Paul Taylor Dance Company performs at Diana Wortham Theatre

TAKE THE LEAP: A contingent of male dancers in the Paul Taylor Dance Company performs in “Arden Court,” a dance the company is bringing to Asheville. Photo by Paul B. Goode

Laura Halzack likens performing with the Paul Taylor Dance Company to playing for the New York Yankees: It’s the biggest of the big leagues. “There are very few dance jobs like this,” she says. The opportunity to work with Taylor, a modern dance pioneer who, at 84, has choreographed 139 dances, has been amazing, she says. The New York-based troupe takes the stage at the Diana Wortham Theatre Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17 and 18.

One of the 16 dancers (eight women, eight men) in the company, Halzack grew up in Suffield, CT, and began her dance training at age 4. She studied at the School of Hartford City Ballet, The Hartt School and the Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College before joining Paul Taylor in 2006. “It’s been my dream job,” she says. “It was the only company I wanted to dance for. I have gotten to dance some of Paul’s classic works and have been ‘created on’ by Paul.”

It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t dance how Taylor is able to convey not only the movements he wants but the emotions behind them. “With each dance it’s different,” says Halzack. “Some dances are very athletic; the movements are, anyway. But Paul has this incredible way of imbuing a humanness through the dance: the subtlest gesture; the way he tells you to touch somebody’s hands.”

In “Arden Court,” one of the pieces the company will perform in Asheville, “The men do these spectacular leaps and jumps, and the same with the women,” says Halzack. “Paul created subtle movements where he allows the dancers to connect, so that when you’re jumping, you’re jumping with joy.”

Taylor doesn’t tell his people how to move: He guides them. “I have been in dances of his where he gives me words like ‘cool’ and ‘sweet,’” Halzack says. “He gives you imagery. He gives you an idea of who you are in the context of the situation. He lets each dancer grow into their parts. You’re more likely to hear from Paul when you’re doing something he doesn’t like.”

“Arden Court,” an exuberant dance set to baroque music by William Boyce, looks at three kinds of relationships: supportive, competitive and flirtatious. Halzack describes it as less a single story than a series of vignettes. And though it’s hard to tell precisely how Taylor approaches the creation of a new work, for him, it always starts with the music. “He has it all counted out, but the process is different every time. Sometimes he asks us to come up with a movement, sometimes he has a very specific idea of your character and sometimes he just lets it unfold.”

For her own part, Halzack tries not to think too much about how her character will unfold onstage. “I know that sounds strange, but performing is something that has to come from inside,” she says. “Once I know the steps, I like to give myself over to being onstage. That is when performances are most alive: It’s more like you’re becoming, not reacting. In ‘Arden Court,’ I become the joy and romance of the music. To be able to communicate with someone without speaking — the way you move informs the way they move.”

This leads to a lot more sound onstage than what’s obvious to the audience beyond the first few rows. The dancers’ breathing, the sibilant softness of the slippers as they move across stage. “We all giggle if someone lands a little too loud,” says Halzack. “Those things happen: Sometimes the texture of the floor is really rough; sometimes it squeaks. But there’s a collective energy that we’re doing this together.”

Working with Paul Taylor is a life-altering experience that most dancers would covet: “He made me be stronger, braver and more mature,” Halzack says about the venerable choreographer. “He trusted me to push me to those places: what an honor.”

WHAT: Paul Taylor Dance Company

WHERE: Diana Wortham Theatre, dwtheatre.com

WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17 & 18, 8 p.m., $45 regular, $40 student, $20 child

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About Paul Clark
Paul Clark is an award-winning photo and print journalist whose work can be seen in regional magazines and newspapers. When he's not working, he's trying to keep his yard from growing over his house.

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