Amy Hall Garner and Lauren Lovette on Creating with the Paul Taylor Dance Company
When the Paul Taylor Dance Company returns to Lincoln Center November 1-13, iconic Taylor dances like “Esplanade” and “Company B” share the stage with world premieres from Amy Hall Garner and newly-appointed resident choreographer Lauren Lovette. Other highlights of the programming include a special evening celebrating the collaboration between Taylor and the painter Alex Katz, Kurt Jooss’s classic anti-war ballet “The Green Table,” and live music from the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, led by maestro David LaMarche.
Garner’s eclectic resume gives insight into the broad range of dance styles that influence her movement vocabulary. Since graduating from the Juilliard School, she has made concert dance works for companies like Ballet X, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and ABT Studio Company in addition to commercial work for superstars like Beyoncé, whom she personally coached while providing additional choreography for The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Currently, she is an adjunct professor at New York University and a Virginia B. Toulmin Fellow at the Center for Ballet and the Arts.
In 2021, Lauren Lovette surprised the dance world by leaving New York City Ballet and her position as principal dancer, a rank she had held since 2015, to focus her career more equally on choreography. Shortly after, she was named the first resident choreographer of the Taylor Company.
While Garner’s work makes connections between modern dance and jazz music, Lovette’s dance mines themes from life, asking the question,”how do we go about living in this world in a way that makes sense?” The unique trajectories of both artists and their commissions give some insight into the future that artistic director Michael Novak is fashioning for the Taylor Company—a future that is dedicated to the kind of experimentation and athleticism that drove Taylor himself that also fosters collaborative relationships between choreographers and visual artists. Billed as “Taylor: A New Era,” this fall season will hopefully continue to showcase the talents of the riveting Taylor dancers to maximum effect, as they push themselves and each other forward.
Fjord Review caught up with Garner and Lovette on Zoom in September as they were heading back into the studio with the Taylor dancers. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
How would you describe your movement style in the context of working with Paul Taylor Dance Company?
Amy Hall Garner: I grew up with a heavy ballet foundation. And then I kind of spring-boarded that more into modern and contemporary. Then as a professional dancer, I did more commercial work in theater. They all kind of come together when I create. But with the Taylor dancers, they’re pushing me in terms of really honing in on my modern skills and going back to the time when I was studying modern dance at Juilliard: I’m figuring out a lot of floor work and being grounded, using movement from the back and the torso more.
Lauren Lovette: All I know is that linguistically I have a vocabulary and it’s ballet, but I don’t know if I have a movement vocabulary yet. I have impulses, almost like a child has impulses in their body—that’s how I feel when I’m in the studio, it’s always moving, it’s always changing. I love working with these dancers because they’re modern trained and I never got the chance to take any kind of modern dance as a kid. I’ve always struggled with a grounded-ness in my own dancing. When I give a step and then they translate it in their way, it’s like the step has roots and a totally different feeling than what I do in my own body. So I actually try to show less.
When you’re showing less with them, you are describing more?
Lovette: That’s been a challenge because I have a ballet vocabulary and these words that I have to describe movements, that’s not necessarily what I want to see. What’s been so cool about working here more steadily is that my vocabulary has changed from that of trying to describe steps into trying to describe feelings, emotions, or objects. It’s more image based and visual, almost like a dream. I get into this space, and I think of images that come across my mind or feelings that I want to express and how that will relate in the body. That’s how we’ve been able to communicate and it’s beautiful because then I feel like emotionally we get on the same page.
Garner: The process with the Taylor dancers has been a unique process. First of all, because of scheduling. This is the first ballet that I’ve done where I had to leave and come back during the process of creating—normally it’s always truncated in three or four weeks. We started in February and then we came back in late spring, then we had the summer off, and now I’m back. At one point, I forgot the steps over the summer [laughs]. There’s been pockets in the creation process, which is new for me. I’m interested to see how that unfolds when I see the work as a whole.
Also, at Paul Taylor [studios] they don’t have mirrors. I didn’t realize how much I relied on the mirror for making and looking at the dancers. I’m going off a feeling more, so we are not trying to replicate perfectly what I show. We’re in the same space of the next feeling that we want to create together because we don’t have that distraction of making sure that we’re trying to get something correct [in the mirror]; we’re trying to get it correct on a deeper level where you can’t double check what you are doing. It’s been really, really nice just being in that world without having to be presentational.
Lovette: I completely agree with Amy. Especially in the ballet world, you always have a mirror. But I don’t miss it at all. You have to describe more, give the intention behind what you did in the first place. Why did I want to do that turn? Or where are you moving from? Your ribs? Or your skin?
I like what that unlocks in the space. The dancers can’t judge themselves based off the mirror. You really get to have this back-and-forth communication…like telephone. They respond, we do it again, you start to describe something new, they try it again and it goes back and forth until you see something.
It seems like being without a mirror really shifts the group dynamic . . .
Garner: The Taylor dancers feel like a really big family, they work together so well and they’re very responsive to each other. I just ask them to do something and they’ll try to make it work, even if it’s something impossible. It’s a collaborative process in that way of figuring an idea out where I get to push my vocabulary. They’re very open to that, and in some schools and companies that may not always be the case.
Lovette: I felt that from the very first day, I stepped into the space. No matter how crazy of a thing I suggested, and even if the dancer didn’t feel confident that they could do it, they would try it every time. And they encourage each other too. Like if somebody’s never done a cartwheel or they haven’t flipped or they haven’t stood on their head or something, there’s a community of people that go, ‘Okay, I’ve done that before and it feels like this. You can do it.’ They’ll figure it out and they meet you halfway.
Garner: I think that it is really important as a creator to have dancers who will try with you. I think that’s the only way you can further your craft.
Lovette: Otherwise, it really is just you, and people become more like objects instead of people. I don’t think that it has as much soul, the same life force behind it. But when you work with people that show up as themselves and they’re connected as a team and they really want to meet you somewhere, everything is alive.
Where did you find inspiration for the new dances you are both creating?
Garner: This piece is called Somewhere in the Middle and we’re meeting in the middle of modern dance and jazz music. What does that look like? When you put the syncopated and percussiveness and the musicality on top of something that’s so grounded. To me they’re from the same world. I’ve collaborated with artist Donald Martiny, who’s creating these like hanging sculptures. When we were talking, he mentioned to me that he creates to the jazz music of Bill Evans and Sarah Vaughan.
We’re all in the same house of creation. It’s new for me in the fact that I have a lot of different things happening on stage: the set is kind of moving, while the dancers are moving— usually I’m just focused on the dancers. The music’s so complex and so layered and I’ve tried to compliment that with movement that sometimes goes with it, sometimes goes against it. The education in their bodies already feeds into that sound and I find that fascinating, how they’re already so grounded that it just compliments them immediately.
Lovette: My music is Ernest Bloch, Concerto Grosso No. 1. It’s something I’ve loved for a long time, and I’ve wanted to use this music for a while, but it never felt like resounding yes for a collaboration until now. And even still, I chose the music without knowing fully what would happen with it. Usually I hear music, I have a vision of some kind that matches that music perfectly. But this was just music I loved, with no idea what the four movements were saying. I knew they were quite dramatic in a sense, and they had very different moods. There was definitely a through line, but I couldn’t find it at the beginning.
And then I left my job that I was at for a really long time. The world that was so predictable and so regimented in a sense—all of that blew up. At the same time a long-term relationship fell apart. So suddenly I had all this time by myself, which was really hard, pretty excruciating at times, but also really inspiring, beautiful. So, coming back from that experience, I realized that what this piece of music was really telling me was something about the human character. It’s this balance of chaos, order, isolation, freedom, togetherness. I named the piece “Solitare,” a single gem set alone.
And you are both using sets for the first time—what has that been like?
Lovette: I’ve never used a set before. This is the first time that I felt that I could actually tackle something like that. I’ve always stayed in the box of what I felt I could control.
I have these trees that come in and out. But you won’t necessarily know that they are trees, they are very abstract. Originally, I wanted to have this very specific image, almost like walls closing in. But then as I was starting to speak with other collaborators, I let go of my grip of it needing to be this very specific image and opening up to ideas of what other solitary spaces might look like and how that can also be really beautiful. Then we, we saw this image in a magazine of Aspen trees. Aspen trees are really close together, it almost feels like you’re boxed in but you’re outside and in nature. What’s been so cool, at least for me, about having more creatives involved is you can have a pretty decent idea on your own, but then to throw the ball to somebody else and have them interpret what they see and what they hear and what they think and then they throw it to somebody else . . . it grows, it’s challenged, expanded. It’s expanded my own ideas; my mind has opened in so many ways.
Garner: I think as an artist, you always have to keep stepping out of your your box and try new things. It makes your work grow in different ways when you collaborate with another artist, they bring out something in you that you didn’t see in yourself, that you can discover. And I always find that fascinating and I want to keep growing and keep learning and keep pushing it forward. Donald’s work just spoke to me in a way that I felt it would complement the music, the movement, my taste and, and how I see dance. And then I have Jennifer Tipton who’s doing the lighting and Mark Eric who’s doing the costumes. I just can’t wait to see how everything unfolds.
Lovette: I feel so lucky to be working with Santo Loquasto. And I’ve got a great lighting designer too, Brandon Stirling Baker. So, the team is great and if it fails it’s just my fault [laughs].
What does it feel like to have these new dances programmed on a bill with Paul Taylor master works?
Garner: I’m on the program with “Esplanade,” so hey, there you go, the classic Taylor piece. But that’s a piece I know very well. I thought, let me just try to rise to the occasion. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be on such a program, with the company dancing “Esplanade” and then dancing my work, 20 minutes before.
And I don’t look at it as a challenge. I mean, it’s such a huge honor and it’s kind of like, wow, this is actually happening. But I didn’t change anything once I found that out, I didn’t get stressed about it. Your work is your work, and you have to be confident and stand in it, and no matter how it falls, good or bad. The only thing that I try to make sure that I do is to create some kind of joy and give people a release in the theater. I want them to enjoy sitting in that audience. And that’s always what’s in my head—respecting their time and respecting the dollars that were spent for the tickets, to me, it’s very sacred. You don’t know where people are at when they sit there, you don’t know the day they’ve had, the month they’ve had. And I always want to make sure that in some way they’re uplifted.
Lovette: I couldn’t agree more. I feel it doesn’t even have to always be a joyful emotion, but I think lately I’ve been craving it in theater where I really want to feel something. If I spend money for a ticket, I really want to feel something in the show. I don’t want to just sit there and see a lot of cool moves. I could scroll TikTok for that. I want to feel something, whether that be a musical thing or something that the dancers bring from their own soul, or maybe it is the set and how it moves in a certain way. It’s always different but leaving the audience with something matters a lot to me right now. I feel that from Amy’s work. Every time I watch a piece of yours Amy, I feel uplifted.
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