Paul Taylor, founder of the world-famous Paul Taylor Dance Company, has always said he’s a lucky guy. When he got his start in New York in the 1950s, the modern art movement was young and lively, and artist friends such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns encouraged and inspired him. Thursday, as his dance company celebrates its 60th anniversary season, Taylor announced that he wants to spread his good fortune around by including works by other choreographers in his company’s repertoire.
And his friendship with the late Rauschenberg will help him.
Taylor, a pioneer in modern dance, announced a plan for his company at a news conference in Lincoln Center. Starting in 2015, his troupe will launch a new enterprise called Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance. While Taylor, 83, will continue to create new works for his 16 dancers — he averages two per year — his company will also perform works by established and emerging dance makers as well as by deceased masters. Taylor didn’t give specifics but named Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Jose Limon as examples. An announcement of the outside works that he will acquire for the 2015 season is expected in a month or two.
To finance the acquisition of new and existing works, Taylor will donate to the company four Rauschenberg works, given to him by the artist. They will be auctioned May 14-15 by Sotheby’s. Their combined estimated value is between $5 million and $7 million, said John Tomlinson, executive director of the Paul Taylor Dance Foundation. Taylor’s board is also contributing $5 million.
The Taylor company is modeling itself on New York City Ballet, Tomlinson said. There is a slight irony in that for an artist in the field of modern dance, which was once considered antithetical to ballet. Taylor’s pioneering work, in fact, was in rejecting codified technique and elevating everyday movement to high art. But the comparison is apt: New York City Ballet functions with a core of works by its founder, George Balanchine, and also performs other works of the past and new commissions.
After the announcement, Taylor left to rehearse his dancers for the performance Thursday at the David H. Koch Theater, where his company performs through March 30.
While Taylor, known for steady production of finely crafted, poetic and often witty works, is leaving the impression of business as usual, the news represents a momentous undertaking for his company. Why is he making these changes, and why now? It’s simple, Tomlinson said:
“Paul Taylor said, ‘I want to do this,’ ” Tomlinson said. “We said, ‘When?’ He said, ‘Right away.’ ” Tomlinson drew up a five-year plan, but Taylor wanted the changes immediately.
“Everything’s easier when you have more time,” Tomlinson said. “But the reality is, it’s easier to do this with Paul Taylor standing there cracking the whip and saying, ‘Let’s go.’ He’s a great leader.”
The company’s annual budget is $6.3 million. Tomlinson said he hopes to increase it to $12 million in five years. It will continue to include 16 dancers, unless more are needed for a specific piece of choreography.
The artistic programming plans are not in place now, Tomlinson said. But the idea is to have two existing works from a master choreographer represented in 2015.
“Whether or not we can have new works created and ready in a year is questionable,” he said. “Paul said to me when we started, ‘I’m not doing anything less, and I want as much rehearsal time as before, and I don’t want the company touring any less.’ ”
The choreographer is restructuring the repertoire this way because “he thought it would be a good idea to give other choreographers an opportunity,” Tomlinson said. “He sees himself as very fortunate, the beneficiary of good luck. This is an opportunity to share some of that with others.”