BWW Guest Blog: Eryc Taylor Dance on Summer Festival Season
Summer means festival season! Nationally and internationally, large and small, summer dance festivals showcase performances ranging from classical ballet to the ultra avant-garde. But perhaps the most appealing and important aspect of all performance festivals is that there's truly something for everyone.
I have enjoyed some of the most thrilling experiences of my career as an individual dancer and that of Eryc Taylor Dance's history in festivals, most notably: The International Dance Festival Avant Garde in Merida, Mexico (2015-2017) and a festival I created called, Dance Martha Dance at the Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard (2006 & 2007). The Martha's Vineyard experience was one of the most important turning points for me. I received some of the best reviews in my life and it inspired me to later create the ETD "New Choreographer Grant," (ETD/NCG) which offers funding to young, aspiring choreographers.
Acting as founder, producer and curator of a new festival was a daunting task to say the least. Organizing the performers, getting everyone to the same place, fundraising and much more -- the list goes on and on. Hats off to all of those who take on such gargantuan responsibilities year after year and make it look so seamless and effortless.
This brings me to ETD's participation in festivals and benefits for summer of 2018. We kicked off the season with a performance in Bryant Park Picnics Contemporary Dance Series where the towering skyscrapers of Times Square served as our background. Our show was the first in the series which ran on Fridays from June 22-July 20th, along with Harlem School of the Arts Dance Ensemble, AThomasProject and Graham 2.
Threatening skies loomed ominously even during the Bryant Park setup, but fortunately my dancers escaped the rain. Graham 2 dancers were not so lucky, but they toweled the stage down and went on anyway like the champions that they are! It was interesting to see my three works: "Chaise Lung", "Cycles (excerpt)", and "Grand Duo" presented in an open air setting with NYC as the stage. Because I work so closely in collaboration with designers (lighting, sound, and costumes) and composers to create "worlds," I was not sure how the works would translate outdoors where there are no side wings, lighting and sound check was extremely limited. My dancers had to change in a tent with the other companies and strip down for all to see. It may come with the territory but the circumstances still hardly feel ideal. I recall from my own experiences performing in festivals such as Fire Island Dance Festival and Jacob's Pillow Inside Out -- it can be very disorienting to enter the world of the work without the transition space of the wings a theater grants you.
But to my delight, they all resonated well and the audience and critics seemed to echo my approval. I performed "Chaise Lung," a tango duet that utilizes a red velvet couch for much of the piece with Laura Peterson in 1995 at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, so it was interesting to observe (and enjoy) it as a voyeur. I was unsure of how "Cycles" would go over as it is heavily dependent on lighting and the visual universe created is integral to the piece. Thankfully, the beauty of the dance shone through on its own. But the one that best suited the setting turned out to be "Grand Duo", a love story duet with popular music and relatable themes performed exquisitely by dancers Chris Bell and Nicole Baker, where the NYC backdrop lent a cinematic and romantic feel.
I got to see "Cycles", commissioned by Douglas Sills of The Sills Foundation in 2017, again a month later come to life with all the bells and whistles at the extraordinary benefit - Dancers For Good. DFG supports The Actors Fund Dancers' Resource, founded by Humanitarian Award honoree, Bebe Neuwirth who was presented with an award for being a true "dancer for good" alongside the legendary Chita Rivera, who received her second Lifetime Achievement Award in two months - like only Chita could.
But equally as thrilling as the stars being honored were the dance stars on stage. My company performed alongside incredible peers such as Carolyn Dorfman Dance, Pam Tanowitz Dance and Amy Marshall Dance Company and ETD was sandwiched between luminaries Martha Graham and Paul Taylor Dance Company. It was both a supreme honor and a bit nerve-wracking to see my work dance beside such choreographic giants.
But my most unexpected highlight of the night was spawned from my biggest concern and distraction: the man who sat beside me in the top-tier, high-priced VIP ticket seats was clearly someone's date who was not a dance fan and would rather be anywhere else. He was fidgeting and looking at his watch during some of the most captivating dance performances. I shuddered to think what his reaction might be to my "Cycles" choreography, and chose to tune him out and focus on the performance. But after it was finished, he turned to his partner and enthusiastically exclaimed, "Now we're talking! This was the best piece of the show hands down!" We chatted afterwards and I told him it was my piece. He beamed and recounted his glowing compliments. At that moment I saw in person the transformative power of dance at work, and was reminded of why we do this. We try to make a difference!