Ballet Stars
A young Paul Taylor in Aureole. Photo by Jack Mitchell, Courtesy PTDC.

Legendary choreographer Paul Taylor, whose illustrious career spanned seven decades, passed away yesterday in New York City at age 88.

Originally from the Washington, D.C. area, Taylor discovered dance relatively late in life, while in college at Syracuse University on a swimming scholarship. He then transferred to the Juilliard School, and in 1954 began to choreograph. In 1955 he joined the Martha Graham Dance Company. Taylor first stirred the dance world in 1957 with Seven New Dances. The piece was composed entirely of long sections of standing, sitting and pedestrian style walking across the stage. Audience members were outraged; critic Louis Horst famously published a blank review in The Dance Observer in response. Since 1954, Taylor has choreographed 146 dances.

Despite his postmodern roots, Taylor quickly found favor with ballet companies. In 1959, George Balanchine invited him to be a guest artist with New York City Ballet for the creation of Episodes, a two-part work that he and Graham were co-creating. Balanchine's section included a solo made on Taylor, which the New York Times described as "disturbingly complex" when NYCB revived it in 1986. (Today, only Balanchine's section of Episodes, sans solo, is performed.) And some of Taylor's most loved works, including Airs, Company B, Black Tuesday, Aureole and Sunset are frequently performed by major ballet companies including American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet.

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Ballet Stars

When American Ballet Theatre offered Katherine Williams a place in its corps, she had no idea how big a transition lay ahead.


Williams’ long line, liquid-smooth control and elegant port de bras had helped her advance quickly from student at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School to ABT II member and, finally, into the company itself. But as many young professionals discover, the transition to company life can be jarring. “Being onstage is nothing like dancing in the studio,” says Williams, who quickly realized that 180-degree turnout isn’t enough to tug heartstrings in the audience. She had worked so hard to become technically polished that she found herself struggling to really move onstage.


Then came Paul Taylor’s Company B last fall. Williams discovered her sense of freedom as she jitterbugged out of the wings of New York City Center—and shocked everyone watching. “This little waif of a thing really slammed it right down to the ground!” says Patrick Corbin, a former Paul Taylor Dance Company member who staged the piece for ABT. “Younger dancers are usually afraid to take risks, but Katie took to it like a duck to water. She just dove into the jazzy idiom.”


Barely a year into her career with the company, 19-year-old Williams is quickly learning to use her rock-solid technical foundation to deliver daring, dynamic performances. Corbin says, “Your eyes go straight to her onstage.”


Williams followed her two sisters to ballet class at age 6. When the family moved from Hawaii to Maryland, her sisters quit, but Williams enrolled at the Ballet Royale Academy and began competing at Youth America Grand Prix. “It was an opportunity like no other to get my name out there and learn what other dancers my age were doing,” says Williams. In 2003, she won the Youth Grand Prix. Two years later, she placed in the top 12 of the senior division and was offered a spot at JKO.


Although she’s blessed with a body perfectly proportioned for ballet (long legs, a willowy silhouette), it’s Williams’ temperament that has been the not-so-secret ingredient of her success. “Katie is one of the most professional workers I’ve ever met by far,” says ABT ballet mistress Susan Jones. Along with being a quick learner, Jones says Williams also applies every personal and general correction, always working at her fullest. “What more could a ballet mistress ask!”


However, Williams has begun letting go of some of that perfectionism when she steps onstage. “In the corps, you have to always stay in line, but I catch myself holding back too much in order to be ‘correct’,” she says. “I want to show my true self in my dancing. I love those moments when you finally let go and feel like you’re flying with the wind blowing through your hair.” She looks up to dancers like ABT principal Gillian Murphy, who’ve found a way to develop their artistry without compromising technique.


Given her magnetic presence and hunger to improve, it’s easy to predict that Williams has a promising future. “She has definitely lost some of the schoolgirl look she had from the start,” says Jones. “I see her improving with each season. Anything is possible when you have all the extraordinary talents that Katie has.”

Jennifer Stahl is
Pointe’s senior editor.

Sometimes it seems like we spend our lives on Facebook—we chronicle our days, stalk our crushes, connect with long lost friends. Why not put social media to use to win a scholarship?

 

Paul Taylor Dance Company has partnered with Talenthouse to find two talented dancers to award scholarships for the Taylor Summer Intensive program in New York. On the site, you can submit a video (up to 90 seconds long) that displays your love of dance—no matter the genre—and why you deserve to study at the Taylor Summer Intensive. Talenthouse has an integrated Facebook platform where anyone can vote for the video they like best. The top 20 videos will then be reviewed by Paul Taylor, two PTDC dancers, the director of the school, and Matthew Diamond, director of Taylor documentary "Dancemaker" as well as "So You Think You Can Dance."

 

For full details, go to talenthouse.com. Submit your video by March 31. 

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