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Dance and the gender dynamic

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Dance and the gender dynamic: the women of Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company spoke with Lifestyle, in advance of their performance tonight with the Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts, about what that means in the 21st century.

Q: How long have you been dancing? What impact did Paul Taylor have on you as a professional dancer?

Rei Akazawa: I started dancing classical ballet when I was 8 and in college I was introduced to all kinds of dance styles and techniques. Among them, I was drawn to classical modern dance, particularly Graham technique at first.

Then, when I found Mr Taylor's style, which is embedded in his experience in both Graham technique and classical ballet, it was obvious to me that his dances were what I wanted to perform. I had the chance to meet and work directly with Mr Taylor during my years in Taylor 2.

Whenever he rehearsed us, it made me realise that as detailed as his dances are, they still celebrate the unique individualism of each dancer involved.

Amanda Stevenson: I started dancing when I was 14. It was a way for me to physically and emotionally connect to the passion I felt when I heard or played music. I am in love with Paul Taylor's work for similar reasons — there is an exciting physicality to his choreography and he listens deeply to the music before creating the steps.

For example, in Esplanade it is very satisfying to perform the rhythms of his choreography to the classic musical score of Bach. He does not mimic the music; it's as if he has created another voice to play with how you listen to Bach.

His work often has much more happening in it than what you see upon the first viewing — a disconnected family, deep loss of a loved one.

The complex relationships and emotional aspects in his work have made me confront my own feelings of family, loss and love to fully embody the roles I perform.

Sloan Pearson: I have been dancing since age 3. Growing up training at Charlotte Ballet under the direction of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux and Patricia McBride, I was exposed to Taylor during my modern training.

During my time at Point Park University, I got bit by the Taylor bug through professors who had been influenced by the Taylor style. My professor, Jason McDole, was trained by Carolyn Adams who originated many Taylor roles, so that is where I got my welcome.

From there I took the chance to audition to dance for an icon of modern dance.

Q: The traditional gender dynamic — where the male dancer saves the helpless female — is that as much in evidence today as it has been historically?

RA: Many modern and contemporary choreographers are challenging gender norms in their dances.

Mr Taylor is not an exception. His dances have female-to-female as well as male-to-male partnering, where he breaks the convention that men must support women. In one of Mr Taylor's dances, Esplanade, a woman steps on a man's stomach — which can represent a woman's domination over man — but in the next moment, a man carries a woman in a cradle offstage. It's an unbiased use of the dancers' bodies and their physical abilities and Mr Taylor certainly emphasised the individuality of the dancers through those movements, but not because of their sex or gender.

AS: I think modern dance has always supported an equal place for men and women, celebrating what men and women have in common [like] strength, tenderness; a celebration of the human body. I believe gender roles in dance can be a way that we relate to each other, to the pressures or desires that we all feel.

I do believe we all have a connection to the fairytales, a desire to be saved, and modern dance has been playing with which gender does the saving for many years, and is still continuing to do so.

SP: Oftentimes you will see a sense of strong feminine presence within works that could not have men at all. Now, there is not as much of a pressure to conform to ideals and storylines that have often limited the roles that women play through dance.

There are even opportunities where the men are being lifted and women's strength is being celebrated both physically and through the storyline.

Q: Do you think there was need for change?

RA: As we enter a more globalised society, the perception of gender will continue to be challenged and broadened.

In another one of Mr Taylor's dances, Images, elements of women's empowerment can be found throughout the piece but, most importantly, it honours both men and women's physicality and expression as humans. He tirelessly explored the great question of what it is to be human, beyond perceptions of gender.

AS: Paul Taylor American Modern Dance Company, with its initiative to commission new works by current choreographers, is Mr Taylor's way of continuing to play a part in supporting the cultural shift that is happening, that has been happening in the dance community since the Fifties.

There are many roles in Mr Taylor's work, including the Oracle section in Images, that celebrate the intelligence, power and complex beauty of women.

SP: Modern dance history has been filled with breaking away from the norm of carrying the ladies around and giving you the female spirit and body in the purest forms — from costuming, to roles, to featured roles.

Paul capitalised on his use of the many different women that came into his company and what they could contribute to the spirit of his work. You see the complexity and depth of womanhood and celebrate the importance of that presence within his work paired with the strength of the men.

Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company will take the stage tonight and tomorrow at Earl Cameron Theatre. Performances begin at 7.30pm. Tickets, $80, are available at ptix.bermudafestival.org

Confronting the issue: members of Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company, from left, Sloan Pearson, Rei Akazawa, and Jake Deibert (Photograph by Laura Halzack)
members of Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company (from left) Sloan Pearson, Jake Deibert and Rei Akazawa (Photograph by Laura Halzack)

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Published January 21, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated January 22, 2019 at 4:26 pm)

Dance and the gender dynamic

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