, marked by lively gestures of the upper torso. Angela Kane (below right), chair of the Department of Dance, spearheaded the effort to attract the Paul Taylor Company to the University. Christian Matjias (seated at piano), associate professor of dance, is the onsite director. "This is a significant boost to what we offer," he says. (Photos By Frank Provenzano)

Likewise, the new relationship between legendary American choreographer Paul Taylor and the University may appear, on its surface, as a gesture of logistical convenience. The New York-based dance company had offered intensive training classes to dancers on the east and west coast, New York City and Los Angeles, but nothing in between. The current two-week course in Ann Arbor offers Midwesterners a convenient locale.

If all goes well during the first-ever Paul Taylor Summer Intensive in Ann Arbor, the pact with the famous and influential choreographer could become an annual offering and a definitive statement, helping elevate the dance department in the forefront as a "21st-century dance school," says Angela Kane, chair of the Department of Dance in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Over two weeks, two former dancers from the Paul Taylor Dance Company are on hand instructing 27 students from around the country. In July and August, the dance department holds the Summer Dance Institute, taught by U-M faculty members.

"Nowadays, dancers work with different choreographers and need alternative training," she says. "This Paul Taylor intensive is a way to show we're changing with the times and offering students what they need to succeed in a competitive world."

Kane arrived as chair of the dance department in September. She also is a dance critic, scholar and author of an upcoming book examining Taylor's distinctive choreography and impact on contemporary dance. The aim of the book is to broaden what she perceives as a narrow understanding of Taylor's contributions to dance.

At 78, Taylor remains an innovative force in contemporary dance, continuing to choreograph as many as two new works a year. Along with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, he is widely acknowledged as shaping modern American dance.
The rigorous two-week Paul Taylor Summer Intensive requires dancers to be highly focused and flexible.

While Graham's style focused on the intricate movements of the lower body, Taylor's work is distinguished by lively gestures of the upper torso that are fluid and multidimensional.

The American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet also conduct intensive workshops in the region; both companies focus on a classic ballet repertoire. In contrast, students immersed in Taylor's style offers an up-close look at the work of a cutting-edge contemporary choreographer responding to social changes. Since 2000 Taylor has created works condemning American imperialism, lampooning feminism and challenging conventional views of death.

"This is a significant boost for what we offer at U-M," says Christian Matjias, associate professor of dance. He serves as onsite director for the intensive.

"Not only does it serve our educational mission, but it gives us a connection to the center of the New York dance world. The reality is that as a dancer, you have to have connections to succeed."

The public is invited to student performances 12:30-1:30 p.m. June 21 and June 28 in the Betty Pease Studio Theatre, Dance Building, 1310 N. University Court, Ann Arbor.

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