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Dance: Surefooted

2 minute read
Terry Teachout

Matthew Diamond’s Dancemaker might be the best dance documentary ever. Mind you, it’s hard to make a boring backstage movie–every theatergoer secretly longs to know what wild shenanigans are going on behind the curtain–and it doesn’t hurt that the star of Dancemaker, Paul Taylor, is one of the foremost choreographers of the 20th century. But Diamond’s Oscar-nominated film is as much about the hardworking members of the Taylor company as about their enigmatic boss, and one of the most impressive things about Dancemaker is the way in which the details of the dancers’ daily routine–the stresses of touring, the scourge of AIDS, the constant threat of career-ending injury–snap to newly vivid life.

Diamond began filming Dancemaker just as Taylor was preparing to choreograph Piazzolla Caldera, the finest dance he has made since his 1991 masterpiece, Company B. In the new piece seven men and five women pair off to perform slinky tangos with a brittle, self-conscious physicality that has the ragged edge of barely controlled violence. To watch Piazzolla Caldera evolve from dancer Francie Huber’s first tentative steps in the studio to the electrifying New York City premiere last March is a delicious act of artistic voyeurism.

Though Taylor steers clear of personal revelations, he speaks engagingly about his often dark dances: “I get my energy, I think, from being afraid–being afraid to choreograph, being afraid to fail.” There are no failures on display in Dancemaker, just a clear-eyed portrait of a great artist at work.

–By Terry Teachout

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