Aureole: Exploring Paul Taylor’s Landmark Work - Michigan Opera Theatre

Aureole: Exploring Paul Taylor’s Landmark Work

By Jon Teeuwissen, MOT Artistic Advisor for Dance

Paul Taylor, one of the most important choreographers of the 20th century, was prolific. He created 147 dances for the Paul Taylor Dance Company which was founded in 1954. In 1962, his 30th work, Aureole, marked a significant departure from his previous avant-garde aesthetic. Earlier works, such as 1957’s Duet, “danced” in stillness to a “non-score,” and Epic, a piece where Taylor slowly crossed the stage to recorded time announcements, were considered more conceptual performances. In response to that program, the Dance Observer published a review that contained no words.

Taylor vowed that his work would be “free from the cobwebs of time” (no ballet), and provoked dance critics by setting Aureole to the baroque music of Handel. Renée Kimball Wadleigh, who danced in the original cast, said “Paul’s early works were radical explorations of stillness and pedestrian movement. Aureole was completely new in that it was pure dance while referring to the classical past.”

The word “aureole” is defined as “a circle of light or brightness surrounding something especially depicted in art as around the head or body of a person represented as holy.” With its lyrical movement to Handel’s oratorio Jeptha, and dancers costumed in white, Aureole exudes hope.

While the work was rejected by some devout modernists for being too lyrical, most everyone else fell in love with it. Taylor, reflecting on the premiere, said “we thought we would have to take a bow in a hurry before they stopped clapping – but they didn’t stop!”

Aureole was Taylor’s first major success. It showcased what was to become his trademark style of athletic movement that features both classical ballet and modern techniques. Taylor was himself a member of the original cast, and he created a solo for himself that may be one of the most incredibly beautiful adagios ever.

Although Taylor was often less than generous in his remarks regarding classical ballet companies, some of his most loved works are often performed by major ballet companies such as American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet. Rudolph Nureyev, one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers, defected from the former Soviet Union in order to pursue artistic freedom. He was quick to explore American modern dance, and he danced the role that Paul Taylor originated in Aureole.

Following is a video of Rudolf Nureyev and members of the Royal Danish Ballet performing Paul Taylor’s Aureole:

Gia Kourlas, dance critic for The New York Times, in her article titled “Paul Taylor, a Master of Light and Darkness” wrote:

“It wouldn’t be right to cherish Paul Taylor only for his Baroque masterpieces like Aureole, Esplanade and Brandenburgs. These are not merely pretty but downright beautiful moments in an increasingly dark world.”

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