By LAUREN KAY
This year, Paul Taylor Dance Company celebrates 57 years, bringing classic repertoire and New York premieres alike to New York City Center. The group’s founder, modern dance giant Paul Taylor, choreographs dances that stretch from playful, buoyant, and narrative to sensual, abstract, and fluid. He just turned 80, but as one of the keepers of the modern legacy---his contemporaries include Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and José Limón---Taylor doesn’t seem to be losing any steam.
Annmaria Mazzini, who began dancing with Taylor's second company in 1995 and moved to the main company in 1999, has been one of the most effective translators of his signature choreography. During Taylor's Great Depression-centric Black Tuesday,in the solo “Boulevard of Broken Dreams," Mazzini shines in both narrative expression and technique. Her muscular frame arches and then withers with abandon, conveying the sorrow of the song’s lyrics, while her endless lines, specific arm placement and fierce legs are skillfully controlled. “That was the first solo Mr. Taylor ever created on me during my second year in the company,” Mazzini says, with a wistful sigh. “I play a streetwalker trying to survive. The costume, the movement, and the song are all a great fit for me, and Mr. Taylor knew that.”
This month, Mazzini will slip into the favorite role once again, along with many others Taylor has created on her. For audiences, her performances this winter will be bittersweet: Though she’s featured in much of the repertoire, she will bid farewell to the company in the spring. With a laugh, she explains she's leaving to “fix my body and have some time off!"
The Allentown, PA native originally trained in musical theatre. While she first encountered modern dance in her teens and then in college as a dance major at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, it was mostly in the form of Martha Graham’s technique. “I didn’t come from a big ballet background, so I loved the strictness of Graham's technique and the drama of her work,” Mazzini says.
But at a PTDC performance during her sophomore year, Mazzini was taken with Taylor’s work and began studying his repertoire through film. “I loved the scope and breadth of his choreography,” she says. “I had a visceral reaction to it immediately. I was impressed with how it affected me emotionally; he involves the entire human experience in his movement.”
A summer spent studying at the Taylor school between her sophomore and junior years made her a total convert. “It was a perfect fit for my body and my spirit,” Mazzini explains. “I felt like I was coming home when I danced his work.”
This isn’t to say that Mazzini breezed through Taylor's intricate pieces. “Paul works with music that isn’t all straight eight counts," she says. "I had to take notes and use my brain as a puzzle solver. And while the more you practice the easier his work becomes, sometimes his dances aren’t what your body initially wants. You never know what Paul is going to do. He follows his muses, his instincts, so it always comes out beautifully whether it’s a jumpy, ‘dancey’ piece, as he says, or something with a story.”
Though she wasn’t initially accepted into the main company when she returned to the city after graduation, Mazzini says she’s thankful for the four years spent in the junior troupe. She cites her experience as preparation for both the intense touring and breadth of repertoire the main company handles.
In addition, as a PTDC member, Mazzini has had the unique experience of working with Taylor during the yearly “creative periods” in which he choreographs new dances. “It’s interesting to work with Paul,” she says. “You have to be alert, but also supple and open. You never know what he’s going to ask for. There’s a bit of mind reading that occurs because he’s quiet a lot as he thinks. Then, he chooses his words carefully.”
Mazzini says this style of working can sometimes be challenging, but more importantly, she says it also has encouraged her to trust herself and her own artistry. “If I’m dancing a role that’s been danced by someone before me, I’m now able to be true to the other person’s contributions but also let the work live through me,” she says. “I’m finally able to relax and live in the moment.”
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer based in New York City