Book Review: Private Domain

Dancing was it. Dancing was what life was all about. If you wanted to be a dancer, you didn’t just want it, you felt chosen to be one… In my case, even before learning to dance, I was positive I’d been ordained to do it.  -Paul Taylor, Private Domain

Back in August (within the last glorious weeks of summer in the city), I had the great fortune of being able to see the Paul Taylor Dance Company performance at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival. (See the review here.) It was a gorgeous summer night, and as the sun set and the stage lights shone more vividly, I joined the hushed crowd to marvel at the movement and the music. As a long-time fan of Paul Taylor and his work, it was great to simply see another performance of the company (and for free, at that). But beyond viewing works I had never seen before, it was amazing to witness the massive crowd gathered to watch concert dance – hundreds of seats filled and all focused silently, respectfully on the stage ahead. Though I did not realize going in, it was also exciting to be present for the special celebration of Paul Taylor’s 80th birthday as well as the parting performance for 3 retiring company members.

After the show, I felt moved to finally read the copy of Paul Taylor’s autobiography, Private Domain, that I had picked up at the Strand a while back. And I would definitely recommend doing so if you haven’t already. Published in 1987, the book covers Taylor’s early dance career and the first several years of working with his company. From one anecdote to another, it offers a unique view into the mind and history of one of the most prolific and legendary modern dance choreographers. I absolutely loved learning little details about Taylor that I never knew before, like how he is fascinated with bugs and nature and that for many years he lived in the studio loft that the company rehearsed in. And as a dancer, I definitely enjoyed his portrayals of rehearsing and performing, experiences and feelings that perhaps only other dancers can truly understand. Beyond exploring the artist, it is also interesting to uncover more about Taylor as simply a man – his thoughts, his weaknesses, his humility. And beyond Taylor himself, the book offers a rare glimpse into the early world of modern dance, ripe on the heels of the pioneers and still fighting for acceptance.

Overall, reading the autobiography made me like Paul Taylor even more and made me better appreciate his accomplishments in dance. I enjoyed every bit that I learned about Taylor and was left wanting more. (Apparently there are more books in the making, so my wish may be granted in due time.)

Weaknesses of the book: The writing itself starts out strong then gets a little weak in the middle (perhaps trying too hard to be clever). It also would be nice to hear background on more of his pieces, but the works are not really the main focus of the book.

Why it’s worthwhile: 1) It’s an honest, open depiction of the difficulties of an artist’s life – a poignant story no matter how famous the artist. 2) Especially around the celebration of Taylor’s 80th birthday, it’s great to look anew at such a remarkable artist and learn more about how it all began. 3) Dancers can particularly connect with the difficulties Taylor faced in his early career and feel comforted that they are not alone in their struggles.

Questions of reflection: How does Taylor feel about how his career has progressed since the book was published? What will future books (not written by Taylor) include? What will be Taylor’s greatest legacy? What is my own dance story?

Best audience: fans of Paul Taylor and his work, dancers that should hear how even the most successful artists have had to endure very difficult times

Amazon page (where you can buy the book): Private Domain

More on the author: Paul Taylor Dance Company website

*Also check out my first book review on Daniel Nagrin’s How to Dance Forever

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