This November, the Paul Taylor Dance Company returned to the Koch Theater for the first time since 2019 under the tagline “Taylor: A New Era.” They’ve had a rough go of it since 2018, when Taylor passed away, at age 88, months after handing the reins over to former company member Michael Novak. Then, just as the troupe was restructuring after the loss of its founder, a pesky virus you may have heard of set them back again. But now, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of so very many brushfires, they have emerged on the other side with a new roster (8 of the 16 dancers were hired in 2019 or later, only three joined before 2017) and renewed purpose. (Though a discrimination lawsuit in the company’s costume department is countering the fanfare of their rebirth.) Novak, wisely, is not riding on old glory and the recognition of the Taylor name; instead, he is working to educate a new generation on Taylor’s legacy. His outreach has been multipronged and clever, including piggybacking on the Guggenheim’s Alex Katz retrospective by programming four of the painter’s 16 collaborations with Taylor this season, as well as producing a lecture on the pair at the Library for the Performing Arts. Donor Jody Arnhold has also funded a program to bring NY public school students and their families to shows throughout the run. It was heartening to hear Novak declare, in his gala speech, that “dance and dance education are one thing”—a surprisingly radical declaration for a dance director. In addition to showcasing Taylor anew, Novak is expanding the repertory through new works (this season’s premieres are by Amy Hall Garner and Lauren Lovette) and smart acquisitions (like Kurt Jooss’s “The Green Table”). The two programs I saw were remarkably well-crafted, offering an overview of Taylor’s artistic journey as well as a glimpse of where the company is headed.
John Harnage in “Solitaire” by Lauren Lovette. Photograph by Ron Thiele